A Basic Indian Pantry: Unlock the Flavors with a Few Ingredients

hands touching a spice jar from a spice rack set on a wooden counter top with gray backsplash.

A Basic Indian Pantry: Unlock the Flavors with a Few Ingredients

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Indian food is a cuisine known for its rich flavor and bold spices.

Often, beginners assume that making Indian food requires a kitchen full of exotic, hard-to-find ingredients. But the truth is, you just need a basic Indian pantry with just a few staple spices and ingredients to achieve authentic, flavorful Indian dishes.

In this article, we’ll be breaking down the key ingredients that form the core of any basic Indian pantry. With these ingredients in your kitchen, you’ll be able to whip up a wide range of delicious Indian dishes, and elevate your cooking to new heights.

Core Whole Spices

A round Indian spice tin with little containers of spice powders and whole spices.
masala dabba

The spices in Indian food are responsible for the layers of flavor that make the cuisine so beloved. Here are the essential whole spices that should make an appearance in any basic Indian pantry:

  • Cinnamon Sticks: These fragrant, sweet sticks add warmth and depth to dishes such as biryanis and chutneys.
  • Cloves: With a warm, slightly bitter flavor and a pungent aroma, cloves are used in meat dishes, rice pilafs, and even chai tea.
  • Green Cardamom: Featuring notes of citrus, camphor, and eucalyptus, green cardamom is an integral part of many Indian desserts and savory dishes.
  • Cumin Seeds: With a warm, earthy flavor and a spicy aroma, cumin seeds are used in everything from dal to kebabs.
  • Coriander Seeds: The seeds of the coriander plant are nutty and citrusy and are a cornerstone of Indian cuisine. They’re used in curry pastes, spice blends, and marinades.
  • Dried Red Chilies: While there are many types of dried chilies used in Indian cooking, the basic red chili is an essential ingredient for adding heat and flavor to dishes such as curries and masalas.
  • Mustard Seeds: These tiny, pungent seeds come in black, brown, and yellow varieties. Mustard seeds are indispensable in South Indian cooking and are used in spice blends and tempering oil.

Core Ground Spices

Here are the powdered spices you’ll want to have in your basic Indian pantry:

  • Kashmiri Red Chili Powder: Known for its deep red color, Kashmiri chili powder is not as hot as some other chili powders. It’s perfect for adding color and flavor to dishes.
  • Cumin and Coriander Powders: If you don’t want to grind your own spices, you can purchase cumin and coriander powders. These powders are used in countless Indian dishes and add depth and flavor.
  • Turmeric Powder: This bright yellow spice is renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, and adds a unique flavor to rice, lentils, and curries.
  • Garam Masala Powder: A blend of spices that often includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves, garam masala is used to add warmth and fragrance to Indian dishes.
  • Anardana Powder (Pomegranate Powder): While not a staple in every Indian pantry, anardana powder adds a tangy, fruity flavor to dishes such as chana masala.

Boxed Spices

While the spices we’ve listed so far can be bought and stored in bulk, there are a few boxed spice blends that are worth keeping on hand:

  • Chana Masala: This boxed spice blend is a shortcut to making authentic chana masala, a popular vegetarian dish made with chickpeas.
  • Garam Masala: A blend of warming and fragrant spices,
  • Kitchen King Masala: A versatile spice blend, Kitchen King Masala contains a blend of whole and powdered spices, including cumin, coriander, and turmeric. It’s perfect for adding a punch of flavor to vegetables and lentils.

Grains and Lentils

Indian lentils and pulses

Indian cuisine features a wide variety of legumes and grains, each with its own unique texture and flavor. Here are a few you’ll want to have on hand:

  • Yellow Masoor Dal: This split red lentil is popular in North Indian cooking, and is perfect for making dal.
  • Toor Dal: A mild-tasting, easy-to-digest lentil, toor dal is used in a variety of dishes, including sambar and dal fry.
  • Masoor Dal: While masoor dal can be split or whole, it’s most often used in its split form to make dal.
  • Green Moong (Mung) Dal: This mung bean is a popular ingredient in South Indian cooking, and is often used to make dals and soups.
  • Yellow Moong (Mung) Dal: Like its green counterpart, yellow moong dal is used in many Indian dishes.
  • Urad Dal: This black lentil is used to make dishes such as dal makhani, a creamy and decadent lentil dish.
  • Chana Dal: This split chickpea is used to make dishes such as dhokla, a steamed chickpea cake.
  • Basmati Rice (White and Brown): Basmati rice is a long-grain rice that is fragrant and slightly nutty in flavor. It’s perfect for pilafs and biryanis.
  • Whole Wheat Flour: A staple in Indian cuisine, whole wheat flour is used to make rotis and parathas (Indian flatbreads).

