Learn the key spices and spice blends for Indian cooking and how to use them to create authentic Indian cuisine.
"If there is a common denominator in all Indian foods," says renowned Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey, "it is, perhaps, the imaginative use of spices."
Indian cooks use an array of seasonings — for color, aroma, and flavor — in virtually every dish. The results are always spicy (but not always hot) and always identifiably Indian. It's very common for Indian cooks to begin a recipe by frying whole and ground spices in oil--to intensify the flavor. They also make a paste of spices by grinding them with a small amount of water. You'll find more whole spices in Indian recipes than in other cuisines, though some powders are staples, too.
Try our classic Indian recipes here.
Essential Spices for Indian Cooking
The Indian cook's favorite spices include:
Cardamom: Cardamom is aromatic and delicious in both sweet and savory Indian dishes, like meat curries, rice dishes, and desserts. Cardamom coffee--made with cardamom pods, coffee beans, milk and sugar--is an Indian treat. Indian cooks tend to prefer the delicate flavor of unbleached green cardamom.
Curry Powder: In India, the word curry is used for a flavorful dish of meats, fish, and/or vegetables and a spicy sauce. Indian cooks generally make their own curry spice blends from whole and ground spices to suit whatever dish they're preparing. You can make your own, too, and so individualize your Indian dishes. But when you're in the mood for convenience, a quality prepared curry powder will fit the bill nicely.
Fennel Seeds: Cooks in North India use these tasty, licorice-like seeds to flavor meat, chicken, and vegetables. You'll also find fennel in Bengali Five Spice blend. Fry the whole seeds in oil, or roast and grind them. Indians also chew on the seeds to aid digestion and freshen the breath after a meal.
Garam Masala: A spice mixture is called a Masala in India. There are many variations on this blend, with each Indian cook developing his or her own unique recipe. The traditional blend includes both hot and sweet spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, black pepper, and nutmeg. In some areas, star anise and fennel are also included. Garam Masala is fairly strong, so use it sparingly at first. Sprinkle it--just before serving--over meats, vegetables, and pulses.
Turmeric: This colorful ground spice gives many Indian foods--especially grains and sauces--their lovely golden orange color. Turmeric is often used sparingly and in combination with other spices because it's a bit bitter.
more essential spices for Indian cooking...
If you enjoy Indian food, you'll want to keep an array of convenient Frontier Indian cooking blends on hand. In addition to Curry Powder and Garam Masala, try Lemon Curry and Muchi.
We've got all the gadgets you'll need to start your Italian cooking extravaganza, from mortars and pestles, to steamers and ginger graters.
In Hindi, "chai" means tea. And what we call "chai tea" is called masala chai (spiced tea). Ground spices (cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom, and ginger), black tea and sugar are the traditional ingredients; milk is sometimes added.
In some regions of India, buttermilk curries are popular. They're served over rice and with fish. If you don't often have buttermilk on hand, you might consider stocking up on buttermilk powder.