If you visit an Indian restaurant, you are going to see dishes like "chicken garam masala" and "beef tikka masala" listed on the menu. The names of these dishes come from the spice mixtures they are made with. Garam masala, for instance, is a specific spice mixture, and tikka masala is another. If you learn what is in each spice mix, you will not only have a better idea of what you are ordering, but also you'll be able to build on that knowledge in order to make your own mixes. Here's a closer look at three Indian spice mixes.
Garam masala is perhaps the most popular of Indian spice mixes. The word "garam" means "to heat," and it is believed that the spice mixture heats or elevates the body. Garam masala recipes vary somewhat depending on which region in India you visit, but they all have a base of cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. Some versions also add coriander or bay leaf, and others add mace or nutmeg.
Garam masala is typically used to season meat-based dishes. It is usually blended with other ingredients like yogurt or stock to make a sauce into which the ingredients for the dish are incorporated.
Tikka masala is very similar to garam masala, but it is a little lighter in flavor and is therefore used predominantly for chicken and veggie dishes. It consists of coriander, cumin, garlic, paprika, turmeric, ginger, and dried mint. Some recipes add a little ground chile powder for a hint of spice.
Tikka masala is often blended with tomato soup to create the signature British dish, Chicken Tikka Masala. It is thought that this dish was invented as a melding of Chicken Tikka, a less saucy Indian version of the dish, and the British tradition of serving almost everything with a gravy or sauce.
This spice mixture is not for the faint of heart. It is a good choice for people who like hot dishes, and it stands up well to beef and pork, thanks to its very bold flavor. The ingredients are typically cayenne pepper, cardamom pods, black and white peppercorns, dried fenugreek, turmeric, and cumin.
Madras curry can be made into a paste by adding vinegar. This is how it is often sold pre-mixed in stores. You can tone it down a bit if you use it with a yogurt sauce. For more information, contact a restaurant such as Deccan Spice.