Quite literally translated garam masala means ‘hot mixture of spices’. Attention! Hot here implies the pungency of the spices used: cardamom, cinnamon, black peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg just to name a few. Each region and family has their own version. However, you will not find chilli peppers in this traditional blend of spices. Indeed the heat element referred to in garam is without a doubt pepper which is native to India. Before the chilli pepper was introduced to the old world, pepper was used to add flavour and heat to Indian cuisine. For proof, try biting into a fresh peppercorn and feel the instant peppery kick to your tongue. Add lots of freshly ground pepper to your meal and feel the heat sear your mouth. Do not expect this from shop-bought ground pepper though; it is very flat in comparison.
How to use garam masala.
It is an important ingredient in most curries. It usually goes in after the dish is cooked, to add aroma and depth to a curry. Be bold and adventurous; add it to mulled wine, gingerbread or Beef Bourguignon. It is quite versatile.
This is a powdered gum resin with a strong odour. The South Asian name is Hing. It is also referred to as Devil's Dung in English (Merde du Diable in French). Once cooked with food the smell diminishes greatly and the flavour imparted resembles that of onions and garlic. Note: It is used sparingly because of its strength in taste. It is also an aid for digestion and an anti-flatulent; a good substitute for onions and garlic too. Although originating from Afghanistan, hing has been used in South Asian cooking for two millennia. It was also used in Ancient Rome and Greece after Alexander the Great's (Sikander, his Indian name) soldiers came across the plant during their march through Central Asia.