There are so many spices used in Indian cooking, that it can become almost overwhelming; what spice is used for what, how much of it do I use etc. Here’s a dictionary of common Indian spices that are used in everyday cooking, along with its Indian name.
Adrak (ginger)– The essence and basis of most Indian dishes.
Ajwain (carom/thyme seeds)– These delicate and pungent seeds are most commonly used when making Indian tea. Bring water to a boil and add a pinch of ajwain along with a tea bag and boil for 4-5 minutes. Add milk-bring to a boil and strain the ajwain before drinking.
Choti Elaichi (green cardamom pod) – These tiny pods can be used whole in tea (again using it the same way as above) or to add flavor to any Indian dish. The best method is to add at the beginning stages of cooking in order to infuse the rest of the ingredients that follow. For extra flavor try crushing them before adding to a recipe. One of the key ingredients found in India Base!
Badi (Kali) Elaichi (black cardamom) – These pods resemble the green cardamom pod, but are a lot bigger in size and have a rougher outer layer, than the green cardamom. Again, it can be used in tea, but also in the same method as above for Indian cooking. Use it in the early stages of cooking, when warming oil, as heat will bring out the flavor of spices.
Dhania (coriander seeds) – These seeds are not used in Indian cooking as much as its counterpart-cilantro. These seeds are called coriander, but the actual leaves of the plant are called cilantro. However, these seeds can also be added to the start of an Indian dish.
Garam Masala (spice mixture) – This mixture is made up of 8+ spices and everyone has their own variety. The best way to create your own is by warming a mixture of pickling spices on low heat in the oven for 10-15 minutes and then grinding it in a spice grinder. The heat will bring out the aromatic flavors and you can use this mixture for any dish-Indian or not.
Hari Dhania (cilantro) – Cilantro is used as a garnish for most Indian dishes and adds not only flavor, but also a fresh aroma that adds punch to any meal.
Haldi (turmeric) – This rich, golden powder is the heart and soul of Indian cooking. It is used to add a vibrant color to every Indian dish. Add halfway through the cooking process, ensuring that it is fully cooked through in order to omit any “raw” or uncooked flavor and texture.
Hari Mirch (green chili pepper) – An important component of Indian cooking and essential to any Indian dish-if you can’t taste a bit of spice-it’s not really Indian!
Jeera (cumin seeds) – These seeds have an almost smoky, bitter taste, but when added to Indian food, creates a subtle flavor that makes your taste buds take notice.
Methi (fenugreek seeds) – These seeds increase in flavor as they are warmed in cooking oil; therefore, use them at the beginning of the cooking process. They have a strong smell, but a subtle flavor when added to other spices.
Lahsun (garlic) – Need I say more?
Lal Mirchi (red chili pepper) – Not as potent as green chili pepper, but red chili pepper adds a nice contrast in color to Indian dishes. Red chili flakes are also a good substitute for fresh chilies and add just as much of a kick.
Lavang (cloves) – An aromatic spice that is another key component in making the best Indian chai and is also used in combination with cardamom, fenugreek seeds and coriander seeds in the early stages of cooking any Indian dish.
Pudina (mint) – One of the most recognizable scents-mint is commonly used in Indian chutneys and gives a fresh, cooling effect to spicy Indian food.
Sarson (mustard seeds) – Another spice that, when warmed, infuses any Indian dish and adds a similar texture as coriander and fenugreek seeds.
Saunf (fennel seeds) – Another spice to add to tea and can also be eaten alone as an after-mint because of its slightly sweet taste.