Archive of BBC Food Recipes

Onion masala sauce

Prep time less than 30 mins
Cook time less than 30 mins
Makes about 500g/1lb 2oz of sauce
Dietary Vegetarian
From Saturday Kitchen
Want to give your curries real depth of flavour? Try this versatile masala sauce. The secret to the rich taste is cooking the onions slowly until they are very dark. Add pan-fried chicken, meat, prawns or vegetables for a delicious quick curry.


  1. First prepare the ginger garlic paste. Blend the ginger and garlic with a teaspoon of water in a blender. Store any you don’t use for this recipe in the fridge.

  2. To make the masala sauce, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the whole spices (black cardamom, peppercorns, cloves, green cardamom, cumin seeds, cinnamon and bay leaf) and fry until they start to crackle, then add the onions.

  3. Cook the onions gently and slowly until caramelised and very dark brown.

  4. Add a tablespoon of the ginger garlic paste and fry gently for 3-4 minutes. Taste to make sure the ginger and garlic are well cooked otherwise their flavour will be too strong.

  5. Add all the powdered spices and mix well.

  6. Add 100-150ml/3½-5fl oz water if the sauce is too thick.

  7. Finally add the tomato purée and cook until the oil comes to the surface of the sauce.


For the ginger garlic paste

  • 30g/1oz root ginger, peeled
  • 30g/1oz garlic cloves, peeled

For the masala sauce

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 4 green cardamom
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 500g/1lb 2oz onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste (from above)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée

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