A composite of the warming spices that often flavor Indian foods from the northern, western and eastern regions of the country, garam masala can be purchased as an already prepared blend. Make your own using fresh spices to customize the flavors. The ingredients in garam masala vary from region to region with each cook imparting her personal cooking style with her take on the blend. The most commonly recognized version comes from the Punjab in northern India and includes coriander seeds, cumin seeds, whole cloves, black peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves.
Famed Indian chef and cookbook author, Madhur Jaffrey, told the BBC that her favorite garam masala combination includes cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, black cumin seeds, whole nutmeg, whole cloves and a cinnamon stick. Some versions of the blend might contain dried rosebuds to impart a floral quality, while Kashmir styles include fennel seeds. Bay leaves, yellow or black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander, dried mint, ground ginger and mace are other possible additions.
Using Garam Masala
The exact ratio of spices depends on your personal taste. Use whole spices whenever possible and grind in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder to get the best flavor and freshness from your garam masala. Store the leftover ground spice mixture in a tight-fitting container away from direct sunlight. Most recipes call for you to add garam masala at the end of the cooking process; simmering it too long can lead to a bitter aftertaste.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.