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Mystery ingredient

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Garam masala

What is it?

A mixture of ground, dry spices from northern India, the composition of which varies widely by region and cook. A traditional blend typically includes coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin and black pepper. In India, where packaged spice blends are virtually nonexistent, "masala" refers to any type of spice, while "garam" describes heat or warmth, so the name actually means "hot spice" -- but not the kind of spicy hot we associate with, say, chili peppers.

Looks like:

Since it is a blend and not a single spice, garam masala's appearance will depend on its various components. It differs from other spice blends in that whole spices are toasted before being ground together.

Tastes like:

This aromatic and pungent "hot spice" mix is at once sweet -- from the cinnamon -- and warming, in a peppery way. The flavour has been described as "spicy cookies and gingerbread minus the sugar." Most cooks agree it tastes best when made fresh.

Used in :

Garam masala is ideal as a rub on roast meats and vegetables, and it's great worked into dough for flatbread and naan bread, or blended into mashed potatoes. Because it's already toasted, it can also be used as a condiment on cooked grains or in yogurt-based dips.

Found in:

Most grocery stores, especially ethnic markets.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 E4

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