The heart of most Indian recipes consists of an interesting blend of spices, which we call ‘Garam Masala’. ‘Garam’ means ‘hot’ (as in the strong flavors that the spices exude) and ‘masala’ means ‘blend’. Indian cuisine uses a lot of spices and 'garam masala' is common to most of them. Even though the spice blend may vary from region to region, the basic ingredients include a proportionate mix of cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, star aniseeds, clove sprigs, peppercorns, bay leaves, nutmeg and saffron. The spices make the blend release a distinctive aroma that enriches and enhances the food. It’s the essential seasoning that the Indians cannot do without. We can find the ready-made version of the spice blend in almost every shop around the block. However, there is nothing like preparing it at home, a batch ahead, and using it fresh. I have seen my grandmother, and now my mom, picking, wiping (with clean cotton cloth) and grinding the spices at home. Even though it sounds elaborate, it hardly takes 10 -15 minutes, depending on the quantity you are grinding.
The mix is prepared in simple steps. It needs to be stored in airtight containers to retain the freshness and the exotic aroma. 'Garam masala' adds texture, color and flavor to the food and enhances a simple recipe, taking it to a different level.
The chief ingredients are easily available and once you get those, arrange for an airtight container and a grinder (coffee grinder will do as well). Roast all the ingredients, except the saffron, on a slow flame till the spices get a shade darker. Remove from the flame immediately, add the threads of saffron and allow it to cool down. Once cooled, grind the spices in the dry and clean grinder. Sieve the mix and store in an airtight container. 'Garam masala' prepared at home can be stored for several months while still retaining the original flavor.
2 tbsps cumin seeds
1 star aniseed
1 tbsps black peppercorns
4 pods cardamom
3-4 sticks, moderately sized cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
1 whole nutmeg
A few threads of saffron
Be patient. Roast on slow, low heat.
Add the saffron after the skillet is removed from the flame, but when still hot.
Sieve thoroughly to remove coarse particles.
Store in an airtight container only after it is cooled totally.
Try putting a little amount in your food to start off with since it has a strong flavor that you might need time to get used to.
Striking a perfect balance by putting the right amount of 'garam masala' in food helps in retaining the integrity of the vegetables, meat and the other ingredients.
'Garam masala' is an amazing blend of spices that keeps us warm in winter and cool in hot months. The individual spices have great medicinal values, that add to the usefulness of the spice blend. It has intrinsic qualities that help in digestion (they help stimulate the secretion of enzymes), nutrient assimilation, reducing inflammation and in relieving pains. It also relaxes the body muscles, eases out mental stress, acts as an appetizer and helps coping with cough, cold, bronchitis.
Lastly, try using garam masala along with your meats, sea food and Indian recipes or even with your sauces. You will relish it.