This post was long overdue, especially, considering that I have done two detailed posts last year on the commonly used spices in an Indian kitchen (check here for Part I and Part II). It somehow always took the back seat amongst the other posts. It was high time that I uploaded this post since garam masalahappens to be the most quintessential amongst all spice mixes that have carved a place for themselves on the Indian kitchen shelves.
The blend is common to the Indian subcontinent, with slight variations of course. But first, let us understand what the name Garam Masala denotes. Garam in the Hindi language means hot and masala means spice/ spice blend. The blend of the spices, each with its own unique characteristic and therapeutic value, lends its flavor to the garam masala spice mix. Most of these spices have a warm effect on the body. Rather each has its own health benefit for the body when added in a small amount, as in the garam masala.
It is always easier and convenient to grab the garama masala pack from the store, however, to enjoy the robust and truly aromatic flavors of the garam masala, I suggest you grind your own at home and transcend to spice heaven! You will note a huge difference in the taste of your curries JYou absolutely need to ensure that you use the freshest available spices. Check my previous two posts (here & here) to understand the characteristics and benefits of these spices and how to check for their freshness.
Every family has its own spice blend; the key ingredients are more or less the same with some variations in quantities. Since the home made one is stronger in its aromas, a little goes a long way as compared to the store brought ones. Also, it depends on the kind of dish the garam masala is being used for. A hearty meat dish or curry may require a generous pinch of garam masala while vegetables or fish need just a subtle hint to ensure that the flavors of both, the dish and the garam masala shine through in a harmony. Rest, it depends on individual preference how much amount of garam masala one prefers in a curry, dal (lentils) or other dishes.
My memories of the garam masala made by Mum are that of keeping the whole spices covered with a muslin cloth out in the sun for 'drying' and then grinding them with a mortar and pestle; the traditional way. You, however, can use the spice or coffee grinder to do the job.
Here is the quantity of spices I use to make garam masala...
½ C Coriander seeds¼ C Cumin seeds2 Cinnamon quills3 - 4 Bay leave (depending on the size of leaves)1 tsp Black Pepper corns2 tbsp Green Cardamom5 - 6 Black Cardamoms (seeds only)1 tbsp Cloves½ tsp Nutmeg3 - 4 Mace
(I also use two long peppers or pipali but they were not available while making this batch)
Very lightly toast whole spices (except nutmeg and black cardamom seeds) in a heavy bottom pan or wok on a low medium heat. Transfer the spices on a plate and let them cool.
Transfer them to a grinder and grind to a powder. If you want a fine powder, feel free to sieve them. I prefer a slightly coarse powder (as shown in the pic).
On grinding the spice mix may become somewhat hot, let them cool and then store in a dry container. Keep the container at a cool dry place. Note: If you want to dry the spice in the sun, keep them in sun for 2-3 days and then grind them.Note: I usually do not add coriander seeds and cumin seeds to the garam masala since I put them separately in the curries.
Note: Ground spices tend to lose their flavor and aroma if kept for long. I usually make small batch, as this one, to ensure that I always get to use spices that are packed with flavours. the shelf life is maximum 2-3 months depending on weather and storage.
Note: I would advise to use 2-3 tsp of garam masala in robust curries and 1 tsp in mild curries or lentils or soups.
Note: A word of caution - too much garam masala in your food can be pretty over powering so use less amount initially so that you can adjust the amount later accordingly to suit your taste.