Garam means "hot" and masala means "spice blend", but don’t assume this versatile, aromatic Indian spice blend is all about chilli-like heat. It does usually include ground black peppercorns, but it’s the combination of these and other spices that leaves you with a warm glow when enjoyed in curries and other dishes.
In India, ingredients change depending on region, household and dish, so the effect might range from mild and fragrant to strong and pungent. A version that’s easy to make at home comprises black pepper, coriander and cardamom seeds and a stick of cinnamon, dry-roasted and then ground.
"Whole" garam masala, used in north India where the blend originates, could feature cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, cardamom pods, mace blades and black peppercorns, fried in oil or ghee before the addition of other ingredients. In some recipes, the spices are ground and mixed with coconut milk or water to make a paste. In whatever form, the spices release a delicious aroma upon heating.
Garam masala can be added at different stages of cooking, depending on the dish, but if using a bought blend, it’s better to add it towards the end, so that the more dilute fragrance and flavour is retained. Ground garam masala can also add a gentle but mouthwatering aroma of roast spices when used as a finishing condiment.
Use garam masala in ...
meat and vegetable curries such as prawn madras, rogan josh, chicken curry, and beef biryani. It works especially well in tomato and onion-based curries. Add it ground to lentil or vegetable soup, pilau, Bombay potatoes or lamb filling for samosas. Combine with salt and lemon to season chicken, fish or lamb, and try it sprinkled over roasted root vegetables, pumpkin soup, buttered corn on the cob or popcorn.
Garam masala goes with ...
fish, seafood, chicken, lamb, coconut milk, yoghurt, potatoes, rice, eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, onion, capsicum, peas, spinach, garlic, ginger, lentils, beans, chickpeas, nuts, dried fruits, fresh coriander.