Spiced Yogurt Marinade

A mix of warm spices and yogurt gives this marinade a deep complexity and makes a slightly tangy base for tenderizing meat.

Spiced Yogurt Marinade

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

Total Time:
15 mins
2 cups

This versatile marinade is great for imparting flavor and tenderizing meats such as lamb stew meat, chicken thighs, or lamb chops; it’s a key element of chef Cheetie Kumar’s Lamb Biryani recipe.

The aromatic and creamy marinade imparts complex earthiness and warmth with spices like ginger, garam masala, and cinnamon, while plain yogurt provides an excellent base to slowly tenderize the meat. Black cumin seeds add a slightly sweet, lemony flavor, while garam masala, a spice blend that originated in Northern India and is packed with spices such as cinnamon and star anise, adds a gentle warmth and floral sweetness. Mustard oil, available at Middle Eastern grocery stores, has a pungent flavor and intense aroma and is used to bloom the spices. The hot oil releases the fat-soluble flavor compounds in the spices and infuses the oil with a pleasant complexity, making for an extra flavorful marinade.

Source high-quality spices, such as Burlap & Barrel or Spicewalla, when possible. Plain whole-milk yogurt, rather than Greek-style yogurt, is the perfect consistency for evenly coating the meat. The lactic acid naturally found in yogurt slowly breaks down the protein, giving it a succulent tenderness, and unlike lemon juice, the more moderate pH of yogurt means the marinade is less likely to break down the meat too much and give it a mushy texture. Let bone-in chicken thighs or lamb chops marinate for at least 12 hours or up to one day. Boneless chicken thighs pick up the flavor and tenderize quicker, so marinate for at least four hours or up to 12 hours.


  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon black cumin seeds (see Note)

  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns (preferably Tellicherry peppercorns) 

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger

  • 1 tablespoon garam masala

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace

  • 3 tablespoons mustard oil (such as Dabur)

  • 1 1/2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt


  1. Combine fennel seeds, black cumin seeds, and peppercorns in a spice grinder or coffee grinder; process until ground, about 40 seconds. Stir together ground fennel seed mixture, ginger, garam masala, cinnamon, and mace in a small heatproof bowl. Heat mustard oil in a small skillet over medium until hot and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully pour hot oil over spice mixture in bowl. Stir in yogurt until combined.

To Make Ahead

Marinade can be chilled in an airtight container up to 3 days.


Black cumin seeds add a slightly sweet, lemony flavor. Find them at specialty spice shops or online at rumispice.com.

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