Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pantry Basics: Essential Indian Spices

There are as many spices in the Indian kitchen as there are recipes. Some are rarely used beyond a special recipe or two, while others appear time and again in dishes from all over the subcontinent. For the beginner who is just starting to explore the cuisine, the basics will be enough for a head-start. All these spices are used whole and/or ground, depending on what the recipe calls for, so it is good to keep both kinds on hand.

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Garam Masala (When cardamom, cinnamon and clove are combined in equal parts and used together, they are referred to as Garam Masala, or as I call it, the ‘holy trifecta.)
Bay Leaves
Dry Red Chillis
Black Peppercorns
Black Mustard  

Paanch Phoron is a five-spice blend used extensively in Eastern India, especially in the cuisines of Bengal, Orissa and Assam. The five whole spices are blended in equal parts—Fenugreek seeds (methi), Nigella seeds (kalonji, or kaalo jirey), Fennel seeds (mouri), Carom (radhuni), Mustard seeds (shorshey). In my family, the fifth spice, mustard, is not used, but the blend is still referred to as “five spice.” I’m Bengali so paanch phoron is indispensible in my kitchen. But it’s not essential to most general Indian recipes.

Garam Masala (cardamom, cinnamon and clove mixed in equal parts and ground finely to a powder.)
Chilli Powder

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Ginger, ground to a paste (I peel and grind large quantities at a time in a food processor, store a small amount in the fridge for current use, and freeze the rest in small containers for later use.) 
Garlic, ground to a paste (see note above)
Green Chillis

Vegetable Oil (I prefer Canola)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Mustard Oil
Coconut Oil

I’ll do a separate post on the secondary and tertiary spices that add complexity and depth to recipes, but that I don’t use as frequently.


  1. I made some Garam Masala today and used it in a recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. FANTASTIC! You have inspired my inner Indian to come out and cook! Love your blog... —Tim Shaner

  2. nice post for Indian Whole Spices it's very useful your post if you want to look some more whole spices for sale please visit UKGroceryMarket Thanks for sharing I truly suggest this blogger and helpful for all



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