All You Really Need: basic aromatics, spices, and herbs you need in your pantry and fridge
Alright, let’s get down to business in terms of your kitchen. To make a variety of authentic Indian dishes at home, you need a few key things in your pantry and fridge.
First, you won’t put all of these ingredients into one dish! For many recipes you may only need 1-3 spices, perhaps 4-6 spices in more advanced recipes.
Second, there are hundreds of more spices and herbs in Indian cuisine — these are the main items you need to be set for a while. Plus, the upside is that you can find ALL of these at your local grocery store, you don’t need to go a specialty grocer.
Third, you may already have many of the ingredients you need at home — like cumin powder, especially if you use it for spice rubs or making chili!
In the course of teaching Sean the basics of Indian cooking, I developed foolproof cheat sheets and primers to help ANYONE make authentic Indian dishes at home. You will see that I usually recommend things in multiples of “5” — so five of this or ten of that or 5 ingredients or 10 key steps. Honestly, it’s just easy to remember. I thought a lot about this in order to make it stick and help Sean remember — here is my solution. If you have these key things you can never go wrong. Most of them you can buy every few months and store in your cupboard or pantry. I created this ‘bare essentials’ list for Sean.
The 5 — 10 — 5 Rule
Onions – Ginger Root – Garlic Cloves – Fresh Mint – Fresh Cilantro
10 GROUND SPICES
Cumin – Coriander – Sugar – Curry – Paprika – Salt – Pepper – Garam Masala – Turmeric – Red Chilli
5 WHOLE SPICES
Green Cardamom – Cloves – Mustard seeds – Cinnamon Stick – Cumin seeds
Let’s add one more group of “5”
Don’t worry, I swear I’m not making it more complicated when I’ve promised you to make it simple and easy to follow! These are the 5 ingredients that you likely already have at home or would drop into your shopping cart anyway:
5 REFRIGERATOR & PANTRY
Tomatoes – Lemon/Lime – Fresh Chilli – Vinegar – Yogurt
North India & South India
Now it’s important to point out that the “5 — 10 — 5″ rule above applies mostly to dishes from northern India — the dishes you are used to eating in restaurants, especially if you aren’t South Asian. As you can see in the post Indian Cuisine Map with its 28 states in a land area the same size as Europe, the Indian subcontinent is host to many different regional cuisines that are quite different, but 80-90% of restaurants outside of India feature cuisine from the north. It’s not even really accurate for me to divide everything between the north and south only, but it is a very helpful distinction when thinking broadly about Indian cuisine. Stay tuned for my forthcoming post on the “5 — 10 — 5″ rule for South Indian cuisine.