What is Garam Masala?
Garam masala is a combination of savory spices often used in curry dishes with other fragrant spices, including turmeric or red chili powder. In Hindi, the term “garam” means warm, and the term “masala” means spice blend.
Since the garam masala spices are very rich in flavor, the ratio of each spice in the garam masala will broadly impact the overall flavor profile of a curry. Consequently, the garam masala should be purchased from a reliable source or made from scratch.
My garam masala comes from India, and whenever one of my aunties is on the subcontinent, she picks up sacks of it for all of her relatives! I grew up eating this combination of garam masala spices but never having made it myself.
So, when the time came for me to put together some Indian recipes for Savory Suitcase, I tried employing store-bought garam masala, and I was overwhelmingly disappointed. Bottles of clove-forward or cinnamon-forward garam masala blends filled the shelves. What’s more, no bottled brand yielded my Grandma’s curry chicken. And so, I knew that I had no choice but to get in the kitchen and start experimenting with the ratios in garam masala. After days of trying different combinations and amounts, I finally found the perfect combination!
What is the Difference Between Curry Powder and Garam Masala?
Garam masala spices, mainly cardamom, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, bay leaves, and peppercorns, are usually included in curry powder with red chili powder, and turmeric for a curry dish.
Moreover, garam masala is light brown and gray, whereas curry powder is bright yellow. However, it is essential to note that curry can take on various forms and various spice blends depending on its regional origin. So, “curry powder” in your local grocery store can be made up of multiple variations of spices.
Essential Spices in Garam Masala
- Green Cardamom Pods
- Coriander Seeds
- Cumin Seeds
- Bay Leaves
How Does Garam Masala Taste?
Garam masala tastes savory, sweet, nutty, earthy, and peppery with a floral nose.
Removing the Cardamom Seeds
Break open green cardamom pods using a mortar and pestle and remove the seeds. Discard the shells and toast the seeds by following the instructions in the next section.
Toast the Spices
Toast the spices in a dry sauté pan at medium-low heat to enhance those flavors by releasing their natural oils. You may toast both ground spices and whole spices. Wait until the pan is hot, and then add the spices.
When they appear intensely aromatic, they are ready for use. The toasting process should only take 30 seconds to 1 minute. For our recipe, we use whole spices except for cinnamon and nutmeg. It is important to note that ground spices are more prone to burning than whole spices. Be careful not to burn them. You do not want a burnt taste to appear in the dish.
If you opt for cinnamon bark and whole nutmeg, use a microplane to grate fine grains. Allow the spices to cool, and then add them to a spice or coffee grinder and grind them into a powder.
Traditional Dishes that Use Garam Masala
- Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)
- Curry Chicken
- Moong or Masoor (Lentil) Dal
- Aloo Gobi (Curried Potatoes and Cauliflower)
- Saag Paneer (Curried Leafy Greens and Paneer Cheese)
How to Use It
Store the ground garam masala in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Use it for up to one year. For maximum freshness, use it within six months.
How to Make Garam Masala
- 1/4 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 green cardamom pods seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 black peppercorns
- 6 cloves
1. Remove the Cardamom Seeds from the Pods
- Break open cardamom pods, discard the shells, and set aside the seeds.
2. Toast the Spices
- Place a dry saucepan on the stovetop at medium-low heat.
- Add coriander seeds, cumin seeds, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, and cloves to a dry saucepan.
- Dry sauté the spices for 30 seconds to 1 minute, to toast them.
- Allow the spices to cool after toasting them.
3. Grind the Spices
- Add whole and ground spices to a coffee grinder and grind them into a powder.
- The powder is now ready for use.