Eat Well: The Gift of Garam Masala

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks mom!
I know it's December and I should be thinking about new holiday meals and such, but for some reason, living out of one suitcase for two months while living with Rebecca has me thinking about how to do everything simpler and that includes the holidays. All I have felt like doing since I got home is cleaning out closets, recycling and getting rid of a lifetime of accumulated stuff. (Speaking of STUFF, if you haven’t ever seen George Carlin’s routine on it, you must. It's my favorite routine from my favorite comedian.)

One way to simplify your holiday baking is to pick one recipe that is your favorite and let it become your signature food. It should be something you LOVE to make, not something that is a chore. As soon as it becomes drudgery, the whole meaning is lost. Years ago I streamlined my baking by sticking to my all time favorite candy, English Toffee.
I posted about it last year, but for those who missed it, this is the BEST candy ever, is SOOOO EASY, and makes great gifts!

Of course, your signature holiday food doesn’t have to be traditional. If you love dehydrating apples, why not give packages of those as holiday gifts? If it’s roasted nuts or caramel corn you like, make those! Lately I've been cooking lots of Indian food and this week made my own Garam Masala spice blend. I bought the spices in bulk from Sprouts (I know they are fresh because it is a high volume store), toasted them in my cast iron pan, and ground them up in a spice grinder (coffee grinder used exclusively for spices). I plan to write up a few of my favorite Indian recipes and attach them to a package of my homemade spice blend.

Garam Masala means “hot spices” and is made from a mixture of toasted spices which are then ground. Common spices used in garam masala are peppercorns, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, dried chilies, mace, and nutmeg. In northern India, each household has their own favorite recipe. You can have fun figuring out what you like and in which combination. Here is a basic recipe that I found in Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. You can change the proportions according to your taste, or add fennel seed and nutmeg for a different flavor.

Garam Masala
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 bay leaves
¼ cup cumin seeds
¼ cup coriander seeds
1 rounded tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 rounded tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 whole dried red chile
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
Combine all ingredients but the mace in a frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the cumin turns uniformly brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
Put into a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Add the mace and store in an airtight container. This will keep for 3-4 months.
You can use the garam masala as a flavoring for dips (use yogurt and sour cream half and half and add maybe a little onion or garlic) or add it at the last minute to curries, lentils, or vegetable dishes.

Here is a wonderful recipe for cauliflower using garam masala:

Cauliflower with yogurt
1/3 cup canola oil
1 medium head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small onion cut into ½ inch dice
1 bell pepper, green or red, (or 2 Anaheim chiles) thinly sliced and cut in half
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 ½ cups plain yogurt (not low fat)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 tomato, finely chopped

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Add the cumin seeds to the oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onion and salt and cook until the onion turns brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the pepper, garlic, and ginger and cook a few minutes. Add the ground cumin, garam masala, cayenne, and yogurt and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the tomato and the cooked cauliflower and cook, stirring, 5 more minutes.
Taste for seasoning and add more if needed.
Add cilantro and serve hot.


What are some of your favorite food(s) to give as gifts? I'd love to hear from you!




CJ | 10:33 AM

We use Garam Masala to make our favorite dish, chicken makhani (or chicken kiss my hiney as my teenager calls it!)

Anonymous | 12:36 PM

Great recipe! I love Garam Masala but I never thought to make my own.

My favorite food gifts are baked goods. I bake for my staff every year and they love it. Last year, I tried to skip it and go with store bought items and it just didn't cut it. If looks could kill, I'd be dead. I usually choose recipes from Carole Walter's Great Cookies. Best cookie cookbook out there.

Veronica | 1:10 PM

I would love to be on your gifting list - this year has been all about the Indian food for me, so amazing. I gifted your English Toffee last year and it was extremely well received by all :)

Britty | 2:36 PM

I have never had Indian food, but that looks good so now I'm gonna try it! We give a big box of homemade fudge to all of the families on our list and a cheese ball decorated with walnuts to look like a pine cone to all of our neighbors. The lady across the street makes homemade chocolates and we look forward to them every year. I bet the people on your list look forward to your stuff too.

Sally | 2:48 PM

I like to make little jars of marinated cheese (fetta, soft goats cheese etc). I just add olive oil, and things like garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, lemon rind, thyme, rosemary - whatever I've got on hand that tastes good!

Morgan | 3:02 PM

YUM! That looks delicious! I think simplicity is such an understated blessing. There is a lot to be said for living with only what you need, and not having baggage! I will definitely be trying this recipe soon, thanks for the tips. Have a wonderful holiday season.

chesapeake | 4:41 PM

Last year I made your english toffee as part of my annual candy-making-as-gifts extravaganza.

It is SO GOOD.

I also usually make peppermint bark and I use my often-tweaked gluten free soy free dairy free peppermint patties. Which are always a favorite.

EMQ | 6:31 PM

I've really been meaning to try and get into cooking Indian Food. This seems like a fun way to dip my toe in the water! Thanks so much for offering up delicious recipe after delicious recipe.

Meg | 4:59 PM

WWW you are the best!! After last year, I am seriously considering adopting your sinfully delicious toffee recipe and abandoning my roster of cookies.... but giving the cookies one more year to see if it's still fun with two kids underfoot (this year, one of them is just barely old enough to help if you can keep her from eating all the dough ;->>).

I have also started doing jam as gifts. My sister gave me a great and quite easy recipe for clementine marmalade, which is a little tricky to get set just right but so delicious no one ever cares, plus this year I hauled out some blueberries and raspberries I'd frozen this summer and made a mixed berry jam with some cranberries to help it set (can you tell it was the day before thanksgiving when I made it?). People love getting home-made jam, and it's a project I can do bit by bit. I love the sight of all the jars in my cupboard, waiting to make my loved ones' breakfasts more tasty.

Another great idea is home-made mustard -- so easy to make (there's a recipe here and you can tweak it to your liking. We live in Vermont, so I usually substitute some great Vermont beer for some of the vinegar and sweeten it with a little maple syrup at the end. You could use some sherry vinegar or herbs to make it fancier, and it looks so cute in those little mini 4-oz canning jars.

Kari C | 10:26 PM

Thank you so much for posting the recipie for the toffee. I made it last year and it was DEVINE!! I couldn't find my notes or remember where online I had found it!! So very good!!

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Zaftig Chick | 4:58 PM

Nothing personal but feeling highly irritated for having spent an hour trying to make the english toffee and it didn't turn out. Wasted two sticks of butter and time. GRRRR.

CSB | 12:09 PM

Thank you for the English Toffee recipe! So glad you linked to it since I missed it last year.

The recipe and your instructions were PERFECT. I've made 4 batches this week for presents. Did some white chocolate, too, to mix up the look.

Many thanks!!

Deb | 8:56 AM

So...I have a long list of cookies that my mother made, and so, I make them. Rarely do I add to that long list but I had to try the toffee. Wow! Even though it separated a bit (I pressed on regardless), it was to die for! I sent it, along with the other cookies, to my parents. I send a batch every year to thank them and let my mom enjoy "her" cookies without having to make them. My dad is so picky I actually expected a complaint that I had included a "non-traditional" item. Quite the opposite occurred. A BIG thank you for the toffee :)