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Stocking Your Pantry

Want to cook Indian food? Here's a list of stuff to get you started.


If you’re just starting out with Indian cooking, the vast number of spices available in stores may actually end up confusing you. While Indian cooking does use a greater variety of ingredients than most other cuisines, you certainly don’t need to pick up every spice in sight. Start with the basic ones that are used in most recipes and buy in small quantities (spices lose their strength and aroma if kept for too long). Build your store and add the more exotic ingredients as you grow familiar with Indian cuisine. This way it won’t all seem so intimidating. Here is a list of ingredients to get you started:

Rice Use Basmati rice as far as possible.

Daals (lentils)

  • Masoor (split red lentils)
  • Moong (split yellow lentil)
  • Urad (black gram)
  • Chana (large split yellow lentil)

    Aata To make chapatis, parathas and other Indian breads.

    Coriander seeds Buy the seeds and powder.

    Cumin seeds Buy both kinds - white and black. Get seeds and powder of each kind.

    Dry red chillies Get them whole and you can grind them coarsely later if the recipe calls for that.

    Fresh green chillies Buy just a few at a time.

    Turmeric Buy only in the powder form.

    Garam masala Buy garam masala readymade in the stores or make your own.

    Cinnamon Get this in stick form.

    Cardamom Available in three types – black, green and white. Buy just a little of each type.

    Cloves Like cinnamon, this spice is also typically used whole in Indian cooking so buy it that way.

    Peppercorns Most often used whole. If required in a recipe in its powdered form, grind it fresh just before using.

    Bay leaves Use it to neutralize strong odors in cooking.

    Poppy seeds Buy these whole.

    Mustard seeds Buy these whole.

    Fenugreek seeds Typically used whole.

    Aniseed/Fennel seeds Buy whole.

    Asafetida Store this strong-smelling spice in a tightly closed container as it can easily impart its smell to other spices.

    Thymol Buy seeds.

    Saffron Buy just a little.

    Tamarind Sold as blocks. Buy a small block.

    Raw mango powder Store in a cool dry place or else it will get lumpy.

    Ginger Buy in both paste and whole form. You can also make your own paste if you are so inclined.

    Garlic Get both the paste and whole pods.

    Oil I like to keep vegetable/ sunflower or canola oil in my kitchen. Mustard oil is required for some East Indian dishes. Keep a small tin of ghee on hand for when you want to make something special.

    Coriander leaves

    Mint leaves

    If this seems like a lot to buy just to get started, consider the fact that you will use most of these ingredients fairly often. Also while a dish may have many ingredients and therefore seem to be time-consuming and difficult to make, it might actually be easily assembled and prepared. Always read the recipe from start to finish just to make sure. The result will, needless to say, be worth all the effort!

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