The Basic Ingredients in an Indian Kitchen

It is very easy to be overwhelmed by the enormous number of spices used in Indian cooking. The permutations and combinations of sauces that can be created from the spices and other ingredients only adds to the enormity, which probably deters many from learning to cook Indian food.

But actually, there are just a handful of ingredients that form the base for many Indian recipes. Once you get a good handle on that, you can incrementally add other flavors, learn to make more complex recipes and also experiment and discover on your own.

Frankly, it is that aspect of Indian cooking that has fascinated me and encouraged me to keep trying and experimenting. Just as I discovered the joy of making Indian food, I would like to share with you a list of items that form the basic ingredients in an Indian kitchen. So let us get right to it!

The 7 C’s –

  • Cinnamon – most often the Cassia bark but not the ‘True Cinnamon’ variety is used in Indian cooking. The Cassia bark is usually darker and flatter as compared to the True Cinnamon that is lighter in color and is usually found as quills in stores. It could be used as bits of about an inch in size or dry roasted and ground or sometimes just ground based on the need;
  • Clove – used either as is or sometimes dry roasted and ground;
  • Cumin – used either as is or ground or sometimes both at different stages of cooking;
  • Cilantro/Coriander – the greens could be used or sometimes the seeds are ground into a fine powder and used;
  • Chilly Peppers – Based on the heat or type of sauce, you may want to use the raw green chillies or the ripened and dried red chillies. Alternately, pepper crumbs can be used as well, often times ground, again based on the need;
  • Curry Leaves – add a lot of aroma to the curries;
  • Cardamom – another ingredient that adds aroma – could be used as a whole or just the seeds or sometimes ground. Used in curries as well in desserts.

In addition –

  • Mustard – used mostly as is, typically during tempering (a topic I would love to cover one day);
  • Turmeric – used mostly in its powder form;
  • Ginger – used either chopped or as a paste, typically along with garlic;
  • Garlic – cloves can be peeled and used either chopped or as is or as a paste.


  • Onions and Tomatoes – usually form the base of a curry, could be used together or may be just one of them – diced or chopped or julienned or sometimes pureed based on the need.

So that is it. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, there are many more ingredients that can be used as well but I think this list is enough for a starter kitchen. A quick run to the grocery store should be good enough to acquire these. Let me know what you think.

P.S.: I could have added pictures of each of the ingredients and also provided additional information to indicate availability, medicinal or culinary information, etc but I refrained from doing so in order not to overwhelm you. There is tons of information available on Wikipedia or if you would like to Google.