A masala is a mixture of spices. Garam Masala is a frequently used mix which varies a lot from one cook to the next, let alone from one region to another. I’ve occasionally seen Garam Masala referred to as “curry powder” but it is a different mix. Curry powder as we in the west think of it is not actually a traditional Indian masala mix, but similar mixes have become popular in India because of their popularity in the West. “Curry powder” constituents vary widely depending on the manufacturer. Many cheap blends use a lot of turmeric, giving curry powder the yellow color we of the west have come to associate with “curry”. Garam Masala, however, is a different masala altogether.
Garam Masala is best made from whole spices which are lightly roasted in a dry frying pan and then ground. I use a coffee grinder which is used for nothing other than grinding spices. You can usually find one for around $20. However, if you don’t have access to the whole spices or a grinder, this recipe using ground spices is a fairly good substitute. Ground spices quickly lose their flavor and aroma, but if your spices are not too old this is a fairly good substitute.
Easy Garam Masala
1 T ground cumin
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
1 ½ tsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Blend all ingredients well. Store in a tight container.
Here is a recipe for Garam Masala from whole spices. It’s from one of Julie Sahni’s cookbooks – I forget which one.
Whole Spice Garam Masala
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon, broken up
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Put the cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves in a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the spices, stirring occasionally, until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet smoky aroma, about 10 minutes. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked. Cool completely.
Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg.
Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.