It's easy to open an Indian cookery book and get overwhelmed by a long list of spices and ingredients. This is something I hear a lot of from my students who are eager to master Indian cookery.
During my cookery classes, I like to break everything down and simplify what may seem like a daunting & laborious recipe into something that is digestible and easy to cook. One of the most important things when it comes to Indian cookery, is to start with the basics! Stocking up on the essential ingredients will have you prepared to create delicious Indian food anytime you get the craving for curry.
Indian food is incredibly diverse and varies between regions. Everything from the spices, vegetables and oils used, can differ depending on where you are! I'm going to share the key ingredients that you see used across the cuisine so you can stock an Indian pantry of your own.
| Foundations |
Garlic / Onions / Ginger Undeniably ubiquitous, this “holy trinity” is frequently used to form the base for dishes almost everywhere in India – especially when it comes to cooking poultry & red meat. If you don’t cook with ginger and garlic that often, you can easily freeze them and use when you need.
Chillies Some like it hot (but others don’t!). Whichever camp you sit in, the not-so-humble chilli adds a great deal of depth, if not heat to your dishes. Chillies come in different varieties but I tend to go for finger or birds eye. If you’re not a fan of too much heat, don’t de-seed. It’s not done in Indian kitchens - just use less of the chilli.
Tomatoes Traditionally, fresh tomatoes are used in Indian cooking, which are slowly cooked down until they are soft and paste-like. This can take some time so I frequently use tomato passata - the tomatoes are pre strained and smooth, so all the hard work is done for you!
Coriander/Cilantro The main herb used in Indian cookery is coriander aka cilantro. Fresh is obviously best but it also freezes incredibly well. Follow these steps for the best way to store in the freezer:
| Spices |
Yes there are hundreds of spices but there is no need to feel overwhelmed! Two things are important when buying spices. Firstly, only buy as much as you need. If you don’t cook Indian food often, do not opt for a larger pack - even if it’s more cost effective! Yes, spices don’t really “go off” but they will begin to lose their flavour and strength after about 6 months. Secondly, if you’re new to cooking with cooking spices, only purchase the essential spices first, before you branch out. I’ve listed what I consider to be the essentials, which will help you get started on your Indian cooking journey.
Cumin seeds – nuttiness
Turmeric – earthiness and colour
Chilli powder – heat
Coriander Seeds – citrus notes
Garam Masala – warmth
Asafoetida – onion/garlic flavour
Salt – flavour enhancer (& possibly the most important addition to your cooking)