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 US grocery stores, so you may be tempted to try it out if you want to experiment with Indian food. if you do, you should be mindful of a few basic dos and don’ts of garam masala.
Do make your own
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 blends are not usually hot in the sense of having a lot of chili pepper or black pepper. Typical spices that you will use when putting a garam masala 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.
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 usable 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.