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660 Curries: What Kind of Spice Blend is Garam Masala?

Curry Spices

In my previous post I gave a condensed review of Raghavan Iyer’s “660 Curries,” my favorite cookbook this year (and it’s only half over!). In the next few posts I’ll present some of the recipes I found intriguing. I’ve also chosen items that taught me something.

Like all the garam masala blends listed in the chapter on Spice Blends and Pastes.

The first time I ever encountered garam masala, I thought it was an entrĂ©e. Then a friend explained, “No, it’s the spices.” A unique blend of spices, she explained.

That pretty much sums up most Westerners’ knowledge of garam masala. That’s not quite correct, though; and Mr. Iyer explains why.

“Garam” means warming, and “Masala” can be translated as blend or mixture. So: Any spice combination that warms the body can be considered a garam masala.

That makes it clearer in some ways, and opens the door for almost any medley of spices containing chiles (dried or fresh) to be called garam masala. And so it seems, when browsing the varied options in 660 Curries. Here are two, very different from each other, and they both look yummy:

The Punjabi blend is close to what I first met as garam masala. It’s not very zesty, but with its mix of flavor elements, it makes a great starter blend. The only part where you have to take care is toasting the seeds. The first few times I tried this kind of thing, I slightly over-toasted (read: burned the crap out of) the seeds. If you miss, though, you’re only out a few cents and you can try again.

The Rajasthani style blend isn’t as much work as the Punjabi one, at least in my hands. Also, I learned from this one that a garam masala doesn’t have to contain only dried or powdered spices. This one uses fresh cilantro and mint.

Try them out and see how you like them! In the meantime,

Enjoy the (Garam) Heat!

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