Spiced: Desi & Indian Hip-Hop and Garam Masala Cashews

A portrait from Brooklyn and Hyderabad

Garam masala, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. You spice up all of our favorite things, from oatmeal raisin cookies to cashews, not unlike the spice that is infused into these Desi Hip-Hop beats.


Playlist: Our Favorite Desi Hip-hop

The other day I managed to hit the desi:NOW! show at Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors festival which was highlighting some of the local talent.  I was so impressed by the talent I had to create a playlist to capture some of their songs, as well as recent favs from watching Gully Boy, and of course all my favs from Kabir Sen (aka MC Kabir)!

And what better snack to have on hand with this playlist pumping from the Sonos speakers while I get some work done?  Our Garam Masala Cashews!



Garam Masala is a beloved Indian spice blend that you can find readily in stores, but most families prefer to make their own. There are regional, variations, and of course each family has their secret blend.

My mother-in-law’s version has six spices that she toasts separately then grinds together: cardamom, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and black peppercorns. You can read more about garam masala here.

naani mixin' up some fresh garam masala

When we visit family in India, we always stock up on several of our spices.  It’s interesting to recognize how the proportions have evolved over the years, particularly the eye-popping amount of garam masala we end up with.

For example, initially the proportions aligned with my mother in-law’s usage of spices: huge bags of coriander and chili powder, and tiny bags of garam masala and idli podis.  But now, we bring back multiple large bags of garam masala, medium-sized coriander powder, idli podis, and ginger pickle and smaller bags of the super-potent chili powder. 

My own love story with garam masala began back in circa 2002, when upon smelling it in a friends spice collection, I realized how wonderfully it would kick up my very favorite Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. I’ve never made “regular” Oatmeal Raisin cookies again. If you swap the cinnamon for garam masala in your next batch of oatmeal raisin cookies, you just may change your life.

slice and bake garam masala oatmeal raisin cookie
before & after. freeze a roll for easy slice-n-bake later.

It works because cinnamon is a large part of the flavor in garam masala, and the rest of the spices in the blend just takes it to the next level.  Our freezer is never without a few rolls of the dough, ready to slice and bake (or just eat raw, straight from the freezer… guilty). Our kids have even taken to making their own cookie dough ice cream with it. Also delish,

And finally, we also trade in garam masala is on homemade garam masala cashews!  I almost always have small bags of these (or another homemade nut) on me, because I’m always hungry.  It also makes a great hostess gift all dolled up in a nice box or bag, it makes a great hostess gift. 

And not only is it a great snack, but it also makes a great garnish on soup, adding nice flavor and crunch (especially garam masala roasted cauliflower soup!). Thanks to chef Drew at Hops and Pie for that hot tip. He’s now on the distribution list when we get a fresh batch of garam masala from India).




Video: Rhinoceros

One note: the Rhinoceros song (last) might not appear to “fit” in this list, but it’s there because it was a song that the amazing Urban Indian Dance troupe IMGE danced to, and that was my absolute favorite performance of the evening.  In writing this, I looked to see if there were any good vids of it posted, but I’ve yet to find one.  In the meantime below is one clip of them doing SHOOK by Raja Kumari that night.  Check out their YouTube channel has some other gems.

Just a taste of IMGE dancing to SHOOK by Raja Kumari from Cultures Capsules on Vimeo.


Garam Masala Cashews

garam masala cashews in a pretty bowl

This recipe was initially posted on Jun 19, 2011, and today we pair it with Desi Hip-hop.

hostess gift taram masala cashews, masala chai and garam masala oatemal raisin cookies with a hand drawn card.


Movie: Gully Boy

If you want more, watch Gully Boy! You can stream it free via Amazon Prime (even via free trial). You’ll get a taste of the underground hip-hop scene in Mumbai, and fall in love with the soundtrack.

And don’t forget to follow our free playlist on Spotify cuz you will be just as addicted to this music, as you will be to these garam masala cashews.