Condiments

Garam Masala/ Warm Savory Spice Blend – A Pinch of Magic

Garam Masala – Warm Spice Blend

Most Indian recipes I post has or will have ‘Garam Masala’ as one of the ingredients. Hence, I thought of posting the garam masala recipe. It wasn’t an easy job though. After eyeballing the internet, I found hundreds of recipes for Garam Masala. Some of the compositions made my eyebrows raise. I educated myself on the different blends available around the world. I am not surprised by the fact that some think ‘Garam Masala’ is Curry powder. Even some of the Indian Celeb Chefs on cooking shows refer it as ‘Indian Curry Powder’.

Garam Masala is not the regular ‘Curry’ powder you find on the supermarket spice aisle. It is the inspiration for Curry Powder. Many believe that all Indian curries are made with curry powder which is not true. The word ‘Curry’ comes from the Tamil (South Indian) word ‘Kari’ meaning a sauce. ‘Curry powder’ is a British invention to capture the flavors of Indian cooking without the effort of custom blending, roasting and grinding spices. Having lived a decade in Madras (Now Chennai) I can vouch that there is no such thing as Madras curry powder. Yet another Garam masala inspired spice blend holding the name of my city 🙂

Spices being a crucial element of Indian cuisine, garam masala was used for centuries by Indian cooks. It is also used in Iranian and Pakistani cooking and linked to a Persian spice blend known as advieh, which means ‘medicine’ in Arabic intended to bring out the medicinal qualities of food.

Garam masala is not a spice in itself. Garam masala is the Indian equivalent of French herbes de Provence. Garam means ‘hot’ and masala means ‘mixture of spices’ in Hindi, which simply indicates the intensity of the spices rather than the ‘heat’ content. A masala can either be a mixture of dry roasted spices or a wet paste. Garam masala is a dry spice blend. It is a slightly sweet, warm, savory and aromatic spice blend with a complex profile. The pungency of the garam masala comes from the heat giving ingredients like cloves and  black peppercorn. This blend is a ‘must-have’ in almost all Indian cooking, especially Mughlai cuisine.

After trying many commercially prepared spice blends that is similar to saw dust lacking both aroma and flavor, I decided to prepare my own spice mixture. Store bought blends have little resemblance to the freshly ground mix. This homemade blend is nuanced with  complex and rich flavors, but do not overpower the dish. It is used for the fragrant flavor not heat. Good garam masala has a unique property of enhancing the flavor of nearly all Indian curries with an earthy and smoky scent.

Garam masala is best made fresh just before you begin cooking, to save time you can make a batch ahead. This is adjustable, If you don’t like certain flavors and intensity just play with the proportions of the spices. You can experiment and alter it to suit your needs. Once you taste the difference that this ‘pinch of magic’ makes in your cooking, you will find it worth the investment in your pantry.

This is my take on this indispensible spice blend.

Yields about 1/2 cup

  • 5 Cinnamon sticks (1  1/2 inch) (Dalchini)
  • 12 Cloves buds (Laung)
  • 13 Green Cardamom pods (Elaichi)
  • 5 Black Cardamom pods (Badi elaichi)
  • 5 Indian Bay leaves (Tej patta)
  • 4 teaspoons Cumin seeds (Jeera)
  • 1 teaspoon Caraway seeds (Shahjeera)
  • 1 teaspoon Fennel/ Aniseeds (Saunf)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Carom seeds (Ajwain)
  • 2 teaspoons Black Peppercorns (Kali mirch)
  • 5 Mace blades (Javithri)
  • 2 Star Anise (Chakra phool/ Anasphal)
  • Pinch of grated Nutmeg (Jaiphal)
  • Pinch of Saffron (Kesar) *optional 

Know your spices before making this blend

  • Cinnamon – Ceylon cinnamon isstrongly  aromatic, sweet, pleasant, warm and but hardly bitter or astringent. It is similar to Cassia. Chinese Cassia is more intense than Cinnamon, but harder and woodier. It is fine to use either.
  • Cloves – It has a warm aroma with bitter taste.
  • Green cardamom – It has a slightly sweet, floral and spicy aroma with citric elements. It leaves the tongue with a warm antiseptic sensation similar to eucalyptus with an additional peppery after taste.
  • Black cardamom – It is 4 times bigger than the green variety. It has a smoky flavor that is quite different than green caradamon. Its flavor is much earthier with sweetness and a flowery accent. If you don’t have black caradamon, substitute green pods in this masala.
  • Indian Bay Leaves – It is very fragrant and adds a wonderful flavor. Indian Bay leaves have three veins unlike the ones in the USA. Strongly aromatic, somewhat reminiscent to cinnamon or cloves. Can be substituted with  Mediterranean or Turkish Bay Leaves.
  • Cumin – It is aromatic, strong, pungent with a sharp penetrating bitter flavor. Its distinctive taste could be described as rich, spicy and somewhat earthy or nutty.
  • Caraway – It has a pungent, anise-like flavor and aroma.
  • Fennel/ Aniseeds – It is warm, sweet and aromatic with liquorice undertones. 
  • Carom –  It has a strong and distinctive thyme-like fragrance with a bit of a kick, leaving a milder, pleasant after taste. It is less subtle than thyme.
  • Black peppercorn – It is very pungent and fiery.
  • Mace – It is warm, sharp and aromatic, more intense and slightly sweeter than nutmeg. It has a spicy flavor similar to a combination of of pepper and cinnamon.
  • Star Anise – It is sweet and fragrant, similar to fennel with a mild licorice taste.
  • Nutmeg – It has a warm bittersweet aroma with hint of camphor. Unfortunately, the flavor disappers quickly.
  • Saffron – It is fragrant, slightly bitter in taste. By soaking saffron in warm water, one gets a bright yellow-orange solution.

