If you are even the smallest bit familiar with Indian food, you will have heard of Garam Masala. It is a wonderfully warm and versatile mix of spices used in a range of Indian dishes. Not necessarily spicy hot, it consists of spices that warm and nourish the body, such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.
Garam Masala is a mixture of spices, and the combinations vary with each household. They say it is basically Persian in origin, but is now indispensable in North Indian cuisine.
Garam Masala is particularly loved in the North where the winters are cold. It is not a prescriptive mix – it is open to interpretation with each region of India creating distinct blends with flavours characteristic of the region. A teaspoon of Garam Masala gives a North Indian character to any dish – try it with Basmati rice, or sprinkle it over cooked dishes.
The variety in recipes is easily explained. The cuisine varies so much across India that the spices in Garam Masala are chosen to best compliment the local foods. Each region and each family adjusts their mix to suit the flavours of the cuisine, personal preference and the dish being made. When you have such a large canvas of spices to choose from, why would you not do that?
Generally, but not always, Garam Masala is sprinkled over food towards the end of the cooking to retain its aroma.
The garam masala spices can also be used whole, but more traditionally, they are ground together in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, a blender or spice grinder will do. If you want to use whole Garam Masala, try a rice dish in which you grind only the nutmeg and add the other spices into the rice water as it boils.
The word Garam means hot and Masala means spice mix in the Hindi language of India, so the mixture of spices are traditionally those that heat the body according to the ayurvedic system of medicine.
Garam Masala Blends
There are as many Garam Masala recipes as households in India. Here are some for you to choose from. If you have any others that you use, please add them in the comments.
Different Garam Masala recipes highlight different spices, for example, some contain predominately coriander, others perhaps highlight nutmeg.
How to select a mix?
The first time that you make Garam Masala, you may not have a large range of ingredients in your pantry – select a recipe that most closely matches your available ingredients. After that, visit your Indian shop or local spice supplier and add various spices to you pantry cupboard.
How to make the mix?
Dry roast all ingredients except for the black cardamom. Dry roast them separately in a kadhai (Indian wok) or frying pan, shaking the pan frequently, until they are starting to brown and a wonderful spicy aroma arises. Be careful not to burn. Mix together the whole ingredients and store in an air-tight container in the fridge.
When required, grind the whole roasted masala ingredients to a fine powder in a mortar, spice grinder or blender, and use as directed in the recipe. Store in an airtight jar.
The Difference between Home Made and Store Bought Garam Masala
The spices used in Garam Masala are all very aromatic. But often when you buy Garam Masala off the shelf, the commercial mixtures often cut down on the more expensive cardamom and fill up with the cheaper coriander and cumin. So there is no better reason to make your own. It is a wonderful process and the results are marvellous. If you have never tasted a home made spice powder, this is your chance.
The home made one is darker with a much deeper aroma than the store bought one. The Store Bought one has hardly any aroma at all. The taste is significantly different.
The recipes for Garam Masala
Adjust the proportions to suit your own preferences.
Hyderabadi Garam Masala
20g Cinnamon, 20g Peppercorns, 20g Cloves, 20g Green Cardamom, 15g Indian Bayleaf, 25g Black Cardamom, 10g Nutmeg, 10g Mace, 10g Fennel Seeds.
Hyderabadi Garam Masala with Saffron and Black Cumin
2 tspn saffron threads, 1/4 cup black pepper, 1/4 cup black cumin seeds, 1/4 cup cloves, 1/4 cup cinnamon, 1/4 cup green cardamom seeds
25 cm stick Cinnamon, 2.5 tspns black Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn Cloves, 4g Green Cardamom, 3 stalks Curry Leaf, 3 Tblspn Cumin Seeds.
10g Cinnamon, 10g Cloves, 10g Green Cardamom, 10g Black Cardamom.
5 cm stick Cinnamon, 1 Tblspn Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn Cloves, 2 tspn Green Cardamom seeds (not pods), 0.5 tsp grated Nutmeg, 5 Mace blades.
20g Cinnamon, 20g Peppercorns, 20g Cloves, 20gGreen Cardamom, 100g Nutmeg, 20g Mace, 20g Star Anise.
Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Cloves, Green Cardamom, Cumin Seeds, Ajwain, Peppercorns, dried fenugreek leaves, Coriander Seed, Curry Leaves, Bay leaves, Black Cumin Seeds.
Madhur Jaffrey’s Very Warming Garam Masala
5 cm stick Cinnamon, 1 tspn Peppercorns, 1 tspn Cloves, 1 Tblspn Green Cardamom, 1 tspn Black Cumin Seeds, about 1/3 pod Nutmeg, 1 curl Mace.
Punjabi Garam Masala
2.5 Tblspn Coriander Seed, 1.5 Tblspn Cumin Seeds, 1.5 Tblspn Black Peppercorns, 1.5 Tblspn Black Cardamom, 0.75 Tblspn Green Cardamom, 2.5 cm stick Cinnamon, 2 – 3 Cloves, large pinch grated Nutmeg. (Or replace cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg with ground ginger – 5g)
Variation to Punjabi Garam Masala
25g cumin seeds; 20g black cardamon; 20g black peppercorns; 11g green cardamon pods; 10g coriander seeds; 10g fennel seeds; 6g cloves; approx 12cm of cinnamon sticks; 6g mace; 6g black cumin seeds (kalonji); 5g Indian bay leaves (teja pat); 5 g dried rose petals; 1 scant Tblspn ground ginger; 1 small nutmeg, grated
Simple Punjabi Garam Masala
30g black peppercorns; 30g cumin seeds; 45g green cardamon pods; 12cm of cinnamon sticks; 5g cloves; 0.5 whole nutmeg, grated
Bengali Garam Masala
1 Tblspn Black Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn White Peppercorns, 15 Cloves, 4 sticks Cinnamon, seeds from 20 Cardamom pods, 2 Tblspn Cumin Seeds, 5 Tblspn Coriander seeds
Kashmiri Garam Masala
3 Tblspn Nigella Seeds, 2 Tblspn Black Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn Caraway Seeds, 24 cloves, 15 black cardamom, 25 mace blades, 0.5 Tblspn grated nutmeg, 0.5 Tblspn ground cinnamon
My Bombay’s Kitchen’s Parsi Garam Masala
2 Tblspn cardamon pods, 2 sticks cinnamon, 1 tspn regular cumin seeds or kala jira, 1 tspn whole cloves, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 0.25 whole nutmeg.
Tiffin‘s Garam Masala
0.25 cup cumin seeds, 0.25 cup coriander seeds, 2 tspn cardamom seeds, 6cm piece cinnamon (broken into pieces), 1 tspn cloves, 1 tspn black pepper corns, 6 Indian bay leaves (teja pata), 1 tspn fennel seeds, 1 tspn grated nutmeg, 1 Tblspn mace pieces.
3 tspn Nigella seeds, 2 tspn Black Peppercorns, 1 tspn Fennel seeds, 10 Cloves, seeds from 5 Black Cardamom pods, seeds from 5 Green Cardamom pods, 5 Mace blades, 1/3 Nutmeg pod, 1 Cinnamon stick, 3 tspn Cumin, 1.5 Tbslpn Coriander