When we think of Indian cuisine, we think of spices, which clearly define the base for Indian cooking. Even the basic salads will have some cumin powder and or spluttered mustard seeds sprinkled on them. India is a large country with many communities and regional intricacies that one can experience in the various Indian dishes. The biryani has so many different variants, each carrying its peculiar cooking style and blending spices and regional ingredients to make a unique delicacy. Nobody can agree on the best, to each their taste.
Some essential ingredients are still uniformly used in all Indian dishes. Whether you want to Order Indian dishes or cook them, these are the commonly found crucial ingredients in every authentic Indian cuisine.
Essential Indian Spices
Whole spices maximize the flavor; hence, in many delicacies, they are put as whole spices, not ground spices. However, for the curries, spices are dry roasted and blended. Here are a few essential spices added as part of a ground spice mix or whole spices.
- Cumin – these tiny seeds have a strong flavor and are used extensively in dry and wet curries as a whole spice and ground spice.
- Mustard seeds – Just like cumin seeds, mustard seeds are also used as a whole spice, mainly in South Indian dishes. However, mustard paste and mustard oil are used extensively across India.
- Garam masala – This is a healthy mix of cinnamon, peppercorns, coriander seeds, mace, cardamom pods, and cumin seeds. The ground mix is used in almost every North Indian curry and is an essential ingredient for most dishes.
- Turmeric is a crucial spice used for color, flavor, or simply for its disinfectant properties. It is generally used as a dry powder, although for some dishes, fresh ginger is grated and added to it.
- Coriander seeds – these are dried cilantro seeds and are used as a whole spice or ground powder. They are essential ingredients for most Indian masalas and are often used as a natural spice in many dishes.
- Fenugreek – fenugreek is tiny yellow-green colored dried seeds. As much as fenugreek leaves are used in Indian cooking, their seeds are generally added as a whole for flavoring.
- Carom seeds – also called ajwain, are tiny seeds that look like cumin seeds and have a strong flavor. It is used widely in authentic Indian cuisine from the North, such as parathas and some fried curries.
- Asafetida – asafetida is the dried sap of the ferula plant and has a strong, pungent odor. Thus, only a pinch is added, though it is added to almost all Indian dishes. Asafetida is generally tempered in ghee or oil with mustard or cumin to bring out its flavor.
- Cardamom –Indians have a special relationship with cardamom. They use it for sweet and spicy dishes. It is also added to the famous masala chai and marinades for meats.
- Dried Chillies – Dried chilies are essential for masalas. They are added as a whole in the tempering before adding to curries or dals. They are necessary for adding heat to the food.
The commonly used staples
Dairy, pulses, and grains are essential for Indian cooking. These may include your dals, chickpeas, and kidney beans. They also have wheat and rice, two staple carbohydrate sources. Milk, yogurt, cream, and ghee add to the richness of some authentic Indian cuisine. Paneer, cottage cheese with gravy, or added to rice dishes is a favorite among many gastronomes. Vegetable oils, especially coconut oil, mustard oil, groundnut oil, and sunflower oil added to the flavoring.
In some Indian cooking, fresh coconut is extensively used as grated coconut or coconut milk.
Favorite Indian herbs
Any Indian food is incomplete without sprinkling some fresh cilantro on top for garnishing. This herb is often blended into a paste with other ingredients and mixed with the curries. The aroma of Bay leaves is used in biryanis across India and extensively in East Indian cooking. It is mainly used as a whole leaf tempered or dry roasted. What bay leaves are for East India, curry leaves are for South Indians. They add it to their chutneys, sambhar, rasam, curries, and even chaas. It is also used in West Indian cooking.
Curry leaves are also used in making many masalas or added to the tempering. Dried fenugreek leaves are likewise used in North India to add a hint of bitter flavor to the curries. It is also mixed with wheat flour to make theplas and methi parathas. Mint leaves, known for their outstanding cooling, and sweet taste, are used widely in pulavs and chutneys.
Other ingredients such as fresh or dried ginger, mango, and lemons are used to add zest to Indian recipes. No matter which Indian restaurant you eat at, there will be many dishes with a gravy base of onions, tomatoes, ginger, and garlic. While diverse, Indian food has recurring themes with various spices.