In producing the stories for our August/September 2014 India issue, we discovered ingredients and information too good to keep to ourselves. Here are the hard-to-find and essential ingredients for cooking the dishes in this issue, plus where to find them online. —Kellie Evans, Associate Food Editor



Ajwain, these tiny seeds resemble celery seeds yet give off a thyme-like aroma. Often used in bean dishes due to its gas-fighting properties.


Also known as amchoor, tangy Amchur powder is made from dried, unripe mangos and imparts a sour flavor to soups, curries, and vegetables.


Asafoetida, or hing, the ferula plant’s dried sap, comes in powder or lump form. Cooked, it has an onion-like flavor.

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Banana Flower

Found in Asian markets, banana flower, or kere kafool, tastes like an artichoke and is used in salads and curries.

Banana Leaves

Banana leaves function as disposable plates as well as wrappers for steaming food.

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Black Cardamom

Black Cardamom

Black Cumin Seeds

Earthy, sweet black cumin seeds, called kala jeera, flavor dishes like Kashmiri lamb in chile sauce.

Black Salt

Himalayan black salt, or kala namak, sold ground or in rock form, lends a pleasing sulfurous note to condiments and drinks.

Channa Dal

Often cooked on its own, channa dal (Bengal gram) is a small, split yellow lentil also used to add body to dishes and crunch to tarkas.

Chiles de Arbol

Related to the cayenne chili, chiles de arbol have a searing heat and are usually toasted to bring out their earthy, astringent flavor.


Sometimes referred to as Chinese parsley, cilantro is the fragrant, perfumed leaf of the coriander seed.

Cinnamon Sticks

True cinnamon sticks should not be confused with the much milder bark of the Indian cassia tree.


Whether ground or left whole, cloves imbue dishes with their pungent and aromatic spice.

Coconut Milk

Extracted from fresh coconut gratings, coconut milk imparts distinct flavor to vegetable and meat dishes, especially in south Indian cooking.

Coconut Oil

Extracted from mature coconuts, coconut oil is used throughout south India for stir-fries like beetroot thoran.

Curry Leaves

Fresh curry leaves, or kadipatta, lend their resinous fragrance to dishes from chutneys to curries.


Daikon, or mooli, a crunchy radish that retains its texture and subtle spiciness when cooked, is great in stews and stir-fries.

Dried Apricots

In northern India, dried apricots are common additions to pilafs and biryanis.

Dried Green Mango Strips

Dried green mango strips are rehydrated to add a touch of acidity to curries.

Dried Kashmiri Chiles

The deep brick red color of dried Kashmiri chile adds a smoky notes to dishes like mirchi qorma.

Dried Mint

A perennial herb native to northwest India, dried mint is ubiquitous in chutneys and brings cooling refreshment to lassis.


Drumsticks, or sehjana ki phali, have a thick, ridged skin like okra and a flavor similar to asparagus.

Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds, or vark, are one of the key ingredients in the Bengali 5-spice mix known as panch phoran. They also serve as a post-meal breath freshener.

Fenugreek Leaves

Fenugreek leaves, also known as methi leaves, have a sweet smell and a flavor reminiscent of maple.

Fenugreek Seeds

Fenugreek seeds, or methi, have a bittersweet, musky flavor that is similar to but stronger than the plant’s fresh leaves. They are often fried and worked into curries.

Fermented Bamboo

In northeast Indian cooking, fermented bamboo shoots add pungency and texture to stir-fried dishes.

Shredded Coconut

If fresh mature coconuts are not available, substitute frozen shredded coconut in curries and sweets.

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Ginger Root

Practically every curry dish includes ginger root, often in the form of a ground ginger paste.

Golden Raisins

Golden raisins are a vital ingredient in everything from Delhi-style pilafs to kheer puddings to spicy snack mixes.

Green Cardamom

Native to south India, ground green cardamom, or choiti elaichi, adds a heady perfume to savory and sweet dishes.

Green Chilies

Green chilies add an herbal heat to stews and chutneys. They are also eaten raw as a condiment to spice up a meal.

Green, Unripe Mangos

Tart green, unripe mangos, or khatte am, retain some of their firm texture when used to prepare pickles, curries, and chutneys.

Green Papaya

Green papaya is often used as a tenderizer in marinades for grilled meat dishes.

Ground Coriander

The ground powder of the coriander seed is a common addition to most masala spice blends.

Ground Turmeric

Mildly aromatic with a pungent, bitter flavor, ground turmeric gives Indian spice blends their signature golden hue.

Indian Bay Leaves

Fragrant Indian bay leaves, or tez patta, lend herbal intensity to dishes like Chettinad pepper chicken.

Indian Eggplants

More commonly called brinjals, Indian eggplants are the main ingredient in the famous Punjabi dish Baingan ka bharta.


