Fabulous chicken tikka masala (recipe below) uses both garam masala & curry spices
Both garam masala and curry are complex combinations of spices that are emblematic
of Indian cuisine. These two important spice blends, however, are used in many countries of the world beyond India----from the Middle East to Pakistan. (Curries are even popular in Asia). Garam masala and curry are often confused. They serve much different purposes and are not interchangeable.
While curry and garam masala contain several common ingredients such as cumin, ginger and coriander, the key differences between these two is the fact that curry is turmeric-based. Tumeric, a bright yellow-orange root, is the main ingredient in many curry blends. It is responsible for the classic yellow-orange appearance of many curry dishes.
Another difference is that garam masala has a sweeter taste than curry (although garam masala does not not a grain of sugar). Looking at garam masala’s composition one can easily see what’s responsible for creating the illusion of sweetness: pungent cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. Fennel seeds also add to its sweet character with hints of licorice flavor. Garam masala, however, has a multifaceted profile that extends beyond its sweet spicy nuances. Pops of black pepper mix with perfume-like ginger, and aromatic mace to create a multi-layered symphony of flavors.
The last difference between these two spice blends is that garam masala is often added at the end of cooking to flavor so that it not only seasons the dish but adds aromatics. In contrast, a curry spice blend is mostly used on the front end to impart deep flavor during the cooking process (e.g. marinating with curry spices prior to cooking significantly enhances flavors). Curry is also frequently used to add complex flavors to a sauce that is cooked over a long period of time.
Below is my favorite Indian recipe. This chicken dish uses both garam masala and a blend of curry spices. I serve it with a brown rice/fresh spring pea mixture…and a dry Gewurztraminer.