10 Essential Ingredients For Indian Cooking

Everything you need to master Indian cooking

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Diwali is just about upon us (it starts tomorrow), and the best way to celebrate the five days of the Indian Festival of Lights is with an epic meal. Before you start cooking up a kaleidoscopic spread of curries, biryanis and masalas, here's what you need to stock your kitchen with.

① Basmati Rice

Rice is the biggest staple of any South Asian meal, and the go-to variety is basmati. The thin long grain, which originates in India, has a uniquely nutty aroma. The rice can be prepared plain or dressed up with meats and vegetables, like in biryanis and pulaos.

② Ghee

Ghee is clarified butter simmered for a step longer, which separates the milk-fat solids from the liquid, resulting in a rich, nutty product that's thicker than normal butter. It's used in addition to or as a replacement for cooking oils.

③ Masoor and chana dals

Split dried legumes, also known as dal, are another one of those essential ingredients for Indian dishes, like stewed dal. Masoor dal comes from red lentils, and chana dal from the halved kernels of black chickpeas.

④ Atta flour

The ground whole-wheat base of atta flour makes for doughs that are easier to stretch thin, a necessary step when making flatbreads like rotis, naans and chapatis.

⑤ Red chile powder

Spiciness is key to many Indian dishes, and that's where red chile powder comes in. Spice levels vary depending on what you can handle.

⑥ Turmeric powder

Like red chile, turmeric is another one of those ubiquitous Indian spices. Just a dash of the extremely piquant yellow powder (made from a plant in the ginger family) is enough to add color and flavor to biryanis, samosas, chutneys and more.

⑦ Garam masala

For a grab-bag of essential Indian flavors, use garam masala, a blend of several frequently used spices, for a warm, spicy zest that isn't overwhelming. Typically, it contains a mixture of peppercorns, cumin seeds, green and black cardamom seeds, cloves and cinnamon sticks.

⑧ Tava

The flat, circular cast-iron pan known as a tava or tawa makes it easier to fry those breads you make with your atta flour.

⑨ Sil-Batta

Don't bother with a food processor when you can literally put the stone to the grind with the sil-batta. Similar to a mortar and pestle, the sil-batta consists of a rectangular grinding stone with a rough surface on which to grind, and a solid barrel-shaped stone for pulverizing. Perfect for grinding spices, seeds, chutneys and masalas.

⑩ Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey

Of the many books in Madhur Jaffrey's Indian cooking repertoire, this one is the best go-to guide, with an easy run-through on the basics of the cuisine.