Method

  • Inspect your spices to make sure that it is dry with no moisture clinging to the surface, if so your blend will not last long.
  • Break the cinnamon stick into pieces.
  • Place everything but the nutmeg and saffron in a dry skillet. Dry roast the spices for about 3-5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally until they turn darker and give a rich sweet smoky aroma.
  • Roasting the spices is a crucial step that gives a deep roasted flavor. It releases the oils in each spice, bringing the flavors to the surface. Be careful not to burn the spices.
  • Do not raise the heat to quicken the process or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides raw.
  • Now turn off the flame and remove the skillet from heat. Transfer the spices to a plate and let it cool completely.
  • Remove the seeds from the green and black cardamom pods, discard the outer shell. Add the seeds alone to other spices. Add saffron strands as well.
  • Grind to a fine powder with an electric blender or with a mortar and pestle. Work in batches if necessary. Coffee grinder or spice mill works best.
  • Pass through a fine sieve to remove large ground pieces. If still coarse, grind again. If the grinder gets heated, the powder will stick to the sides of the grinder jar. Do not overdo.
  • Stir in the grated nutmeg.
  • Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Keep away from heat. It keeps fresh and flavorful for 2 months.

Flavor

  • Both musky and toasty, sometimes sweet with a spicy profile.

Culinary Uses

  • This highly aromatic seasoning serves as an all purpose blend in Indian cooking, seasoning dishes from chicken, lamb, goat, pork, fish, tuna, potatoes, stews, soups, meatloaf, burgers and vegetable dishes.

  • Perfect flavor partners include – basil, cilantro, citrus, coconut, garlic, ginger, mango, mint, passion fruit, plantains and yogurt.

  • Combine this blend with fruits such as apples, bananas, passion fruit and sweeter flavors like vanilla. Make a fruit curry sauce for your seafood. That’s exotic.

  • Coarse ground can be used as rubs for meat and potaoes, and fine powder can be used for curries, even baking.

  • It can be added to all kinds of sauces and marinades. It usually adds a kick to foods, and is also believed to create a sense of happiness and well being.

Variations

  • North Indian versions of garam masala contain larger proportions of sweet, warming (garam) spices such as cloves, cinnamon and cardamom.
  • South Indian versions generally contain larger proportions of fenugreek, turmeric, coriander and red chillies.

Health benefits

  • It does not have substantial health benefits. The use of cloves and peppercorns are known to help in digestion

Helpful Hints

  • Add the ground garam masala towards the end of the cooking process, almost like a fresh herb so that the flavor is not lost. It is sprinkled over the surface of dishes towards the end of the cooking or just before serving to preserve its special flavor. It is a ‘finishing ‘ spice. Curry powder is added at the beginning of cooking curries.
  • Occasionally if you see a recipe that calls for garam masala that is added early in the cooking process with oil or ghee. It is an exception rather than the rule. If so, make sure to roast the spices before grinding the spices to a powder. Spice blend without toasting, if added at the beginning of cooking loses it’s flavor as it gets diluted by the cooking fat.
  • You may want to keep your ground garam masala in small quantities. Storing even a few months can change its flavor with the powerful aroma of the cloves becoming more predominant. Store in the freezer for upto a year. 
  • Adding the whole spices to hot oil and during the cooking process will turn the spices bitter tasting.
  • In Bengali cooking, Garam Masala is used in meat dishes, and not very often  in vegetable dishes.

There is no one ‘official’ recipe for garam masala as each region might have it’s own version. Infact, each household may have their own customized composition of spices to make this spice blend. It can vary dramatically depending on the region. I have presented a variant list of spice blends created and used by several regions in India. 

Here is a collection I gathered from various sources – cookbooks, magazines, internet, food blogs and word-by-mouth information. I can’t comment on it’s flavor and strength as I have not tried or used these blends. Be innovative and try any proportion/ composition that pleases you !

