Of all the different Indian herbs used for soup, the classic, herbal spice blend called garam masala is the most popular and widely used. This warmly aromatic herbal blend is at the heart of most Indian dishes.
The Most Common Indian Herbs Used for Soup
"Masala" literally means a blend of different herbs and spices, while "Garam" means "hot," although the blend is really isn't chilli-hot. Garam masala is an essential ingredient in Indian cuisine, particularly in the northern regions of the nation. This all-purpose blend contains most of the Indian herbs used for soup. It is added to the soup or other dish just before it is served.
It is said that there are as many recipes for garam masala as there are kitchens in India. However, most recipes will combine a simple, basic blend of these commonly available herbs and spices:
- Indian Names: Lavang, Laung, Lavanga, Lavangalu, Labango, Krambu, Grampu, Shriisanjnan,
- Used for its spicy, highly aromatic flavor. It should be used ground fresh as it easily loses its potency.
- Indian Names: Kothambari, Dhania, Dhaniya
- This aromatic herb is prized for its pungent, slightly citrusy flavor, and for the texture it adds to soups.
- Cardamom pods
- Indian Name: Eliachi, Yellakai, Ellakai, Elakkaai, Elathari, Yalukalu
- Imparts/prized for its strong, yet pleasant flavor, which is found in its seeds. The woody pods are discarded.
- Black pepper
- Indian Name: Kala mirchi, Krishnan, Krishnadi, Menasu, Gulki, Kuru mulagu, Marichan
- Used whole and ground as needed. An essential component in almost all Indian cuisine as a cooking ingredient as well as a table condiment.
- Indian Name: Dalchini, Dalochini, Erikkoloam, Durusita, Lavangamu, Illavangam, Lavanga pattai
- A fragrant spice that is prized for its delicate, sweet flavor.
- Black cumin
- Indian Name: kala jeera, Shah Jeera (Not to be confused with jeera, or regular cumin)
- Sweeter and darker-colored than regular cumin, this spice is used for its exotic, flowery aroma and its nutty flavor when toasted.
- Indian names: Adrak, Adraka, Sonth, Alla, Allam, Inchi, Shringaveran, Sringaaran, Ingee, Ada
- A basic, albeit non-essential, Indian spice, Ginger is used for its sharp, pungent flavor and aroma.
In Indian cuisine, herbs and spices are always used whole rather than powdered. They are first dry roasted and then ground to release their natural oils and flavors.
Making Your own Garam Masala for Soup
- Dry, heavy skillet or griddle
- 1/2 Cup coriander seed
- 2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 Tablespoons cumin seed
- 3 Teaspoons black cumin seed (Shahjeera)
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons clove
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons bay leaves, crushed
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons cinnamon
- 3 Teaspoons dry ginger
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons black cardamom
- Spice grinder or coffee grinder
- Airtight container
- Heat your skillet at a medium high setting. Add all the ingredients except the ginger and cardamom.
- Dry roast the herbs and spices, stirring the mixture frequently to prevent it from burning and sticking to the pan. Do not raise the heat above medium, even if you are pressed for time, as this will only scorch the exterior of the ingredients, while the inside is left raw.
- As your herbs and spices begin to lightly brown and become fragrant, stir in the ginger and cardamom. Turn off the heat and let the herb mixture cool to room temperature.
- Peel off the skin from the cooled cardamom seeds and place them back into the pan with the rest of the spices.
- Grind all the ingredients together into a fine powder using your spice grinder or coffee grinder. Add a desired amount of garam masala to your soup to taste, just before you finish cooking.
To use garam masala in your soup, you will, ideally, create your herbal spice blend just before you add it to your soup, as it is traditionally done in Indian households, However, for convenience's sake, you may just make your blend ahead of time and then store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark location, away from any direct sunlight. This will keep for a few months.
The secret to masterful Indian cuisine is an understanding of the properties of the different herbs and spices, and balancing the proportions of each of the spices that are used in an herbal spice blend. So be sure to experiment with different proportions of each herb or spice until you create a formula for your soup, which pleases you and your family.