This is the main spice in Indian cooking and is found in most (if not all) North Indian recipes (I cannot speak for South Indian recipes for I have only dabbled in these). I have heard it referred to as “curry powder” by some of my Western friends, probably because of its ample presence in this common Indian dish. (I am assuming here that, when people say “curry,” they mean dal. I can never be too sure, though, because, to me, all Indian foods are curry-esque).
The name of the spice roughly translates to “hot spice,” although that doesn’t even begin to cover its depth of flavor. In fact, I have always wondered as to why it is termed “hot”, for it is anything but. If you add enough of it, I’m sure some heat will be imparted but it will not be the main flavor.
I could sit here and try to give you a recipe, however I fear it would be futile as every household’s is different. In fact, I don’t even know the exact recipe with which the garam masala in my fridge was made. All I know is that whenever I run out; I take an empty garlic powder container to my parent’s house, open the basement fridge, and spoon some out of the giant tupperware tub that is pretty much the only thing in that fridge.
Out of curiosity and in an effort to describe the flavor of this versatile spice, I just tasted a bit. From what I detect, there is a great deal of cumin seed mixed with a permeating earthiness. As for smell, on this I am not qualified to comment because, to me, any scent of spice or flavor is overpowered by the intense aroma of home.
Wikipedia gives a list of some common ingredients in commercial garam masala mixtures but I would never make mine that way. Given their list is correct, I now have an explanation for my friend’s frequent complaint that his Indian food never comes out as good as mine. For this reason, please choose your garam masala wisely.
Recipes with this Spice
- Curried Lentil Loaf with Chatpata Butternut Sabzi
- Indian-Style Green Beans
- Mushroom Methi (Mushroom with Fenugreek Leaves)
- Pav Bhaji
- Saag with optional Paneer (Spinach with Cottage Cheese)
- Rajma with optional Chawal (Kidney Bean Curry with Rice)
- Channa Masala (Garbanzo Bean Curry)