Garam marsala is a combination of, generally toasted, spices. It is most common in the cuisine of North India and southern Asia. The term “garam marsala” translates into “warm spice mix.” This is not because of the temperature of the spices but because they make the person consuming them feel warmer as they are eating.
The ingredients in this spice mixture can vary according to the region and from chef to chef. Generally it will include coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Different variations include turmeric, saffron, fennel seeds, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, mace, star anise, tamarind, fenugreek, bay leaves or malabar leaves.
The form that it takes, as an ingredient, can also vary. In Northern India it is generally used as a powder, but in southern India it is combined with milk, vinegar or water to create a paste.
According to Monica Bihd at the National Public Radio, the combination of the spices blend together to create a complex dish. “… cinnamon adds sweetness, pepper adds heat, nutmeg adds complexity, coriander makes it a touch lemony and adds texture.”
The spices can be used whole and be added to hot oil before any other ingredients are placed in the pan. In this form the spices are called khada masala. As they heat up, the oils are released and the spices blend together beautifully.
As a ground spice, the aroma of the spices are released by heating them. This product is then used to finish a dish, Garam masala can also be an addition to marinades, salad dressings, sautes, even in soups and stews.
There are some specific dishes to which garam marsala is almost always used. Roghan josh, a Kashmiri dish, is one such dish. In rogan josh, the coriander, ginger and the chilis are ground up separately. Then a combination of cloves, cardamom, fennel, chili, mace, cumin, turmeric and nutmeg are prepared. Each spice is added at the cook’s discretion, at just the right time to bring out the flavors of all the spices.
In the chicken curry dish Murgh Kari, after frying the chicken, onion, garlic and fresh ginger are added. Then comes cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, cayenne and fennel seeds with water. After this tomato concasse, cilantro, yogurt and salt are placed in the pan, followed by the chicken and water. Garam masala is then placed on top before the cooking is complete.
Garam masala is a wonderful addition to dishes. When biting in to a dish with it as an ingredient, the consumer is taken to a different place where food is tasty and comforting.