This an iconic blend of aromatic spices originating from the north of India.
'Garam' literally translates to 'warming' and 'masala' means a spice blend, so really this is a mixture of spices that intensify, warm and refresh the flavours of any dish. The blend itself is not hot but the combination of spices induces more of a glow to the dish.
This is probably one of the most important ingredients of north Indian food, and definitely one of the most personal. There are hundreds of variations on how to make Garam Masala depending on local and regional tastes, and different families even have their own blends, too. Some people use it at the beginning of the cooking process as a base spice, some half way through and then there are people like me who add it right at the end of the cooking process to bring all the flavours together beautifully. Then as you serve it, you really get the aroma of the spices hitting your senses.
As soon as spices are ground they begin to loose their natural oils and aromatics so it's really important to store your mixture in an airtight container as soon as possible (and somewhere dark). Some commercially produced blends can be a bit less fragrant and less complex, so I choose to make my own. I think it's best to prepare Garam Masala in small amounts, so I usually make up enough to fill a coffee jar and use it within one month. That said, it will store perfectly well for up to half a year.
So what do I use? A careful, secret blend of Cumin Seeds, Black Pepper Corns, Coriander Seeds, Cassia Bark, Carom Seeds, Black Cardamom, Cloves, Cardamom and Bay Leaves. Sadly, if I told you the precise amounts I would then have to kill you. Oh alright, I'll put it up as a recipe soon...!