18 Essential Ingredients for Indian Cooking

February 20, 2017
by Trisha Learn

    essential ingredients for indian cooking

    We’re a nation of absolute curry fanatics and Indian food is at the core of this obsession. It was only last week that I was chatting to our chef, Mimi, in our test kitchen and she said “Indian food is always my go to”. Have you tried her coastal fish curry? It’s to die for.

    For the days when you’re not making your delicious healthy recipes from HelloFresh, I thought it’d be useful to give you this cheat sheet with the key ingredients for an Indian curry or dish. Some you may have seen (onion, garlic, chillies) and some you may not have yet (tamarind, palm sugar, curry leaves).


    essential ingredients for indian cooking

    Click here for the printable version. Just save it to your desktop and then print away!


    Have you heard of garam masala? It’s a pretty essential spice to a lot of Indian cooking. When you translate it, it just means a hot mix of spices and one of the key elements to the winning flavour of this renowned spice mix is ground cloves. You can also flavour dishes by frying cloves in the ghee or oil you will use for the dish. Many parts of India (and Sri Lanka) also add cloves to their rice, like pilaf, to flavour it when it’s cooking.

    Red split lentils

    There are so many kinds of lentils you can use for Indian dhals, but this is a good one for beginners. You can’t use them all though – stay away from puy lentils and the green lentils for Indian cooking. Make a simple dhal by twice as much water than lentils to a pot with chopped onions, garlic, curry leaves, red lentils turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper to a pot – it’s delicious.

    You can also make a delicious vegetable sambar with these lentils.

    Black sesame seeds

    Want to make some delicious naans? They just wouldn’t look the same without some tasty black sesame seeds on top.


    This may be one of the lesser known spices. There are lots of Indian dishes with the Hindu word “Methi” in. And surprise surprise, Methi is translated into English as fenugreek. It’s used in countless dishes from dhals to chicken curries. This one’s going to be your new best friend!

    Coriander seeds

    Coriander seeds are just SO essential. One of my favourite childhood dishes is rassam – it’s a brothy soup with lots of garlic, ginger and coriander seeds. Great for when you’re sick. Have you tried Mangalorean chicken curry? It’s got lots of coriander seeds, or Tamil chicken sothi?


    Chickpeas – you know them! They’re called chana in Hindi – and the list of dishes is endless! You’ll find them in lots of our favourite curries at HelloFresh too – our chickpea and spinach curry  is the BOMB.


    Doing a fish curry? This is the ONE then. Take it out the shell and soak it in a bit of water – then add the water and tamarind to the sauce. Nice and tangy!


    Pretty sure you know this one…!!


    And this one!


    Cardamom is used a lot in sweet dishes – but also a good pilaf is often made with these!


    Strings of saffron are said to be more valuable than gold!! So, if you want to eat it add it to delicious rice dishes like biryani.


    Get a few strings of saffon and grind them up in a pestle and mortar. Add a few more strings and do NOT crush these.  Then add a quarter of a cup of boiling water and allow to soak for about 7 minutes. Then add this to your rice while it’s boiling!

    Palm Jaggery (or palm sugar)

    This sugar isn’t refined in the same way as the sugar we use in the UK. So even though you should still treat it as sugar, it’s got a lot more of the natural nutrients in it. Palm sugar is often added to chutneys – a green chilli chutney with palm sugar is delicious! The Gujerati’s also make a sweet and sour dhal with palm sugar. Have you heard of South Indian idiyappam or puttu? They’re made from rice flour and you eat them instead of rice and bread. You can mix those with banana, coconut and palm sugar to make a delicious easy dessert.

    Mustard seeds

    Mustard seeds are very popular for vegetable dishes. If you grind mustard seeds with garlic – to a pulp – you can it to a pumpkin curry. Or add some garlic and mustard seeds to some coconut oil and shred up some cabbage and carrots and add in. Then allow to cook for about 10 minutes and you’ve got yourself a delicious side dish.


    Great in full stick in a pilaf rice. Also – you guessed it – it’s another one of the key ingredients in garam masala.

    Curry leaves

    When you smell fresh curry leaves – you’ll know why they’re called this. They smell so delicious – and you can just add them to lots of curry sauces for that extra bite!

    Coconut milk

    Classic in South Indian dishes. South Indians and Sri lankans like to use the whole coconut – the oil, the water, the flesh.


    You’ve heard of these right?

    Rice flour

    Rice flour is used in countless dishes – and you may not have realised it. Have you heard of dosa? This is combination of chickpea and rice flour. If you know of idli, idiyappam or puttu – they’re all made with rice flour! And they’re a delicious alternative to rice.

    Our Coconut Dal Recipe

    dal recipe

    This is a complete classic – give it a go with your new essential ingredient knowledge – download the recipe here.

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