When you think about Indian spices, garam masala is probably the one which comes to mind first. It is certainly the Indian spice with which Westerners are most familiar, however it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the variety of Indian spices and spice mixes available.
Over the summer my husband and I travelled back to Canada to visit family and enjoy some quiet time. The street noise outside our apartment in Barcelona is relentless – the traffic, people on cafe terraces getting drunk, slamming doors, random people yelling for no reason (as I’m writing this sentence I hear a woman yelling from outside “Mother, no! No! You’re so annoying!”). So the contrast between this constant ambient noise and the silence of the Pacific Northwest is remarkable.
Besides enjoying the silence, one of my favorite things to do while in Vancouver is to make a visit to the Punjabi market. The Punjabi market is not really a market at all but rather a collection of businesses spread over a couple of blocks which cater to Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian community. My favorite is Punjab Food Centre, which has the largest array of spices I have ever seen in one place. It has literally one full supermarket aisle of just spices. While I consider myself fairly spice-savvy compared to the average person, there could be hundreds of spices in this shop that I have never heard of before. Such is the richness and complexity of Indian cookery. But here let’s start with the basics: garam masala.
Of course you can buy garam masala as a prepared spice mix, but there are several advantages to preparing in yourself. Firstly, when you buy spices as whole seeds, they stay fresher longer than ground spices. Therefore, you can mix up a new batch of garam masala later and it will still be tasty. Secondly, garam masala is incredibly flexible and it’s well-known that recipes vary by region and by family. Therefore, you can adjust the proportions of spices to your taste. In my opinion garam masala shouldn’t be spicy as you can always add chili peppers to your dish, but I’ve bought some packages of garam masala which were extremely heavy on the chili and lacking all the delicate flavours that garam masala should have which made it practically inedible in the final dish. Finally, I’ve never had much luck with pre-blended garam masala as companies tend to us more of the cheaper spices as filler and skimp on the more expensive spices, and it’s just not good.
This is the version of garam masala that I have in my kitchen right now, but I’m always tweaking it and experimenting with ingredients, so feel free to adapt it however you like.