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I really want to start experimenting with indian food, without relying on jars of paste. I am looking for any good information so:

  • What spices to buy?
  • What equipment?
  • Any good books?
  • Any good web sites?
  • Any other resources?
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As a question this is way too broad. You could spin a couple of these points off into really good questions of their own though. –  sourd'oh Feb 10 at 15:23
    
The Indian food served in our restaurants tends to have a flavour that is common mainly in the UK. You'll be looking for the phrase BIR (British Indian Restaurant). There's plenty of results searching for just that [link](www.bing.com/search?q=BIR+british+indian+restaurant). Once you've selected a few meals you want to try you'll generally create a gravy that is common to most of them. Enjoy! –  R4D4 Jul 8 at 22:56

9 Answers 9

up vote 23 down vote accepted

What spices to buy?

I have listed commonly used spices/ingredients. If you are on a budget, purchase the ones with a (!) before them.

Powders and Pastes ("Masalas")

  • (!) Coriander Powder ("Dhania Powder")
  • (!) Cumin Powder ("Jeera Powder")
  • (!) Red Chilli Powder ("Laal Mirch Powder")
  • Turmeric Powder ("Haldi Powder")
  • Garam Masala Powder
  • Ginger Garlic Paste (You can skip this if you have fresh ginger and garlic)

Seeds

  • (!) Cumin Seeds ("Jeera")
  • (!) Mustard Seeds ("Rai")
  • Cloves ("Laung")
  • Cardamon Seeds ("Elaichi")
  • Bay Leaves ("Taej Pata")

Fresh Spices

  • (!) Green Chillies
  • (!) Garlic
  • Ginger ("Adrak")
  • Coriander Leaves ("Dhania")
  • Curry Leaves ("Kadhi patta")

Common Vegetables

  • (!) Onions
  • (!) Tomatoes (tomato is officially a fruit, ignore the heading)

Lentils & Beans

Buy these on a need basis, depending on the recipe.

  • Tur Daal (Yellow lentil. There are 2-3 yellow lentils, ask the store for Toor dal, which is most common)
  • Chick Peas ("Chhole" or "Kabuli Channa")
  • Kidney Beans ("Rajma")

In the US, most towns have an Indian Store. A while back, a small packet of each spice/powder would be around $2.

What equipment?

To cook Curries, you don't need anything special.

A small grinder/food processor to grind spices is very helpful. If you don't have one, you can always crush the spices using a rolling pin before putting it in the frying pan.

A pressure cooker is helpful to cook/boil lentils or beans. If you don't have one, you can always cook them in an open container - it just takes more time.

Any good books? Any good web sites?

Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal are two popular cooks in India. Their websites have some good recipes that you can pick up.

Youtube has some great videos on Indian cooking, but you need to know what to search. Read the blogs I mentioned above, pick up a curry/dish you find interesting and search it on youtube. That's perhaps the best way to find good videos.

Any other advice?

Just some little tips that I think would help you get started -

  1. Most curries are based on Onion and Tomato. A generic recipe would be - "Pour a little oil in a frying pan. Add spices till they start to crackle. Add chopped onions and saute till golden brown. Add chopped tomatoes and saute for a few minutes. Add dry spices/powders. Add vegetables/chicken/meat and cook". This is the most basic Indian recipe, and others build from here.
  2. Ginger Garlic paste is readily available, and is handy when you don't want to peel and crush garlic cloves.
  3. Garam Masala powder is always added last
  4. India is a huge country, and every region has its own distinct flavour. In general, North and South Indian food are totally different. The curries usually come from Punjab in North India, so searching for "Punjabi Recipes" is likely to get you better results. The most popular South Indian dishes are "Idlis" and "Dosas".
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I would (!) the turmeric, myself. Loved the rest of this - thanks! –  zanlok Dec 3 '10 at 18:13
    
-1 - Turmeric is ESSENTIAL. –  5arx Feb 15 '11 at 22:37

While rest of the fellow mates have answered your questions,www.bawarchi.com can be a good source of simple indian recipes. They provide instructions in simple, crisp and step-by-step format. And have the largest of Indian and Indo-fusion recipes.

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Once you've got a little experience with Indian cooking, check out the videos on Sanjay Thumma's Vah re Vah. The recipes are simple an authentic.

I said you need a little experience because you will need to know what "a little" means when he says things like "just add a little chilli powder and ginger-garlic paste".

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A great book to start with is "50 great curries of India", by Camellia Panjabi (ISBN: 978 1 84509 264 1). Besides 50 curry recipes, the book contains a 60-page explanation of typical curry ingredients, spices, cooking techniques, necessary equipment and so on. There are also chapters at the end on Indian breads, rice, side dishes, desserts and drinks to make your meal complete.

You can also find a lot of video recipes on the website "Show Me the Curry".

One note: the above book and website are focused on home-style Indian curries. If you're more interested in reproducing restaurant-style Indian cooking, you should also take a look at the books by Kris Dhillon ("The Curry Secret" and "The New Curry Secret") and the website "Curry Recipes Online".

