Cooking With Garam Masala: The Dos And Don’ts

Spices are arguably the most important part of Indian food. One of the common mixtures that you will come across when looking at Indian recipes is garam masala. There are numerous variations depending on region and even depending on the household. These days you can find garam masala blends in most grocery stores, so you may be tempted to try it out if you want to experiment with the tastes of India. If you do, you should be mindful of a few basic dos and don’ts of garam masala.

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Do make your own homemade garam masala.

Many Indian cooks prefer to assemble their own from individual spices. Selecting, toasting, and grinding your own spices allows you to get the freshest and most flavorful spices in your garam masala blend. Toasting is important for bringing out the flavors of garam masala spices. Garam masala translates literally to warm spices, but the warmth refers to the toasting rather than to peppery heat.

Garam masala recipes are not usually hot in the sense of having a lot of chili pepper or black pepper. Typical ingredients that you will use when putting a garam masala spice blend together include cardamom, cinnamon, and coriander. After toasting, you should simply grind the spices as finely as possible with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Do toast your garam masala correctly.

The best way is to place the whole spices in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir occasionally until they get a few shades darker and release a light smoke and a sweet fragrance. Avoid the temptation to increase the heat to speed the process up. This could cause the spices to scorch and become bitter, or brown on the outside without the insides being properly toasted.

Do use garam masala as a finishing spice.

Unlike other spice mixes that you add earlier in the cooking process, garam masala is traditionally added at the end of the cooking process. Of course, this rule is not written in stone. You can add it at any point when cooking a dish, including as a part of a marinade or dry rub. Even when you use it at the start of cooking, you should sprinkle on some more at the end to give the dish a burst of flavor. You can actually add the final dash right at the table.

Do go simple with use cases, like fresh vegetables or bread.

There’s already a ton of flavor in garam masala. So, a dish with many components may become overwhelming with flavor when you add garam masala to the mix. To truly enjoy the flavor of this spice blend, keep the use cases simple, like with fresh vegetables. Some popular vegetables that are often seasoned with garam masala include potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, spinach, and peas. To use garam masala on vegetables, simply sprinkle a small amount on the vegetables while cooking or mix it with a little bit of oil and marinade the vegetables prior to cooking.

Garam masala also works quite well over simple breads, like a crusty loaf or Indian naan bread. The tastes of the spice blend are again front and center.

Don’t use pre-made garam masala if you can help it.

While pre-ground and premixed garam masala blends are both convenient to use and easy to find, you should keep the difference in quality in mind when choosing between a packaged blend and one that you make yourself. Ground spices lose their freshness very quickly. Making your own from spices that you grind yourself ensures that your garam masala will stay fresher for longer.

Don’t buy in bulk if you do decide to use a pre-made garam masala blend.

If you do decide to use a blend in the grocery store, purchase only as much of it as you intend to use right away. Because of how quickly spices lose their flavor after being ground, anything left over will not be as flavorful as you’d want for very long.

Don’t go overboard with garam masala.

If you make your own with quality spices, the blend will be particularly pungent. As a result, you run the risk of overpowering the other flavors in your dish. Use it carefully, especially if you are not familiar with Indian spices.