10 Essential Indian Food Items

10 Essential Indian Food Items

Indians like to cook their food from scratch at home every time a meal is prepared. Indian food is famous for its spice, vibrant colors, and aromas. If you look into the spices available in your kitchen pantry the list may be a long one but some basic ingredients are needed every time you prepare food and without which the basic ingredient Indian meals will be incomplete.

Oil / Ghee

The basic start of every cooking in India starts with oil or ghee. This is something you are likely to have in your cupboard anyway, but it is essential to kick off your curry. What else can make your onion and garlic crisp up, and your spices aromatic? You can use a variety of oil like vegetable oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, mustard oil, olive oil, and of course ghee.

Cumin seeds / Mustard Seeds

This one is quite a character, adding a smoky note to Indian dishes. In every North Indian home, it is taught to put cumin seeds first after ghee in the pan. It is commonly used for tempering curries and vegetables. Cumin is always there in every masala box in Indian homes. You can also grind roasted cumin seeds (bhuna jeera powder) for a more intense, fresh flavor. The powder form of bhuna Jeera is commonly used to garnish raitas.

Mustard Seeds are commonly used in place of Jeera in South Indian cooking. Just as North Indian temper anything with jeera similarly South Indian temper it with mustard seeds. In Eastern India, we use crushed mustard seeds in form of a paste and added to curries for intense flavor.


Coriander powder is added after cumin in North Indian curries, it can also be used to season curries, vegetables, and chutneys. Did you know, coriander is one of the oldest-known spices in the world! Some love it, some hate it, but it will give your curry an aromatic and citrusy flavor.


Onions are the basic ingredients needed in Indian cooking for making almost any meal. The flavor of onion when sauteed in the oil gives them a delicious flavor. It is a staple to nearly every dish, Italian, Spanish, and Indian alike. So, if you don’t have them in your cupboard – what are you doing? It is said that any kitchen and any type of cuisine is incomplete and impossible without the smell and fragrance of the onions. They are to be used almost in every recipe.

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Garlic plays an important role in imparting flavors to any simple dish and enhancing its flavors. It is used in almost all vegetarian and non-vegetarian cooking. It is also known for its healthy properties as it purifies your blood and removing harmful toxins from the inside.


In Indian cooking, you must have heard of the generic term ‘ginger-garlic paste’.Every Indian cooking recipe starts with the basic process of ‘pan-roasting the fresh aromatics’ namely onion, garlic and ginger, along with whole spices in hot oil.


Tomato is one very important ingredient used in Indian cuisine. Fresh, crushed, or whole – tomatoes are fundamental to making a rich sauce. Think tikka masala, madras, or even korma, they all require Tomato. Fresh is always better, but we recommend stocking your cupboard with tins of tomatoes so that you are always ready to make a curry!


Turmeric has been known to have numerous health benefits and has even become the latest thing to be incorporated into lattes. Turmeric is an essential ingredient in Indian cooking used in preparing vegetables and dals to give color and enhance its flavor. It has a strong, earthy fragrance and gives your curries beautiful golden colors.

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Whether you like your curries a Vindaloo temperature or you’re more of a Korma fan – chilies are essential. You can add chili powder according to the amount you can handle, the two common forms of chilies are Kashmiri Mirch (imparts color) and Cayenne Pepper (extremely hot). Fresh or dried works fine, depending on how much heat you can handle!

Garam masala

Garam masala is an aromatic spice blend, typically of warm spices like clove, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and black pepper. Unlike most spices and blends, which are thrown in the oil at the start of cooking, this is usually sprinkled on curries near the end. Every Indian home will have either store-bought Garam masala or they make their own in homes.

There are many other spices which you will need in your Indian kitchen like Asafoetida (Hing), Whole dried chilies, Black peppercorns, Cloves, Cinnamon sticks (Dalchini), Bay leaves, Black cardamom, Green cardamom, Carom seeds (Ajwain), Fenugreek seeds, Coriander seeds, Black salt, Dried methi leaves (Kasoori methi), Dried Mango powder (Amchur powder), Fennel seeds, Saffron (Kesar), Sesame seeds, Poppy seeds(khus-khus), nutmeg powder, Pomegranate seeds, etc. that you will need time to time depending on the dish you are preparing.

In addition, you may also have various store-bought masalas that you add in curries and vegetables like Chole/Channa Masala, Pav bhaji Masala, Sambar powder, Rasam powder, Kitchen King, etc in your kitchen.

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Simmi Kamboj

Simmi Kamboj is the Founder and Administrator of Ritiriwaz, your one-stop guide to Indian Culture and Tradition. She had a passion for writing about India's lifestyle, culture, tradition, travel, and is trying to cover all Indian Cultural aspects of Daily Life.