Magic Spice – the Garam Masala



Often when one comes across the ingredient Masala, Garam Masala, and Curry powder in any Indian recipe, there is confusion. The Chapter on “Understanding Biryani, Pulao, and Curries” sufficiently demystified “Curry Powder”, and my goal in this chapter is to do the same for Masala and Garam Masala. There are many different masalas, but for now I will simply write about the most commonly used masalas in my recipes, namely Garam Masala, Mutton Masala, and Goda Masala. I would also like to show you how to prepare these masalas in your own kitchen in the hopes that eventually you would create your own variant mix! Remember, this small list of masalas is really just scratching the surface of the world of masalas.

Masala, a word of Arabic origin, meaning “a thing which is good and right (maslahah)”, generally means seasonings of any sort. As we experienced in the movie, “The Mistress of Spices”, there is a magical realism about the spices. It is blending of the magical (medicinal powers) elements of the spices that place the “real” and the “fantastic” properties in the cuisine. I refer to them as magical because they are somewhat magic, and can transform dishes from ordinary to divine by simply sprinkling their magical quantity according to the recipe. The masalas can be either wet or dry, and can go into both sweet and savory dishes.

Garam means “hot” and masala means, “spice mixture”. This does not mean Garam Masala is actually spicy. The word “hot” refers to the warmth of the aroma and taste. The mysterious spice mix frequently cited in many Indian recipes can easily be made at home in few minutes with a handy coffee grinder! Although, Garam Masala can be purchased at local Indian store, I opine that the flavor and aroma of freshly ground spices cannot be matched. Garam masala is a combination of a few favorite Indian spices mixed into one, resulting in an easy to use blend. The resulting mixture “garam masala” has many variations from region to region, and household to household. Most versions use the same foundation of spices: coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, whole black pepper corns, fennel seeds, cardamom, cloves, and cumin seeds. On top of these, a few regional touches are added to bring in the flavors of region and household tradition. All the spices you will need to make your own garam masala can be found at any well stocked local grocer. When making your own garam masala, always purchase whole spices as they render the flavor far superior to buying ground spices.