In Pak­istan, ev­ery fam­ily has its own ver­sion of this im­por­tant spice blend. Here, Su­mayya Us­mani shares her mother’s recipe

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Front Page -

If you ask a Pak­istani or In­dian cook to share their recipe for garam masala, they will prob­a­bly tell you it’s a guarded fam­ily se­cret. Though it’s of­ten de­scribed as “an au­then­tic blend”, that there is no one recipe for garam masala. Most fam­i­lies have their own com­bi­na­tions and pro­por­tions of spices, and in­deed it can in­cor­po­rate from as lit­tle as three to a dozen or more in­gre­di­ents. And while these blends can vary greatly in com­po­si­tion, in most you will some or even all of these clas­sic spices: black car­damom, green car­damom, cin­na­mon, cumin, black pep­per­corns and cloves.

Garam masala trans­lates to “hot spice blend” but it is re­ally a mix of warm spices and their con­sti­tu­tion is based on the South Asian phi­los­o­phy of “warm­ing” the body, mind and soul. They bring flavour to a dish with­out burn­ing the palate and key to bal­anc­ing the ef­fect is to al­ways sea­son your dish per­fectly to bring the spices to life.

In Pak­istan, garam masala is used in most recipes for rice, meat, vegeta­bles and poul­try. It is in­cluded at dif­fer­ent stages of cook­ing as we build lay­ers of flavour. The way that we use it de­pends

on the key in­gre­di­ent of the dish. For meats, rice, and poul­try, “khara garam masala” (whole garam masala blends), are tra­di­tional and added to hot oil to in­fuse the aro­mat­ics into the oil.

Ground garam masalas are ver­sa­tile and can be added dur­ing cook­ing, or even at the end as a gar­nish, re­viv­ing, en­hanc­ing and pre­serv­ing the flavour of the spices and other in­gre­di­ents in the dish. I per­son­ally love to top lentils, rice and curry dishes with my blend.

It is the evoca­tive aroma of freshly ground garam masala that al­ways trans­ports me back to my mother’s kitchen in Pak­istan.

I re­call the haunt­ing aroma of biryani in­fused with star anise and cin­na­mon, and the hot ghee tem­per­ing of cumin seeds poured with a siz­zle over lentils.

This au­then­tic blend alone can help lend a true South Asian flavour to your food. I share my recipe as taught by my mother – but do try cre­at­ing your own unique blend too.

Recipe Garam Masala In­gre­di­ents:

(Makes about 2 heaped ta­ble­spoons)

5 green car­damoms

2 black car­damoms 1 four-inch stick of cin­na­mon

7-10 cloves

7-10 black pep­per­corn (re­duce quan­tity if you don’t like too much heat)

2-3 bay leaves


Break down the cin­na­mon and place with all the spices into a spice grinder and blend un­til fine.

Trans­fer into an air­tight glass jar and store in a cool dry place away from other con­flict­ing aro­mas. Con­sume within 4-6 weeks, for fresh­ness sake.

Note: You can also lightly dry-roast the spices be­fore grind­ing but this isn’t nec­es­sary. Don’t re­strict garam masala’s use to cur­ries: add it to grilled haloumi, mix into yo­ghurt with gin­ger and gar­lic to make a sim­ple mari­nade for bar­be­qued chicken or put a pinch into choco­late truf­fles.

Su­mayya Us­mani co-presents BBC Ra­dio Scot­land’s Kitchen Cafe. Her books, Sum­mers Un­der The Ta­marind Tree and Moun­tain Berries And Desert Spice are out now, pub­lished by Frances Lin­coln Visit sumayyaus­ Twit­ter @SumayyaUs­mani

Pho­tographs: Ren Be­han

Garam Masala can en­hance many dishes from curry to choco­late truf­fles

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