International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Garam Masala

Garam masala spices

(Indian spice blend)

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Garam masala, Hindi for "warm spice mixture," is a slightly sweet and aromatic spice blend that is used mostly in northern India to season meat and poultry dishes. Although a pinch is sometimes added to food while it cooks, it is more often used as a final garnish, sprinkled over a plated dish for a final flourish of flavor. Each household has its own favorite combination.

Makes about 1/2 cup

  • Black cardamom seeds -- 1/3 cup
  • Cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces -- 2
  • Whole cloves --1 tablespoon
  • Peppercorns -- 1 tablespoon
  • Ground nutmeg -- 1 1/2 teaspoons

Method

  1. Heat a small, heavy pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the cardamom seeds and toast in the dry skillet, shaking from time to time, until the seeds begin to darken and become aromatic, about 2-3 minutes. Remove and repeat with the rest of the spices. Be careful not to burn the spices.
  2. Place all the toasted spices into a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Pass through a fine sieve to remove large pieces and store in an airtight jar.

Variations

  • The masala above is mildly sweet and is suitable for classic Moghul Indian dishes. You can add or subtract spices and change the amounts to your taste. Most garam masalas reflect the preferences and tastes of the individual makers and their home region.
  • Northern versions of garam masala contain larger proportions of sweet, warming (garam) spices such as cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Southern masalas generally contain larger proportions of fenugreek, turmeric and coriander.
  • Dhansak (Parsi) Masala: Add 1/4 cup coriander, 2 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds, 1 tablespoon mustard seeds, 2 teaspoons turmeric and 3 hot dried chilies.
  • Gujarati Masala: Add 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 2 tablespoons fennel seeds, 2 teaspoons ajwain seeds or caraway seeds, and 3 hot dried chilies
  • Kashmiri Masala: Add 1/4 cup coriander seeds and 1 tablespoon whole cumin.
  • Other possible additions: poppy seeds, saffron, bay leaf.

Notes

  • The home cook usually makes garam masala fresh at home. Each tailored toward particular dishes and uses. Garam masala is almost never used in vegetable dishes.
  • This spice blend loses its flavor quickly, so make only 1/2 the recipe as needed. It is best made fresh for each dish, but can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.