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Garam Masala: A Quick Dash of Complexity
Some of the flavor you taste at your local Indian restaurant may come from garam masala. Learn how it can spice up your culinary adventures in this Groupon guide.
In Hindi, garam masala translates simply to “hot spice,” but it probably won’t make your eyes water. Unlike the heat we experience when eating chili peppers or reaching for a too-hot cookie, the powdered mix is named for the feeling of overall warmth the blend of spices is supposed to impart. According to Ayurvedic medicine, it raises the body’s temperature and fires up the metabolism.
As the rather vague name might suggest, there is no single recipe for garam masala. Its most common ingredients are black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, but different cooks—from matriarchs to restaurant chefs—prepare their own blends using different proportions and extra ingredients that might include mace, nutmeg, and cumin. They may toast the spices before grinding them, or not. Though mostly a staple of Northern Indian cuisine, garam masala’s styles vary throughout the country: in the province of Rajasthan, coconut is often included, whereas in Maharashtra, a popular 12-ingredient version adds ginger and sesame. Whatever the formula, garam masala is a versatile ingredient. In sweet or savory dishes, in meat, poultry, vegetables, yogurt, or desserts, the team of spices adds depths of flavor in a single pinch.