Garam masala literally means a mixture of “hot spices” and is composed of black peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, mace, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, and fenugreek seeds. To obtain the best flavor, garam masala must always be roasted for 2-3 minutes on a small, hot skillet over medium heat. Garam masala is used by itself or generally in combination with coriander, cumin, and turmeric to prepare a quick curry. Almonds, cashews, pistachios, or walnuts are also used in combination with garam masala and other spices to create seductive, subtle, delicate flavors and textures in a dish.
Remember to always sauté garlic, ginger, and onions in hot oil until they turn soft or golden brown before adding the spices, curry powder, sauce, or paste. Hot oil has an extraordinary ability to extract and retain aroma, essence, and flavor of spices and herbs. This process is performed either at the beginning of cooking a dish, or at the end, according to the directions of the recipe.
Spices are strong and must always be used in small quantities, correct measurements, and precise combinations to get the desired flavor. Some spices are more pungent and powerful than others. Always use a level teaspoonful of ground spices (never heaped). Excessive use of green or red chilies will ruin almost any curry.
Mughal-Style Garam Masala (Mughalai Garam Masala)
Makes 1 cup
1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 bay leaves
6 black cardamom pods, seeds removed and pods discarded
12 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and pods discarded
½ cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon dry ginger
½ teaspoon crushed saffron threads
Heat a small skillet over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the spices. Stir constantly with a spatula for 3-4 minutes until the spices change color to a darker shade and release their distinct aromas. Grind to a fine powder and store in an airtight container. Use as needed to season curries and vegetables.
- All the spices and herbs utilized in Indian cuisine are healthy because they are major sources of vitamins and minerals needed to preserve human life
- Magic of curry is in the blending and sautéing of spices (masala)
- Legume and bean dishes are always seasoned with asafoetida, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric to reduce gas and make food light to digest
- Vegetables always need coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, onion, and turmeric
- Certain spices such as bay leaf, black pepper, cardamom, chili pepper, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, onion, and turmeric work well together for meat and vegetable curries.
- Simple tools and utensils are used
- Many of these spices are available at your local grocery store
- Being on friendlier terms with your stomach serves you well
Check out my cookbooks Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2015) and India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine: The Art of Indian Curry Cooking (Editor’s Choice, 2016) at http://www.feastofindia.net.