Essential ingredients in Indian Cooking

Understanding the most basic & essential ingredients is the best place to start your cooking journey. We will see some of the common ingredients required in most Indian cooking and you will be amazed at what you can do with them.


The first thing you need before you start your Indian cooking journey is to have the essential ingredients in your pantry.

Indian cooking that goes easy on the pocket. Many complain that they have to buy a lot of new ingredients for making that one curry and then the ingredients catch dust on the shelf till it’s time to make a new curry which can be many weeks (or months!) later. So, I put some thought into this conundrum and came up with a quick list of ingredients that are common throughout many contemporary Indian dishes. You can make use of these ingredients across a variety of Indian dishes, so you’re always making something new but not buying too many new items.

basic spices

So what are the basic ingredients you are most likely to encounter while cooking Indian food?

Read my notes below or watch the video

Ground spices & masalas

red chilli powder
turmeric powder
  • Red Chilli Powder: Chillies are ground and made into powder and are used to increase the hotness of the dish. The milder varieties such as Kashmiri red chilli powder is often used to impart an angry red colour to the dish without intensifying the taste too much.So its  used to give your food that rich red colour without increasing the hotness. 
  • Turmeric Powder: is another staple in Indian cuisine. It’s used quite often while tempering food, or even while marinating meat and fish. It is said that the antibacterial properties of turmeric prevent bacterial growth in meat, keeping it safe for consumption.
  • Garam Masala Powder: There is a huge variety of masalas; garam masala being the most popular of them. A masala is nothing but a mixture of spices. Different masalas differ in the type & proportion of spices used in the blend. That specific blend of spices is what imparts the distinctive flavour & aroma to the dish. Besides this, there is goda masala, malvani masala, the list goes on…
  • Asafotida or hing: it is used to mask strong pungent flavours of some other ingredients in a dish and is used in combination with turmeric, mustard and cumin. It can also be used along with or instead of onions or garlic when cooked in oil as it has that distinct umami flavour. So, if you want onions or garlic to be avoided, you can add some hing to the dish. 
  • Cumin (jeera) seeds & Mustard (rai) seedsthey are used mainly in tadkas or tempering. When they sizzle in the hot oil, their flavours infuse into the oil. You will learn more about tadkas in my next module. 


Souring Agents & Sweetners

  • lemons or limes:The larger, yellow one is lemon while the smaller, greener one is lime. Lemons are slightly sweeter while limes can have a slight bitter aftertaste. 
  • Tamarind: used commonly in Indian cuisine. What we consume is actually the ripened flesh inside the pods of the tamarind tree. In a store you can get the dried pods in the form of a block. Just take a small piece off the block, wash and soak in water and use the water in your curry..
  • Kokum / Garcinia Indica:The kokum tree grows naturally in the forests of the Western Ghats of India. The fruit juice is squeezed and the skin is soaked in the fruit juice. The skin is then dried for further use. It has a lovely sour taste and is fantastic for dealing with acidity in your tummy.
  • White Sugar: 
  • JaggeryJust like sugar jaggery is also derived from sugarcane. But the processing differs. Jaggery can be bought from a store in the form of a block or powder. 

Veggies & Greens

  • Veggies: Some very basic veggies & greens used in making Indian food are onions, potatoes, and tomatoes. Also, garlic and ginger are used either whole or ground or crushed. Many of us would have this stuff in our pantry already. our pantry already.  
  • Greens: Then there are the fresh greens – green chillies, curry leaves, or kadipatta and some fresh green coriander. Coriander has a fresh aroma and is perfect for garnishing

Rice & Wheet Floor

  • One of the staples in an Indian meal is rice. Apparently, there are about 6000 rice varieties in India. This is the plain old Basmati rice. But if you ever get a chance, do try other Indian rice varieties too.  Wheat flour is used to make flatbreads like chapatis, rotis, phulkas, polis. Again, just as it is with rice, if you ever get a chance do try some other grain flour as well as jowar, bajra etc.  

Dals (Lentils / PuLses)

  • I read in a book that if there was one grain that could be India’s national grain, it would be the dals. Either one or both of Tur dal and moong dal are used to make the yellow dal that goes so well with rice and roti. Tur dal is also used to make sambar. 

Next In Series


Learn To Cook - Pots & Pans

We have covered some basic ingredients in my previous video of learn to cook series, today let’s look at some basic pots and pans for everyday cooking..

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Hi I am Akshay

I am a Software Engineer by profession but a foodie at heart. I am in love with food! I enjoy the explosion of flavours on my taste buds and am always ready to try different cuisines. One of my fondest memories as a child is sitting on the kitchen counter, watching my mother cook. But as I travelled for work, I missed the tastes of home.
And that was the birth of Simply Simple Cooking YouTube Channel & later this blog.

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