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Feb 8, 2011 10:19 AM

Garam masala

I have a package of whole garam masala and would love recipe ideas. I know I can toast it slightly (seeds, leaves, sticks) to activate the aroma before grinding into powder for curries with cream and butter, but I'd prefer low-fat. How about sauteeing onions, garlic, ginger, reducing tomatoes, adding yogurt as a base for curry, plus the garam masala? Should I add it early in sauteeing or late in simmering?

Lots of recipes suggest just a pinch of garam masala at the *end* in addition to other seasonings, but isn't garam masala lots of seasonings already, so can't it be used early and without other seasonings? Can I mix it as is and consider it good to go as the main punch in the sauce? Or would I be missing important depth by omitting something?

Lastly some say it tastes too clove-y and cinnamonish for curry even though it's widespread in Indian cooking and there are countless versions of garam masala. How to balance that sharp clove-iness?


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  1. I've been studying Indian cooking lately. First, not all recipes are fat laden, in fact the dish you describe with tomatoes and yogurt is like many that I've read--I also like using a small amount of low fat coconut milk (I free the rest in cubes for later use) for the flavor. Virtually every recipe I've seen with garam masala instructs to be in in at the end, or close to it. I think that is because the flavors in it are delicate and will lose their aromatics with too much cooking. I look forward to seeing other comments.

    1. Definitely toast before grinding. Are you saying the Mix you have has over- clove or over-cardamom flavors or is that just what you have heard from others in general re Garam masala? If it is just in general that you will have to try what you have to determine your own taste experience.

      A close friend is from Goa and often cooked dinner for us. He used whole spices, toasted them, then ground them into a powder. This he added to the first step of cooking which usually is something like, frying the onions, this also helps the flavors activate. But I do understand that if you are using Garam masala that is already ground, just add it at the end, as it has lost alot of freshness and aroma that the long cooking would diminish.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Quine

        I've learned to cook a lot of Indian dishes since moving to England. I'm far from an expert, but would suggest that no curry should be without certain essential spices, including curry powder. The garam masala should just be used sparingly at the end of the cooking.

        I always use low-fat coconut milk and there are a lot of recipes on the web for really easy and fast curries or other Indian dishes. My favorite cookbooks are by Anjum Anand - fantastic, easy recipes that always work.

        One secret I've learned is to add ground almonds to the curry - a korma for instance. It really improves the sauce 100%.

        1. re: zuriga1

          Ground almonds and curry powder, nice advice! Thanks. Add them early in the sauteeing, midway, late?

          1. re: SuchTaste

            The ground almonds don't go in with the sauteeing. They go in when the sauce is cooking (with the coconut milk etc.)

            If you want my fast chicken korma recipe, just write... I'll be happy to pass it on. Sometimes I am so glad I moved to England. :-)

      2. For most dishes, you will toast some seasonings during the preparation, and then add the finishing spices at the end. Garam masala is often the finishing spice.

        There is no reason to ever use cream. Most of the great recipes I have used instead employ yogurt, and I have had very good success with no fat.

        1. Thanks a lot. This is what I have from your replies so far:

          Lightly toast until aromatic, grind into powder, set aside. Sautee onions, garlic, ginger, add curry powder and ground almonds, add tomatoes until reduced, mix in yogurt, simmer, then add garam masala powder near the very end, mix well.

          At what stage do I add the fish/chicken/vegetables to cook them? Or should I cook those separately, then mix with sauce before plating? I'd think cooking together in a shared pan/pot, right?

          3 Replies
          1. re: SuchTaste

            I would recommend getting any Madhur Jaffrey cookbook from the library. Indian cuisine is a complex and varied one, with thousands of years of tradition. These years of tradition would be difficult to encapsulate in an online thread. Also take a look at our Indian COTM threads for some additional ideas:

            1. re: smtucker

              Well put. I also like Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking - it has dishes from a variety of areas in India, as well as alot of background on technique, ingredients etc.

              1. re: sam_1

                I love the Sahni book, in fact, I probably prefer it, but for a cook who is just investigating Indian cuisine, the Jaffrey books seem a bit more approachable. And the pictures are lovely.

          2. I agree with smtucker. I usually add some garam masala after the onions have been "brown fried", but before the tomato is added for this type of dish. I also add turmeric, chili, and salt at this point. However, you can also just add some ground cumin and coriander at that time, and add some garam masala at the end if you think it loses too much flavour. Based on what you said about too much clove and cinnamon, you can certainly grind your own combination of spices rather than buying a pre-made package. Everyone has their own preferences/blend.

            With respect to cooking the protein or whatever you are putting in, yes, just put it in the same pot. Obviously cooking times vary with what you are making....for example, I usually sear chicken thighs before putting them in the masala to simmer for 45min or so. If making fish, it will take much less time.