With a maple-like flavor, jaggery or gur, lump cane sugar, is a key sweetening agent in dishes throughout Indian cooking.

Kabocha Squash

In Indian recipes that call for pumpkin, the firm, orange-fleshed kabocha squash is an excellent substitute.

Kashmiri Chile Powder

The gently spiced bright red Kashmiri chile powder adds mild heat to Indian dishes like rogan josh and tandoori meats.

Long Grain White Rice

An essential part of Indian meals, husked, milled, and polished long grain white rice, such as basmati, is also used in desserts.


The long, rough-skinned loofah, or ridge gourd, adds a cucumber-like flavor and texture to vegetable curries.

Lotus Root

Fresh lotus root, or kakadi, a crunchy yet porous rhizome, soaks up sauces. Asian markets sell it fresh, frozen, or canned.


The delicate red wrapping of nutmeg is a lacey coating called mace. When dried and ground it has a milder flavor than the harder seed.

Masoor Dal

Coral colored when dry, tiny masoor dal turns an ochre yellow when made into spicy lentil stews.

Fresh Mint

Fresh mint leaves are combined with fresh coconut in a popular Keralan chutney.

Moong Dal

Moong dal, also called green gram, are tiny lentils that are yellow underneath their mint-green coating. Unlike many dals, this variety is left whole when cooked.

Mustard Oil

Widely used in northern India for frying, peppery mustard oil, or sarson ka tel, mellows as it heats.

Mustard Seeds

Black and brown mustard seeds lend a nutty flavor and crunch when fried and are used to finish soups, sauces, and curries.


Known as ladies fingers throughout India, okra lends thickness to vegetable stews yet crisps up beautifully in dry stir-fries.

Palm Vinegar

Palm vinegar, made from naturally fermented palm sap and water, was introduced by the Portuguese to flavor the hot and sour Goan vindaloo.

Panch Phoron

Panch phoron, a Bengali spice mix of fennel, black mustard, nigella, fenugreek, and cumin seeds, is toasted or fried before using.


Soft and crumbly, the fresh cheese known as paneer is made from compressed milk curds.

Persian/Key Limes

Persian/key limes have an intense lime essence; the juice is essential for nimbu pani, India’s lemonade.


Poha, made from flattened and parboiled rice, is dried and used for snack mixes, cereals and garnishes.

Pointed Gourds

Fresh pointed gourds, or potol, have a mild zucchini-like flavor. They’re added to vegetable stews and curries.

Indian Poppy Seeds

Unlike its European counterpart, Indian poppy seeds are cream or grey-hued. The cream variety is preferred in Indian dishes.

Rasam Powder

Rasam powder, a toasted blend of chana dal, chiles, and whole spices, is used to flavor soups and chutneys.

Red Indian Chiles

Toasting red Indian chiles retains their scarlet tinge and brings out the spice, adding a punch to Indian dishes.

Rice Flour

Made from ground, broken white rice, Indian rice flour is gluten-free and available in varying grinds.

Roo Hafza

This tasty herb and fruit-based syrup, known as Roo Hafza, is used for drinks like sharbat and falooda, or blended with water for a refreshing beverage.

Rose Water

Indian rose water is extracted from deep red roses grown for their fragrance. Small amounts flavor deserts as well as meat dishes.


Saffron threads, or kesar, the stigmas of crocuses, lend a golden hue and earthy flavor to desserts. The most prized variety is grown in Kashmir.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds impart a delicate, nutty flavor to dishes. In Tamil Nadu, black sesame seeds are ground with chile to serve with idlis.


In salty snack mixes or as a topping, sev, or fried chickpea noodles, provide a nut-like taste and crunch.

Edible Silver Leaves

Use tasteless, odorless, and tissue-thin edible silver leaves, or vark, to add a striking garnish to Indian desserts.

Star Anise

Star anise is added whole to stews and curries to provide a subtle licorice hit.

Tamarind Pulp

Preferable to the sometimes bitter concentrate, tamarind pulp adds a sour tang to desserts and savory dishes.

Toor Dal

The split yellow lentil, toor dal, is the legume of choice for the everyday dal dish and the most commonly used variety among Indian cooks.

Urad Dal

The black legume Urad dal, split or whole, is the base of the famous idlis, vadas and dosas of South Indian cooking.

Whole Mature Coconut

Whole mature coconut is a common ingredient throughout India for everything from Mumbai snack mixes to Keralan vegetable thorans.


Creamy and tart, plain, full-fat yogurt or Greek-style yogurt is ideal for raitas, lassis, and the tangy stews called yakhni.

Whole Raw Cashews

Whole raw cashews are immensely popular in India, spiced as a snack, scattered in pilafs, and finely ground for rich desserts.

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Ingalls Photography

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Ingalls Photography

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The tiffin, a nesting lunch box, is perfect for transporting the various dishes that compose an Indian meal.