Garam Masala – The Complete Guide

Of all the masala mixes that exist in Indian cookery garam masala is the best known although the spice combination is open to debate. Garam masala translates as ‘hot spice’ but a closer look at the ingredients would suggest something more savoury and subtle. Most recipes would agree on the combination of the following; cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, black peppercorns and nutmeg. Other recipes will call for bay leaf, mace and sometimes chilli and turmeric though these tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Garam Masala Ingredients

The spices are always whole in order that they can be dry roasted and then ground to release the spice’s natural oils and enhance the flavour of the masala. The amount of ingredients and their strong individual tastes and aromas go some way to highlighting the complexity of Indian food, the key to successful Indian cookery is the balancing of flavors and making a garam masala is a perfect example.

Here is a basic recipe, you can alter it as you see fit, just remember to heat the spices in either a dry pan or in a low oven for 3-4 minutes or until the spices become fragrant. Keep smelling the spices as you roast and then grind them to a powder to give you a real sense of what Indian cooking is all about. Once ground, sieve the mixture to remove any husks.

  • 15-20 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp cloves
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 50g/2oz coriander seeds
  • 50g/2oz cumin seeds
  • 4 cinnamon sticks or eight short ones
  • whole nutmeg
  • 6-8 black cardamom pods (optional)
  • 5 blades of mace

Garam masala is usually added to a dish towards the end of the cooking process as opposed to other spice mixes which are usually cooked out at the beginning. Masalas will give dishes a perfumed lift when used this way and are excellent sprinkled lightly on some grilled fish or shellfish, scallops are especially good when paired with Indian spices.

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