It’s no secret that Indian cooking most always involves spices. Spices or Masalas are the soul of an Indian kitchen. Whether it’s a simple or special dish, the use of some type of spice is almost guaranteed. Spices are used to flavor the food not just make them hot (which is a common misconception about Indian food). Every spice imparts it’s unique flavor and when used together with other spices, the combinations marry and flavor the dish in harmony. In the South Asian culture many spices are also used for health and medicinal purposes, to cure illnesses, help in digestion and to preserve food.
While there are numerous spices I use while cooking various dishes, the following 7 are essential to my Indian cooking:
Dhaniya Powder | Coriander Powder
Made with dried seeds of the Cilantro plant this fresh and light masala is not only flavorful but aides in digestion and had cooling properties. I use it in most of my dals and saabzis.
Garam Masala | Whole Spice Mix
Garam translates into “heat”and this masala does just that, heats the body due to the warming properties in the whole spices. Regionally garam masala recipes differ slightly, with no exact one being more or less authentic. Garam Masala is especially used in Red meat dishes, Chole/Chana Masala and pulaos/biryanis.
Haldi | Turmeric Powder
Turmeric is often referred to as a miracle spice, thanks to its medicinal properties. Besides being one of the best natural anti septics, turmeric is used in foods for its deep golden color and warm peppery flavor. It’s often mistaken for “curry powder”. Haldi aloo or the masala in “Masala Dosa” wouldn’t taste the same without a healthy dose of Haldi.
Hari Elaichi | Green Cardamom
Oh the magic of this sweet, floral spice! With it’s light and fragrant notes, elaichi is used in makhani’s, chai, desserts and more. Medicinally it helps cure indigestion, nausea and lightheadedness. I love it in my kheer, murgh makhani and paneer dishes.
Jeera Powder | Cumin Powder
This earthy and smoky masala is a staple in most homes. It’s made of ground cumin seeds and is used in everything from meats, ratios to lassis. It’s high in iron and especially beneficial in nursing mothers.
Lal Mirchi Powder | Red Chili Powder
The “spice or kick” in Indian cooking comes from this fiery red powder made of ground red chilis. From marinating meats to flavoring rajma to sprinkling on raitas, this masala is how Indian food gets it’s spicy rep.
Sabut Jeera | Cumin Seeds
Tadka or tempering is a big part of Indian cooking. We temper our dals, start off our saabzi’s by a light tadka and even temper cooling buttermilk drinks by heating up cumin seeds in cooking oil and letting them sputter, allowing their flavors to release. This smokey spice is used in mostly savory dishes, and can often be the main masala used.
Although there are many other spices used in Indian cooking, these are my seven most used spices. They are in in my main masala dabba and I find myself refilling them often.