This staple in Indian cooking has become a recent spice rack must-have for many.
In North Indian and much of South Asian cooking, garam masala is a pantry staple, used to spice up everything from lentils to meat to stews and sauces. Though this beloved spice blend is not news to those familiar with Indian food (it’s usually added to restaurant favorites like channa masala, chicken tikka masala, and baingan bharta), it’s become a recent spice rack must-have for many.
As for what it’s made up of, the components can vary depending on the region in which it’s made, local traditions, and the personal preference of the individual creating the blend. Some typical ingredients include black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, cardamom, dried chilies, fennel, mace, and nutmeg, according to The New Food Lover’s Companion. Other blends may also include nuts, bay leaf, asafetida, black stone flower, or even dried rosebuds. Garam masala isn’t spicy the way that raw chillies or chilli powder are—its deep flavor is usually described as warm, which is why it makes sense that this spice blend literally translates to “hot spices,” and why its origins are in the cooler climates of North India. It’s definitely a great spice to start out with if you’re intimidated by the heat of Indian cooking.
Because the spices are typically toasted before they are ground, garam masala can’t handle a high cooking temperature, so it’s best to add it toward the end of the cooking process in order to prevent it from burning and becoming bitter. It’s also incredibly versatile—keep it in your spice rack to add a burst of flavor to meals that need a little oomph. If you’re trying to spice up roasted veggies for example, garam masala’s earthy flavor is a natural fit for anything from Brussels sprouts and butternut squash to okra. It doesn’t need to take a starring role either—you can add just a bit to homemade salad dressings and marinades to mix things up.
You can find garam masala at a well-stocked supermarket (on the international aisle or spice aisle), at a South Asian market, or online. If you’re super committed, you could try blending your own, giving you complete control over the flavor and heat, and an all-around fresher, fuller flavor. Ready to take the plunge? Our version uses cumin, coriander seeds, black peppercorn, nutmeg, cardamom, clove, and cinnamon. Just toast the spices until they’re fragrant, and then grind them all in a spice mill or coffee grinder—it’ll last for about six months if you store the blend in an airtight container in a cool dark place.