How to Make Garam Masala
Garam masala is a versatile and popular spice mix that adds a gentle kick and tantalising aroma to curries and other savoury dishes. With ‘garam’ meaning ‘warm’ in Hindi, and ‘masala’ simply meaning ‘spice blend’, different regions of India have developed their own interpretations of the recipe over the centuries. These vary in heat (getting spicier as you venture further south), and can contain anything from six to thirty six different ingredients.
Although garam masala is available ready-mixed, it is highly recommended that you make your own as this significantly adds to its intensity and enables you to find a mixture that suits your palate. There are plenty of different flavour combinations to explore and great scope for improvisation, so you can really get experimental when making your own blend.
What is garam masala?
Despite its capricious nature, garam masala has several core components. These are: coriander seeds, green cardamoms, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, which are toasted and then ground into a powder. This can then be combined with oil, coconut milk, yoghurt or water to make a paste, so it’s easier to infuse into your curries and stews.
How to use garam masala
Garam masala is usually added either near the beginning of the cooking process or (more commonly) sprinkled on near the end for a stronger sensory hit. It can also be used as a dry rub for meat or for sauces and marinades.
As with any spice mix, the aim is to get the right balance of flavours. The sweetness of the cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom should work to offset the bitterness of the cumin, and harmonise with the pungency of the cloves, peppercorns and coriander. Once you have found the right blend for you, it is ready to be used in your cooking; working particularly well with spicy veg, fish or meat curries, and rice dishes like biryanis or pilafs.
Garam masala substitutes
A great stand-in for garam masala is a mixture of cumin (1 part) and all-spice (¼ part). If you need to substitute any one of the staple ingredients, they can easily be swapped out with alternatives.
Caraway seeds are also a great substitute for cumin, and bay leaves offer a similar flavour to cloves. Fennel can be used instead of coriander seeds, while ordinary ground black pepper works if you have run out of peppercorns. Allspice is a good option for covering the sweeter notes provided by the cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg.
Garam masala vs curry powder: what’s the difference?
Garam masala and curry powder are not interchangeable. Garam masala is a traditional Indian mix whereas curry powder is a British ingredient, which is hotter, earthier and less aromatic.
How to make garam masala
Ingredients (with approx amounts)
- 1 (heaped) tbsp Coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp Green cardamoms
- 1 tbsp Black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp Cumin seeds
- ½ tsp Cloves
- ½ tsp Ground nutmeg
- A cinnamon stick
- Firstly, toast the spices to bring out the flavour. Start by gently heating them in a pan, without oil, for around 10 minutes, or until they start to release their aromas. Make sure to shake the pan occasionally.
- When your spices are toasted, remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
- Take your spices and grind them into a powder using either a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder.
- If you wish to make your garam masala into a paste, mix a tablespoon of oil in for each teaspoon of powder, or you can use equal parts of spice, oil and water.
How to store garam masala
Once ground, spices tend to lose their pungency very quickly. To help mitigate this, store your garam masala in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Keep an eye on it, and replace it at least every six months.