Khmeli suneli (dried spices) is a Georgian spice blend that shows up in many different recipes from the Caucuses. Like many traditional spice blends, it is often compared to garam masala. While it can have certain spices in common with the most popular Indian spice blend, it also has a very different flavor profile. It has a strong focus on herbs, while most garam masala blends consist of spices. Georgian food is not exactly the most popular international cuisine in the west, which means that if you are in the US or Western Europe, you may have a hard time finding khmeli suneli on short notice. If you need it as soon as possible, try one of these khmeli suneli substitutes.
Your best bet: Make your own khmeli suneli
The traditional way to make khmeli suneli is for the cook to choose his or her preferred herbs and/or spices and to grind them together. In other words, there is no universal recipe. While you do need a few core ingredients to for it to have the blend’s central flavor profile, you also have some latitude when it comes to other elements. While some of the important ingredients in it (like marigold petals, for example) may be somewhat exotic and difficult to find in most places, most are not. You should be able to get herbs like dill and marjoram at your local grocery store.
Similarly, spices like peppercorns and cumin are also easy to find. Simply combine these to taste and use your blend in any recipe that requires khmeli suneli. Note that fenugreek leaves and/or seeds are responsible for key flavor notes in khmeli suneli. Finding fenugreek can pose a challenge depending on how well stocked your grocery store’s spice aisle is; however, you may be able to find it in an Indian market.
A decent second choice: Italian seasoning
Italian seasoning is a blend of herbs commonly used in Italian cooking. The herb is not actually Italian as it does not exist in Italy, Italian cooks preferring to use one or two herbs instead of five or six. It is a product formulated to meet the needs of Italian immigrants to the US in the early 20th century. Like the other blends on this list and like khmeli suneli itself, Italian seasoning can be varied by the cook to include or exclude ingredients based on preference or availability. Among the herbs usually included in Italian seasoning are basil and marjoram, both of which show up in many khmeli suneli blends.
In addition, some versions of Italian seasoning will include mint and bay leaf. Mint and bay leaves also often show up in khmeli suneli blends. It is important to note that even though Italian seasoning can work in many recipes that call for khmeli suneli, there are differences in the respective flavor profiles. Consider the fact that Italian seasoning will almost always include rosemary, a pungent herb that does not show up in traditional khmeli suneli.
In a pinch: Curry powder
The curry in curry powder is the anglicized version of a Tamil word, kari. Kari denotes a dish that features a spiced sauce. While curry powder is a British invention that consists of Indian spices, many of the spices it contains are also found in khmeli suneli. In particular, fenugreek is one of the foundation spices in both blends. Curry powder also contains a significant amount of turmeric, which can stand in for the saffron that is found in many khmeli suneli blends. Because of these spices, both spice blends can give the dishes in which they are used a bright yellow color. Like khmeli suneli, curry powder blends often have a complex flavor profile and combine both sweet and bitter elements. The big downside of curry powder is that while it has many spice elements in common with the Georgian blend, it lacks the herbal component.
Use curry powder as a 1:1 substitute for khmeli suneli.
Ras el hanout is a Moroccan spice blend that can be as complex as khmeli suneli. It can include floral elements as well as some of the same spices used in khmeli suneli.