The composition of garam masala differs regionally, with many recipes across India according to regional and personal taste, and none is considered more authentic than others. The components of the mix are toasted, then ground together.
A typical Indian version of garam masala contains:
black and white peppercorns cloves Cinnamon or cassia bark nutmeg and mace black and green cardamom pods Bay leaf Caraway Some recipes call for spices to be blended with herbs, while others for the spices to be ground with water, vinegar, coconut milk, or other liquids, to make a paste. In some recipes nuts, onion, or garlic may be added. Some recipes also call for small quantities of star anise, asafoetida, stone flower or Dagadphool and Kababchini (Cubeb). The flavours may be carefully blended to achieve a balanced effect, or a single flavour may be emphasized. A masala may be toasted before use to release its flavours and aromas.
The order in which spices are added to food may be very elaborate in some dishes. In the case of the Kashmiri speciality rogan josh, for example, coriander, ginger and chilis are each ground individually, and a garam masala of cloves, cardamom, fennel, red or black chilies, cumin, turmeric and nutmeg is prepared separately. The cook tastes the dish carefully to determine the precise moment when the next spice should be added. The order is coriander first, then the ground ginger, then the garam masala, and finally the chilis.
In the chicken dish, murgh kari (chicken curry), the procedure is also precise. First, the chicken is fried and removed from the pan. Onion, garlic, and fresh ginger are added to the pan and cooked slowly for 7 to 8 minutes. Next cumin, turmeric, ground coriander, cayenne, and fennel seed are added with water and fried for a minute or so. Next tomato concassé is added with fresh coriander, yoghurt, and salt. The chicken is returned to the pan and more water is added. Finally, some garam masala is sprinkled on top, the pot is tightly covered, and the dish cooks another 20 minutes before serving.
In Pakistan, garam masala is a common additive in various types of pilau (pilaf). It is usually added to hot oil in which onions have been fried golden brown.