Recipe Review

Forget Pumpkin Pie Spice — This Is the Ultimate Fall Blend

updated Nov 6, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Pumpkin pie spice, that classic fall blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and clove, just doesn’t excite me like it used to.

I used to buy or make the blend and use it in all kinds of fall foods — pumpkin pie, of course, but also apple crisps, muffin batters, popcorn, coffee, cookies, and more. This year, however, another spice blend has almost completely replaced it. It tastes just as comforting and warming, but is a whole lot more versatile. It’s called garam masala.

Why Garam Masala Is the Spice Blend to Cook With

Garam masala is a Hindi phrase that literally means “warm spice.” It’s a staple spice blend used in Indian cooking. And like a lot of spice blends (Italian seasoning, barbecue rub), there are many different versions. That’s because many people make it at home themselves.

There are some signature spices involved: The cinnamon and cloves from pumpkin spice are in there, but so are cardamom, black pepper, cumin, and coriander. The result is something that’s incredibly warming with just a touch of a sweet and spicy backbone. It’s traditionally used in savory recipes, but I’ve found it’s got plenty of warm baking spices notes, and can work beautifully in a handful of sweet seasonal treats.

You can make fresh garam masala yourself, but I use store-bought jars, as they’re not typically expensive (and I go through it fast enough that freshness isn’t an issue). If it’s not at your usual grocery store, any good spice shop will carry it, as does Amazon.

Buy a jar: Frontier Co-op Garam Masala, $4.85 on Amazon

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Favorite Uses for Garam Masala

  • Bake with it. Swap garam masala for some or all of the spices in your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. The same rules apply to quick breads like pumpkin, zucchini, and banana bread, too. Or try adding a pinch to apple crumble. It’s also an amazing match with molasses, so definitely try it in gingerbread and molasses cookies.
  • Roast root vegetables with it. The earthy flavors of garam masala pair so well with root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and beets. I like adding a few generous pinches along with salt and pepper, before roasting.
  • Combine it with yogurt for the best chicken marinade. Put a couple of cups of plain yogurt in a large zip-top bag (if it’s Greek yogurt, add a splash of water so it’s not too goopy). Drop in a few big spoonfuls of garam masala and several big pinches of salt, seal the bag, and smoosh it around to evenly combine. Add some chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks; seal it back up; and smoosh it some more. Put in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight and then shake off the meat the best you can and bake it for the juiciest, most flavorful chicken around.
  • Shake it on popcorn. Fancy up movie night by shaking garam masala on warm, freshly popped popcorn along with the salt.
  • Make masala eggs. Whisk a pinch or two into your bowl of eggs before scrambling for a delicious twist on the classic breakfast. Tie it together with some finely chopped green chili pepper and cilantro.
  • Stir it into soups. I especially like adding garam masala to simple puréed vegetable soups like tomato and butternut squash, but it will dress up chicken soup nicely, too.

Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.

There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular.