Perhaps the most well-known and extensively used spice in the Indian cuisine, garam masala is actually a blend of different spices. When translated in to English, “garam” is hot while “masala” is a spice mixture. So essentially what we get is a concoction of different spices put together that give dishes a distinct “Indian” taste.
For those who know the trade secret behind garam masala, this quintessential Indian spice gives dishes elements of sweetness, heat, complexity, texture and even a hint of lemon all at the same time. These various aspects of taste are derived from the spices used in the garam masala which include cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, black peppercorns, mace, bay leaf, star anise along with coriander seeds and cumin seeds. But there is no standard recipe for this classic Indian spice mix, apart from the types of spices used.
In fact, every Indian kitchen will have its own version of this interesting concoction. The resulting taste will vary slightly but the desired effect remains the same. The different spices are first roasted gently to the point where they release their aroma and then ground together to get a powdery consistency. This finely ground version of garam masala is primarily used as a finishing spice, often as a definitive garnish of a dish.
However, decorative reasons are not the only ones to add powdered garam masala at the end of the cooking process. Experts will reveal that adding this warm spice mix to the dish towards the end of the cooking process helps preserve aroma as well as the taste of the spices and will heighten the flavor of the resulting dish. And while different cooks may decide to add garam masala at any stage of cooking, it is well worth noting that since many Indian dishes are slow cooked and long simmering, doing so earlier may only muffle the flavor of the spices.
But ground garam masala is only one version of this vintage Indian spice. The other one is when the involved spices are used whole instead of being ground. To use whole garam masala, whole spices are used at the beginning of the cooking process. They are added to hot oil before any of the other ingredients and cooked quickly until they release their essence into the oil. While doing so it is important to remember that if added in greater quantities, or cooked for too long, the spices do hold the potential to overpower the food with their strong flavor making the resulting dish rather pungent. So instead, a little garam masala does go a long way for best results.
With its growing popularity, garam masala has now made its way into non-Indian kitchens as well. While it is a staple in all Indian dishes, dashes of garam masala may also be sprinkled onto marinades, salad dressings, sautés, soups and stews to beef up the taste. Some creative cooks have even found it worthwhile to season their flour used for baking so that there is an added kick to the final baked goods.
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