Garam Masala and How Spices Speak to Us October 20 2016
Garam Masala has become a much bigger part of my life recently.
It's a mix of spices widely used in India and, as is so often the case, has many variations. Pretty much all the variations include cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorn, and nutmeg or mace - made from the outer shell that protects the inner nutmeg kernel. We use a fresh ground blend from Savory Spice Shop.
Garam masala means "warm spice mix" or "heat mix". What's so fun about this is that this does not refer to spicy heat. While garam masala is full of spices and flavor, most (including ours) do not contain chile pepper or any nightshades. Score one for those of us sensitive to nightshades who crave similarly bold flavors.
What warm refers to is instead that in Aryuvedic medicine, this combination of spices actually helps to warm the body and improve "digestive fire". This heat has been measured from the Western medicine perspective as well. Garam masala actually raises the heat of the body by increasing metabolism.
It also tastes great. As engineer turned food writer, Monica Bhide puts it, "I finally understood the magic behind garam masala. It makes such a difference in a dish: cinnamon adds sweetness, black pepper adds heat, nutmeg adds complexity, coriander makes it a touch lemony and adds texture. The spices all play so well together!"
I've been on a version of the SCD (specific carbohydrate diet) / GAPS (gut and psychology syndrome) diets for over five years now. Through a lot of reading and research, trial and error, I've found a way of eating that when I stick to it controls the symptoms of my ulcerative colitis - inflammatory bowel disease - digestive issues. I'll spare you the unpleasant details here.
Now, while I am SO grateful that I have not been dependent on hospital visits and medications, I have also been hopeful that I can do something more to help my body to heal. Increasingly I am turning to spices, especially at the urging of a Tibetan Medicine doctor whose tradition has lots of experience treating digestive issues like mine.
Spices are an excellent reminder that food is so much more than fuel or even flavor. And time honored, synergistic flavor combinations are often giving us clues about what foods compliment each other on a more nourishing and healing level and what foods compliment us.
It is so tempting to move into our minds to try and analyze what is and isn't good for us. While our minds can certainly help (like getting clues about options to try from this newsletter), there is much to be said for letting genuine enjoyment and pleasure, that perfectly balanced dish or burst of flavor that stops you in your tracks and your body just shouts "Yes! I love this!", speak for itself too.
(This is much easier if you have developed a relationship with your body in which you are able to listen. Just like all relationships this takes effort, awareness and love, especially if you haven't really thought of your body as your friend).
Garam masala has totally been doing this for me. I even just put a version of it in a Chocolate Beet Cake with Cherry test recipe - amazing!
So go ahead and try these different spice blends in our foods or experiment at home. See what combinations make your body say "yes!!". Then you can go and Google away to figure out why if you'd like. :)