Translated as "sweet mix," garam masala is similar to a curry powder without the hot spices and turmeric. The main components of this mix are traditionally cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper with variations including fennel, nutmeg, nigella, fenugreek, cumin, and mustard seeds. Persian in origin, this spice mix is now indispensable in Northern Indian cuisine.
Yield: Makes 1/3 cup
10 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2½ tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Remove the seeds from the cardamom and discard the pods. Break the cinnamon stick into small pieces. Put the cardamom seeds, cinnamon pieces, cumin seeds, whole cloves, and black peppercorns in a small flying pan. Dry-fry for 1–2 minutes, or until fragrant. Set aside and cool. Put in a food processor or spice mill with the nutmeg and blend until finely ground.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
Although it can be used as a flavor base, garam masala is more frequently added to a dish at the end of cooking, to add a final touch of aromatics. Garam masala’s warm, pungent flavor helps define the taste of butter chicken, but is not often used in fish or vegetable dishes as it has a tendency to overwhelm them.