Garam masala is a spice blend commonly used in Indian cuisine, as well as in Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, and Pakistani cuisines. In Hindi, garam means hot, so garam masala denotes a “hot spice mix”.
Garam masala can be used as the only spice mix for a dish, or be combined with other spices and seasonings.
Many different recipes exist for garam masala. Some recipes intend to create a very balanced spice mix, while others allow one or two flavours to dominate and let the others play supporting roles.
The ingredients are usually dry roasted before being ground together.
Examples of very common ingredients in garam masala are cloves, cumin, coriander, cinnamon or cassia bark, mace, green cardamom pods, black cardamom pods, fennel, black peppercorns, and white peppercorns.
Star anise, chilli pepper, dagad phool, kababchini, and asafoetida are all examples of less commonly used ingredients for garam masala.
Generally speaking, garam masala made in northern India (including Punjab) is more likely to have black pepper as its only really hot ingredient. This style of garam masala focuses more on sweetness and aroma than on heat. The farther south we travel in India, the more likely are we to run into more hot garam masala that includes red chilli pepper.
Garam masala paste
The dry garam masala is the most common one, but garam masala pastes also exist. To make a paste, the dry ingredients are mixed with water, vinegar, coconut milk or some other liquid. There are also recipes where chopped garlic, onions and/or nuts are added to the paste.
Genereally speaking, garam masala paste is more common in southern India. To the north, dry garam masala dominates.
Garam masala recipe
As mentioned above, a multitude of recipes exist for garam masala, and it is not unusual for two Indian families living next door to each other to use two different, inherited, recipes for their homemade garam masala.
Below, we will share one of the many popular versions of garam masala. Do not be afraid to experiment and adjust it to your preferences, e.g. by adding more of some spice and less of another.
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 whole cinnamon stick
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.
- Fry coriander, cummin, cardamom and black peppercorns in the skillet for roughly 10 minutes, until they have darkened a bit. Stir frequently during the frying to avoid burning.
- Spread the fried spices over a plate and leave to cool.
- Grind all the ingredients except the nutmeg in a coffee grinder.
- Grate the nutmeg and add it to the mixture.
- Stor in an air-tight container in a dark and cool place.
Cooking with garam masala
On the Indian subcontinent, garam masala is used for a wide range of dishes. It can be found in vegetarian and vegan food as well as dishes that contain animal protein.
Garam masala is often added near the end of the cooking process. Right before you serve, you can sprinkle some additional garam masala right on top of each plate.