Meaning "warming blend," garam masala is a mix of spices regularly prepared in northern, eastern and western India. Typically added at the end of cooking a dish, garam masala is a blend of sweet, spicy and aromatic spices that provides a gentle kick to a completed dish. If you don't have a commercial garam masala mix, try a substitute for a warming accent that produces similar results.
Garam Masala Basic Substitutes
Garam masala is a spice blend that is traditionally quite different depending on region of the country from which it originates. A simple substitute for garam masala is to add the same amount of curry powder to a dish. While this does not provide the same warming and sweet accents as garam masala, in a pinch, it works. If you have more time and a stocked spice cabinet, there are many other suitable substitutes for store-bought garam masala.
Punjabi Garam Masala Substitute
Much of the Indian food that is known in the U.S. comes from northern India and Punjabi-style cooking. If you don't have a garam masala spice blend, mix your own substitute to almost perfectly recreate commercial mixes. Roast 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 teaspoon each of cumin seeds and whole cloves, 1/2 teaspoon each of black peppercorns and cardamom seeds, three cinnamon sticks and three bay leaves together in a skillet until the mixture is fragrant. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a different bowl to allow it to cool. Once cool, use a spice grinder or coffee grinder to finish the garam masala substitute.
If you have chaat masala in your spice drawer, this is a suitable substitute, although not a perfect match. Considered a cooling spice blend, as opposed to the warming blend of garam masala, chaat masala is a salty, tart and sweet blend of spices that is used throughout India. In a pinch, use this spice blend in equal proportions, adding gradually to ensure the flavor not too overwhelming for the particular dish you are preparing.
Garam Masala Flavor Substitutes
You can also use various garam masala recipes to substitute into your dish to add the same effect as the commercially blended spice. If you do not have whole spices, consider using a mixture of the main garam masala components of ground coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and pepper to your dish. Use 3 parts coriander and cinnamon, 1 part cumin and cloves, and a 1/2 part cardamom and pepper. Mix them together and use them in place of commercial garam masala mix.