1. Basic Garam Masala

1  teaspoon Cloves buds

1  teaspoon Green Cardamom pods

2  Cinnamon Sticks (1 inch)

1  teaspoon Black Peppercorns

* These are the basic ingrediets used in any garam masala blend.

2. Traditional Garam Masala

2  tablespoons Black Cardamom Pods

2  Cinnamon Sticks (1 pinch)

4  tablespoons of Coriander Seeds

3  tablespoons Cumin Seeds

2  tablespoons Black Peppercorns

2  dried Bayleaves

3. West Indian Garam Masala

2  tablespoons Black Cardamom pods

1 – 1/2  Cinnamon Sticks (1 inch)

4  tablespoons Coriander Seeds

3  tablespoons Cumin Seeds

2  tablespoons Black Peppercorns

1  tablespoon Sesame Seeds

2  teaspoons Fennel Seeds

1  teaspoon Ajwain/ Carom Seeds

3  dried red Chillies

2  dried Bay Leaves

4, North Indian Garam Masala

4  tablespoons Cumin seeds

4  tablespoons Coriander seeds

1  table spoon green Cardamom seeds

2  Cinnamon sticks (1 inch)

1  tablespoon Black peppercorns

2  teaspoons Cloves buds

5. Punjabi Garam Masala

2  Cinnamon Sticks (1 inch)

3  tablespoons Cumin Seeds

2  tablespoons of Black Peppercorns

2  tablespoons Coriander Seeds

1  tablespoon Black Cardamom pods

1  tablespoon of Green Cardamom pods

1  tablespoon Black Cumin Seeds

1  tablespoon Dried Rose Petals * If the roses have stems, break them off and discard.

2  teaspoon Ground Ginger

2 teaspoon Fennel  Seeds

2  Bay Leaves

2  Blades of Mace

6. Goan Garam Masala

3/4  cup shredded unsweetened dried coconut

1  tablespoon minced garlic

4  fresh green chili peppers (thinly sliced)

3  tablespoons coriander powder

2  tablespoons white poppy seeds

1  tablespoon black peppercorns

1  tablespoon fennel seeds

1  tablespoon ajwain/ carom seeds

10  green cardamom pods

10  cloves

1  teaspoon ground turmeric

7. Dhansak (Parsi) Masala

1/4  cup coriander

2  tablespoons cumin

1  tablespoon fenugreek seeds

1  tablespoon mustard seeds

2  teaspoons turmeric powder

3  dried red chilies

8. Gujarati Masala

1/4 cup sesame seeds

2  tablespoons fennel seeds

2  teaspoons ajwain/ carom seeds

1  teaspoon caraway seeds

3  hot dried chillies

9. Kashmiri Masala

1/4 cup coriander seeds

1 tablespoon whole cumin

Other possible additions – poppy seeds, saffron, bay leaf.

10. Spicy Curry Powder

1/2  cup Coriander seeds

1/4  cup Cumin seeds

1  tablespoon Black mustard seeds

1  teaspoon Black peppercorns

5  Red chillies

3/4  teaspoon Fenugreek seeds

2  teaspoon Turmeric powder

20  Dried curry leaves

11. Basic Curry Powder 

6  dried red chilies

2  tablespoons coriander seeds

2  teaspoons cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1  teaspoon black peppercorns

1  teaspoon fenugreek seeds

10  fresh curry leaves

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

12.Middle Eastern Masala

1 tablespoon dried miniature rosebuds (optional)

1  cinnamon stick (1 inch)

2 bay leaves

1/4  cup cumin seeds

1/3  cup coriander seeds

1  tablespoon green cardamom pods

1  tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2  teaspoons whole cloves

1  dried red chilly

1/4  teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Commercial blends sits on a store shelf for several months before making its way to your kitchen. Try making your own blend. You can add or remove spices and change the amounts to your taste.  Try until you have a blend that works for you! It’s easy and worth the effort. Once you make your own, you will not go back to the bottled blends  🙂

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Garam Masala/ Warm Savory Spice Blend – A Pinch of Magic

  1. Your information about Garam Masala was interesting. I enjoy the flavors of Indian and Pakistani food I have had. I will be traveling to Istanbul’s spice market soon and wonder what spices you might recommend me looking for to bring home. Any insight would be helpful.
    Thanks, Bill

    1. Thanks Bill. Sorry about the delay in responding.I’ve never been to Turkey. I’ve heard lots about the spice bazaar. You may want to buy whole spices instead of powdered ones. Whole spices are more potent and will last whereas the ground spices’ flavor dissipates in a short period. Hope this helps. Enjoy your trip to Turkey.

I truly appreciate your feedback. Drop me a word.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s