Suggested Cooking Oil/Fats

Cooking oil being poured in non stick pan.

While there are many cooking oils and fats used in Indian cuisine, here are a few that are essential in any basic Indian pantry:

  • Ghee: A type of clarified butter, ghee is used in countless Indian dishes. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a high smoke point.
  • Neutral Oil: When it comes to cooking oils, it’s best to choose one with a high smoke point. Options include avocado oil, peanut oil, and sunflower oil.
  • Coconut Oil: A popular ingredient in South Indian cooking, coconut oil adds a subtle flavor and aroma to dishes.

By investing in just a few essential spices, grains, and legumes, you can open a world of flavor in Indian cooking.

With a well-stocked Indian pantry, you can whip up a delicious curry or something else for your family and friends, and introduce them to the flavors of this incredible cuisine.

So go ahead, stock up on these essential ingredients, and start cooking!

From Scratch: Simplifying Your Indian Pantry for New Cooks

If you’re new to cooking and still feeling overwhelmed by this list of ingredients, don’t worry! There are ways to make it easier. Let’s break it down step by step.

The Essential Spices:

Focus on getting the 5 basic Indian spices: turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, chili powder (specifically Kashmiri chili), and garam masala powder. These spices will give you a great flavor base for your dishes.

Whole Seeds:

In addition to the powdered spices, it’s worth buying whole cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds. You can grind them in a coffee grinder whenever you need their fresh flavors.

Simplify the Process:

If you don’t want to buy separate cumin and coriander powders, you can skip them and opt for whole seeds instead. Grinding them as needed will ensure maximum freshness and flavor.

Start with a Few Lentils:

To keep things simple, start by buying one or two types of lentils and learn how to cook with them. This way, you can explore different recipes without feeling overwhelmed by too many options.

Extra-Long Basmati Rice:

Invest in a bag of extra-long white basmati rice. This variety of rice is fragrant and pairs perfectly with Indian dishes like biryanis and pilafs.

And there you have it – your basic Indian pantry simplified! By focusing on the essential spices, a few whole seeds, a couple of lentils, and some good quality basmati rice, you’ll have the foundation to create delicious Indian dishes with ease.

Some recipes to start with: Jeera Aloo (cumin-flavored potatoes), Adraki Gobi (ginger-infused cauliflower curry), Kaali Dal ( black lentil or whole urad dal soup), and Aam Dal ( red masoor lentils flavored green mangoes).

If there is any ingredient in the recipe that you don’t have and is outside the above list, you can leave it out. It will still taste delicious, trust me!

Hey wait Mish, you forgot to tell us about utensils!

Nope, didn’t forget. You don’t need anything special that you have to go out and purchase.

You will need a small frying pan, a wide, deep vessel with a cover like a Dutch oven, a pot to boil rice in or a rice cooker if you have it, a pot to boil your lentils, and a smaller Dutch oven for cooking in smaller quantities, and a coffee grinder to grind spices. If you want to keep one coffee grinder dedicated to grinding fresh spices then that is the only additional purchase you might have to make. For cooking, I like to use wooden spoons.

Once you get comfortable and settle into cooking Indian food I would recommend getting a masala dabba, aka a spice tin which is a circular covered container made of stainless steel with some small circular containers inside to hold your spices and usually comes with a little spoon.

You’ll see an image above and it’s a great way to organize your spices and have them ready to go. Sometimes I give them away in a social media contest so be sure to follow me on Instagram @eatswithmish.

That’s a wrap!

Now, get into your kitchen and start cooking. I’m here, so if you need anything just holler! Enjoy and let me now how it goes.

Written by:

HI! IM MISH. nice to meet you! My mission is to lower barriers and show you that cooking delicious Indian food is much simpler than you think. Let's get started on this culinary adventure together, and bring the joy of Indian flavors to your home!

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