FOOD & DRINK WITH JOANNA BLYTHMAN, SUMAYYA USMANI, GIOVANNA EUSEBI, ANDY GEMMELL AND PETE STEWART
In Pakistan, every family has its own version of this important spice blend. Here, Sumayya Usmani shares her mother’s recipe
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 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 sumayyausmani.com Twitter @SumayyaUsmani
Photographs: Ren Behan
Garam Masala can enhance many dishes from curry to chocolate truffles