It is difficult to imagine Indian cuisine without a dash of the famous and fragrant garam masala powder. A staple in almost every Indian household, the garam masala literally meaning ‘hot spice’ is actually a spice blend of various spices slow roasted and ground to aromatic perfection. There are many variants of the garam masala recipe but whether you make your own garam masala or buy it off the shelf, this spice blend is everywhere from Kashmiri dum aloo to Samose, from Paneer Kadahi to Tikka Masalas, Biryanis and street food.
Many new users of garam masala mistake it for curry powder. But garam masala and curry powder are not the same.
The difference between garam masala and curry powder
Garam masala recipe is an Indian authentic one while the curry powder is a British invention. Both spice blends may contain some common ingredients and yet their flavor profile is significantly different.
The curry powder for example gets its flavor from fenugreek, cumin and other spices used in it. Whereas the garam masala comprises pungent spices and is the hotter of the two.
One ingredient found in curry masala – turmeric is entirely missing from garam masala. It is turmeric that imparts the curry powder a yellow or orangish tinge.
The heat again in the garam masala is subdued – partly because it typically doesn’t have any chilli powder or chilli in the recipe. It is typically a combination of cardamom, cumin, coriander seeds, mace, bay leaves, black pepper, cinnamon and cloves that give it the pungent taste.
The most common garam masala recipe is that from the Northern parts of India. This is because it is a very warming spice that provides comfort in the colder winters of the North. The spice blend was concocted to keep bodies warm and to raise the metabolism. A fast metabolism helps raise the body’s temperature. As explorers and migrant merchant communities traveled elsewhere from the North, the recipe traveled too. This is why you find so many variants of the garam masala recipe throughout India.
How to use the garam masala for the best flavor:
Toasting the garam masala properly is half the trick. The best way to do this is to roast the whole spices in a heavy pan or skillet over low heat. Stir the mix occasionally until it looks somewhat darker and releases a nice, nutty aroma. Don’t roast it on a high flame because that will scorch the spices and give them a bitter taste.
Garam masala is a finishing spice
While most other spices used in Indian cooking are added earlier in the cooking process, garam masala is added typically towards the end. However, you can always use garam masala to marinade or dry rub. If you used it at the beginning of your cooking, do remember to sprinkle it towards the end to give the dish a unique flavor.
The best garam masala recipe is a homemade one.
Many celebrated chefs and home cooks prefer to use their own handmade garam masala. This lets them select, toast and grind a choice of the freshest and most aromatic spices in their mix. Here’s an authentic garam masala recipe from Veggiecurean to try your hand at:
● 2 sticks cinnamon
● 10 green cardamom pods
● 8 black cardamom pods
● 15 cloves
● 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
● 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
● 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
● 2 dried bay leaves
● Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat
● Add all ingredients and toast slowly until spices smell toasted and give off a bit of smoke. (This will take around 1 minute)
● Remove from heat, allow it to cool.
● Grind it to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or spice grinder ( ensure that the grinder is clean).
● Store in an air-tight container for about 2 months at room temperature.
Voila! Your garam masala is ready and you can use it to spice things up.