What is it? In Hindi, "garam" translates to "hot," and "masala" to "spice mixture" (according to Wikipedia and several other sites). With the powerful spices involved in any variety of garam masala, "hot" refers to the strength of the flavor rather than any tongue-burning capabilities. This version of store-bought, pre-mixed spices contains coriander, cumin, ginger, red chili, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. There are near-endless varieties of garam masala, each differing with the taste of the mixer or the region of India where it's made. Other spices that are often used: peppercorns, cardamom, nutmeg and star anise. While this pre-made mix will work in a pinch, the general consensus is that a homemade roasted and mixed garam masala is the way to go.
What is it used for? This intense blend of (usually) roasted spices is used to flavor many Indian dishes. It can be mixed with coconut milk or vinegar to make a paste, used as a spice rub on meat, or used to add flavor to roasted vegetables. With the variety of spices used in any individual garam masala, it can sometimes feature as an ingredient in dessert.
Where can you buy it in Houston? This was bought in the large Middle Eastern section at 99 Ranch Market. Phoenicia is probably a safe bet as well. However, making your own from a trusted recipe by roasting and grinding it fresh would make for a tastier result.
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Recipe: Garam Masala Rice Krispie Treats: Courtesy of He Cooks She Cooks