By Kylie Archer
I love Indian food. I find that often enough though, the cost of it as a takeaway is rather high considering what you can achieve in your own home with some staple ingredients in your pantry.
My love of all things Indian really took off when we lived in London. I even joined a Bollywood dance class. Although I have danced for years, Bollywood was quite foreign and you could always see my very pale arms sticking out in the wrong direction amongst a roomful of beautiful shades of caramel and brown arms. The teacher called out to me “ No!!! Orange head!!! The other way!!!”
But Indian food? Well, there I can experiment and feel really at home with the spices and flavours. If you are lucky enough to have a decent Indian spice market/ shop nearby you can buy your spices in little dribs and drabs here and there. If not, aim to buy larger quantities of whole spices as these are generally activated by frying either dry or wet in cooking, so they maintain their flavor for longer.
The myth about Indian food is that it is always hot. That’s not true, and in fact after a recent discussion with one of my husband’s colleagues, I am sure that overly spiced/hot Indian food is something we have a lot of in Australia as it masks the lack of flavour! So much flavor can be achieved with spices that heat doesn’t have to be the trademark of Indian food that you cook at home.
What do you need to cook almost any Indian dish?
Indian Pantry List
Cumin seeds, ground cumin- used in most Indian dishes, I buy bulk cumin seeds and then roast and grind it myself as it not only works out cheaper, but means the powder is fresher.
Coriander seeds, ground coriander- used in most Indian dishes, I buy bulk coriander seeds and then roast and grind it myself as it not only works out cheaper, but means the powder is fresher.
Cardamon pods- these are often crushed a bit before adding to a recipe. The easiest way to do this I’ve found is to wet them a bit then squash them in a mortal and pestle.
Ground cumin coriander- dhana jiru is a mix of coriander and half the amount of cumin, ground together. Some recipes call for this.
Mustard seeds- these tiny black/yellow/red seeds are sold by colour or in a mix. If the recipe doesn’t specify a colour go with black.
Ground turmeric- used in many dishes, I use this to colour my biryani so it has a nice golden colour.
Chilli powder- adjust this in recipes if you are scared about the heat!
Dried chillis (whole)- these generally come out before serving and influence the heat without being over powering.
Asofetida- this generally goes in before all other ingerdients, with the oil. It adds depth to the flavours of food.
Fenugreek- if you don’t dry roast these they can be a bit bitter,a spice that I use in my dhal.
Ajwain seed- used in moderation in dishes. Test it to see if you like the flavor before adding in large quantities as it can be overpowering. I use this in my onion bhajis.
Garam masala- every indian makes this differently, and it can vary greatly from store to store if prepared in store.
Cinnamon sticks- most indian recipes I’ve cooked use the whole stick rather than the powder.
Cayenne pepper- a ground red chilli, often used in recipes that are tandoori recipes as it gives a smokey flavor than straight ground chilli.
Nigella seeds- little black onion seeds, commonly seen on top of naan breads. Also used in some indian dishes.
Besan flour- made from ground chickpeas, used in pappadums and also bhajis.
Atta flour- used for chapatti, roti, naan and poori breads.
Curry leaves- I bought a curry plant a few years back. Little was I to know that this indestructible plant would be eaten alive by my two gourmet cocker spaniels! These add soooo much flavor and beat any curry powder any day!
Ginger- fresh is best, but have been known to use jar ginger when I haven’t seen any that looks good at the supermarket.
Garlic- again fresh is best, but when it’s already dried out at the fruit and veg shop, there are some good jars of it.
Chilli- fresh, small and red! Unless the recipes specifies otherwise.
Ghee- this is clarified butter. It stores on the shelf until opened and then takes a quick trip to the fridge. Used as a main ingredient in butter chicken, but also spread on naan bread during cooking and used as the oil in many dishes.
The most important thing I have found with cooking Indian food is to make sure you keep to the balance of flavours, sweet, sour and heat need to be used together to create the perfect Indian dish!