They say that variety is the spice of life — and when it comes to cooking, spice is life. Spice has the power to elevate our dishes from bland and boring to flavorful and complex. One spice that is perfect for the job of taking your dish to the next level is garam masala. This warming spice blend is a staple spice blend in Indian cooking and one that belongs in your spice cabinet — here’s why.
Garam masala is a spice blend that is a staple in Indian cooking. The name literally translates to “hot spice” in Hindi, but it is actually not hot at all. It is a warm, fragrant, and complex blend made primarily from cardamom, fennel, cumin, cassia (a relative of cinnamon), cloves, nutmeg, coriander, and peppercorns. Garam masala is earthy, sweet, and slightly spicy. The “hot” refers to the fact that the spices in garam masala are believed to elevate one’s body temperature, according to Ayurvedic medicine. It is also believed to aid in promoting weight loss, relieving bloating and heartburn, lowering blood sugar, and more.
The ratio of spices may vary from region to region, among households, and even the spice blends you find in stores. Although spice blends are convenient, garam masala is best when freshly made, as some spices may lose their flavor over time.
Making your own spice blends at home is easy. Plus, when you make your own blends instead of buying from a store, not only are you saving money in the long run, you can also choose how much or how little of a certain spice you want to add. To make your own garam masala, you will need a spice grinder (or a mini blade-style coffee grinder), an empty bottle (I always save my empty spice bottles for making blends), and a kitchen funnel. If you don’t have a kitchen funnel, you can make your own by cutting a piece of printer paper in half horizontally, rolling it into a cone shape, and then taping the edges down.
For to make this Punjabi Garam Masala, you will need 2 teaspoons black cardamom pods, 4 teaspoon cumin seeds, 8 teaspoon whole cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 4 3-inch pieces of cassia (a relative of cinnamon). Combine all spices in your spice grinder or coffee grinder and pulse until they are uniform in size. Then, simply store it in your empty bottle.
You can also try making this Ayurvedic Garam Masala. For this method, add 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds 1/4 tablespoon black peppercorns, and 1-2 bay leaves to a skillet and dry roast over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Then, grind them together and store in an empty bottle or airtight container.
Although you might come across many curry recipes that call for garam masala at the beginning of the cooking process, the true purpose of this warming spice blend is to be used as a finishing touch, so always add it at the end of cooking. It can be used to season curries, lentil and grain-based dishes, and soups.
When it’s added at the beginning of the cooking process, the complex flavors that this spice has to offer are often lost. However, that doesn’t mean that you can never add garam masala at the beginning of a dish — you just have to do it right, which is in the form of a paste. Masala pastes are often made by combining cashews, tomatoes, and spices like garam masala in a blender. To cook with a masala paste, start by sautéeing your aromatics (garlic, ginger, onion, chilis) in oil. Or, you can temper whole spices like cumin first. Once the onions or cumin seeds take on color, add the masala paste, followed by water and vegetables. This technique is used in this Mushroom Butter Masala, this Baby Corn and Peas Masala, and this Onion and Bell Pepper Masala.
Add a sprinkle of garam masala on top of this Turmeric Tofu Cashew Curry, this Easy Peas Curry, this Turmeric Coconut Milk Curry, this Sweet and Spicy Spinach and Lentil Curry, or any vegan curry recipe.
Since garam masala pairs well with lentils and grains, it is also the perfect finishing touch for kitchari, a nourishing Ayurvedic dish that is meant to help cleanse the body. Try adding it to this Lentil and Quinoa Kitchari, this Summer Kitchari Bowl, or this Nourishing Ayurvedic Kitchari. Or, try it with dal, a hearty dish made from split peas. Add a pinch of garam masala on top of this Spiced Coconut Dal, this Toor Dal With Cumin, this Onion Tomato Dal, or this Red Cabbage and Zucchini Chana Dal.
For soup, garam masala will fit right in with any soup that has an Indian-inspired flavor profile, like this Golden Samosa Soup With Mint Chutney, this Mulligatawny Soup, this Ayurvedic Spinach-Mung Detox Soup, or this Anti-Inflammatory Sweet Potato Soup.
You can also try your hand at incorporating garam masala into burgers and veggie patties, as in this Garam Masala Veggie Burger, these Masala Sweet Potato Fritters, and this Vegetable Samosa Burger. Try adding a sprinkle to these Kitchari Patties, which are made from red lentils, rice, and abundant spices.
You can also incorporate it into other vegetable-based dishes. In this Garam Masala Eggplant, baked eggplant is paired with quinoa that has been simmered in coconut milk mixed with garam masala and other fragrant spices. In these Sticky Peanut Cauliflower Wings, garam masala is used to add warm, aromatic flavor. And in this Green Bao With Garam Masala Spiced Chickpea Mash, spicy mashed chickpeas are served in a fluffy homemade bao bun.
Finally, try garam masala in savory breakfasts, like this Masala Oatmeal. Read Tips for Making Killer Tofu Scrambles and use the same vegetable and spice blend to make a flavorful, Indian-inspired tofu scramble.
Luckily, garam masala has become such a popular spice that you can find it in the spice aisle of just about any grocery store. But, you can always buy online. This Simply Organic Garam Masala is the top-rated garam masala on Amazon. You can pick up one 3-ounce bottle for $7.05. Or, try this Primal Palate Organic Spices Garam Masala, which is on the sweeter side. One 1.6-ounce bottle costs $9.95.
You can also pick up the spices to make your own garam masala, but certain ingredients, like cardamom and cassia, may be tricky to find in everyday grocery stores. Those are easy to find online as well. This bag of Spicy World Black Cardamom Pods has a minty, smoky flavor. One 3.5-ounce bag costs $10.98. For cassia, try this Spicely Organic Cassia. One 5.4-ounce jar costs $9.99.
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Lead image source: Punjabi Garam Masala