How to Make and Use Garam Masala

Here's how to use this iconic Indian spice blend and a simple recipe to start with.

What is Garam Masala
Photo:

Matt Taylor-Gross

Garam masala is an iconic Indian spice blend that is used in a wide variety of dishes including curries, stews, soups, dals, and marinades. We love this spice because it lends a warm, sometimes sweet earthiness to recipes like this Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani and Tandoori Pomfret. Here's what you should know about this beloved spice blend.

What is garam masala?

Garam masala is a spice blend with North Indian origins. Garam means "hot" while masala means "blend," but the spice itself is not necessarily spicy-hot. Instead, the name refers to the warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin in the mix. 

The flavor of garam masala is not overly heat-driven or intense. Rather, it is fragrant, warm, and brings a slight heat that helps add complexity and round out the flavors of the dish it is added to. Not every blend will be or taste the same — it will vary depending on the region and many households have their own blend — but in general, this is a combination of spices that can include nutmeg, cumin, black pepper, cardamom, coriander, cassia, star anise, and mace. 

In our garam masala recipe from associate editorial director Chandra Ram, we include a blend of seven ingredients: cumin, cardamom, coriander, black peppercorns, ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and nutmeg for a balanced flavor.

How to use garam masala

This Indian cooking staple can be used in sauces or marinades, as part of a dry rub on meats, cooked with onions as the base of a curry or soup, or sprinkle some over your vegetables before roasting them. Try these Masala Mixed Nuts or Masala Paneer Kathi Rolls to get started using this flavorful spice blend. 

How to make garam masala

Start with whole spices whenever possible; you'll get the best flavor that way. Toast the spices gently over low in a pan to bring our their flavors, then let them cool completely before grinding them together. Don't make a large batch of garam masala; it's better when made fresh.

Yield: 1/4 cup 

  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds (from green cardamom pods)
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds  
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (or 1 whole clove)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg     

Combine spices in a dry skillet over medium heat. Toast, shaking pan, until spices are fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and let mixture cool to room temperature. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind into a powder. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 months.

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