What herbes de provence is to French cooking, garam masala is to Indian cuisine. Garam masala is a mix of various spices that delivers the intensely rich flavors and aroma so distinct to the region. Garam means “hot” or “heating” and refers more to the toasting of the spices before grinding or the warming of the body when it’s consumed than to a spicy kind of heat. Masala simply means “spice” or “spice mix”. There is not one set recipe for garam masala; instead, the spices and its ratios vary from cook to cook, depending on his or her palate. A common version, though, consists of green or black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and black peppercorns. Others may also include coriander, cumin, fennel, mace or nutmeg, caraway, and/or dried bay leaves.
Whatever the particular spice blend contains, one factor that remains consistent is that the spices are heated before use and typically added in the last steps of preparation, as cooking the spices for too long can produce a bitter taste. Depending on the recipe, garam masala is either used whole–heated in oil or ghee and then added to, say, plain basmati rice or biryanis–or toasted and then ground before adding to lentils, meat curries, kebabs, vegetables, or yogurts.
Garam masala can be purchased as individual spices or as packets of premixed spices, either whole or ground.
- whole spices