Garam means “heat” and masala means “spice blend”, but this versatile, aromatic mix beloved of Indian and South Asian cooks contains no chilli: the warmth comes from the pungent nature of the spices.
Christine Osmond

14 Oct 2020 - 11:48 AM  UPDATED 14 Oct 2020 - 11:48 AM

There may be a dozen or more ingredients, the combination varying between regions and households and usually including cumin, cardamom, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Garam masala is traditionally added towards the end of cooking to preserve the flavours, but you can also use it as a flavour base for sweet or savoury dishes including batters and bread. Make an effort to prepare your own: supermarket blends are often bulked up with cheaper spices and pale in comparison to those made from scratch. While different recipes for garam masala can vary between mild and fragrant to strong and pungent, it’s best to use it sparingly as too much can be overwhelming. Like all spice blends, garam masala is best made in small quantities and stored in a cool, dark place.

1. Make your own
Dry-roast 2 tsp fennel and cumin seeds and ½ tsp caraway seeds, then place in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add 1 tsp green cardamom seeds (which are a little sweeter), 2 cm piece cinnamon stick, ½ star anise and ½ tsp each of clove and black peppercorn. Grind until fine. Makes 2 tbsp.

2. Garam masala salt
Place 1 tsp garam masala and ¼ cup sea salt flakes in a mortar and pestle and pound until fine. Sprinkle sparingly over deep-fried parsnip chips, lotus root chips or fried eggplant slices. The salt can also be used as dipping salt for crisp-fried chicken or grilled lamb cutlets.

3. Garam masala and parsley butter for roasting chicken or spatchcock
Combine soft butter, garam masala, chopped parsley and grated lemon rind, and season with salt and pepper. Separate the skin from the chicken breast meat, being careful not to tear the skin. Spoon the butter under the skin, smooth the skin with your hands to evenly distribute, then rub remaining butter over the top.

4. Barbecued barramundi skewers
Combine 80 ml extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 3 finely chopped French shallots, 2½ tsp garam masala and 2 tbsp chopped coriander. Cut skinless barramundi into 3 cm pieces, toss in the marinade and stand for 20 minutes. Thread onto soaked bamboo skewers, season and barbecue until just cooked through.

5. Braised puy lentils and potato
Cook finely chopped onion, celery, fennel and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add a pinch of garam masala, diced potato and puy lentils. Cook in chicken stock until tender, add chopped parsley and season. Use to fill empanadas or toss through pasta with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and parmesan.

6. Garam masala and coconut chicken
Add garam masala to a marinade for chicken for a tantalisingly fragrant dish. It's even more flavoursome if you can marinate it overnight, but a few hours will still pack a punch.

7. Spiced duck breast with warm cherry tomato vinaigrette
Season duck breasts with your new secret ingredient for the best-ever crispy-skin duck.

8. Caramelised spiced oranges
Place peeled seedless orange slices on a heatproof serving dish and sprinkle with a little garam masala. Make a dark caramel with equal quantities of sugar and water and pour over the orange. Stir a little grated orange zest into a bowl of thick cream and serve with the caramelised orange and crostoli.

9. Spiced chocolate pots
Chocolate and garam masala are a match made in heaven. Try stirring a large pinch into your chocolate mousse just before setting, or into the ganache when making chocolate truffles. To turn up the heat on a hot chocolate, add a pinch of garam masala to the cocoa. Or try these chocolate pots, which aren’t for the faint-hearted.

10. Garam masala and currant teacake
This recipe takes its inspiration from the buttery cakes often served in the teahouses of Kerala. Serve warm with Ceylon tea.