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As I'm new to this site, I was only allowed to include one link in my answer. The URL for the website "Curry Recipes Online" is cr0.co.uk and for the website "Show Me the Curry" is showmethecurry.com. –  Rinzwind Dec 29 '10 at 14:48

There are several simple basics to Indian cooking. One is to remember that each dish (sabhji) is usually based around 1 lentil/bean or two vegetables. The second is to remember that anything with lentils or beans is for long cooking. Indian food requires patience.

Aside from that, there are several things that you can only really learn from making food and making mistakes. Cumin goes in at the start with the onions and hot oil. Turmeric only goes in with the liquids.

There is also a basic ratio of spices, but it's not easy to remember which goes where. The ratio is 4:2:1, more or less. Cumin, mustard, salt and black pepper go in the first category. Turmeric, curry, chilli and coriander seed go in the second. Cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon are in the third.

The best advice is to read ten different recipes for anything, and then choose what seems best.

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Actually turmeric is usually fried with the onions/garlic/ginger after they've been sautéed for a while. –  5arx Feb 15 '11 at 22:39
    
What a dreadful answer. This is more misinformation than useful information. –  spiceyokooko Dec 3 '12 at 15:15

Find some recent Indian immigrants whom are running night school cooking lessons, or make friends with same. It's the only way. Most books and things are very un-Indian

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I think with this method you risk getting trained by a home cook, with all the potential for awesomeness, but also the potential for food superstition or passed-down misinformation, or someone who only knows how to do one or two things well. Just like if you tried to go to Indiana and find a "native" to learn from. Not that I have anything against Indiana. It seems a bit romantic to assume that any local will know better than someone who knows the food AND has training. I reject that Madhur Jaffrey, who is Indian, writes cookbooks that are un-Indian because she's professional. –  bikeboy389 Nov 19 '10 at 4:17
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@bikeboy389 - I am unfamiliar with speficic-to-Indiana cuisines... what are they? You're piqued my curiosity :) –  warren Nov 23 '10 at 14:40
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@warren en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_tenderloin_sandwich :) ... wikipedia –  belisarius Nov 23 '10 at 15:18
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@belisarius - fascinating –  warren Nov 23 '10 at 15:59
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I'm an Indian immigrant & find suggestions of 'food superstition' and 'passed-down misinformation' ignorant/offensive. Food is part of our culture, our recipes are largely 'passed down'[sic] via family, children learn to cook by watching their mothers. Cookery books have until fairly recently, been rare because they're not required ;-) If I want good Chinese food in an unfamiliar city, I tend to go for the one's where Chinese people are eating. And I don't assume, because I've read a few cookery books, that I know more about Chinese food than people who were raised on it. Just saying ;-) –  5arx Feb 15 '11 at 22:47

Look for a local company that sells bulk spices.

Spices can get expensive and for some dishes you often use just a small amount. In Indian cuisine, you often toast the whole spices first, then either grind the spices or leave whole in some dishes. Look for a good spice grinder (a coffee grinder works as well). Some of the common spices are: cumin seed, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds, nigella seeds, cardamom pod, fenugreek, saffron or turmeric.

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Another good option--if you have one--is a local Indian, African or even Thai market. These places routinely stock fairly large packages (much more than supermarket size) of spices like cumin, cardamom and turmeric for very good prices--sometimes less than the price of a single jar from the supermarket or places like Penzey's. The quality, in my experience, has been excellent. I guess they know they can do a volume business so prices are low, and they know their customers won't stand for crummy spices, so quality is good. –  bikeboy389 Nov 18 '10 at 19:44
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Agreed -- those little bottles at the grocery store are not the way to go if you're going to be cooking any significant amounts. Luckily, near my work there are both an Indian and African markets, and they're selling enough that the product is being turned over quickly, not sitting on the shelves for a year or more. I've also found that in the Amish market near me, the place that sells candies also sells baking ingredients and bulk spices of more 'common' spices, too. –  Joe Nov 19 '10 at 0:46

alt textI enjoyed this book a lot.

Amazon link

It's clearly a short introductory book with nice tips and techniques and every recipe is a flawless winner.

Also, (important to me) the recipes has good photographs that guide you on the appearance of the dish ... sometimes when cooking something I never saw before, I keep thinking .."should this be like so, or is overcooked? ... Is this the supposed shape of hungarian tagliatelle :) ? ... etc.

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I would think the place to start is with a good book. Your questions about spices and equipment should be covered there.

At our house, we like cookbooks by Madhur Jaffrey. She has a quick and easy one that's really good, and makes it possible to make an after-work dinner that tastes like you cooked it all day (though you'll need a pressure cooker for that kind of speed). She has a bunch of others, though (her first came out in the early 70s), including two or three James Beard award-winners. I think she'd be a great place to start.

In my experience, standard kitchen equipment is all you'll need if you're not going to get into building a real tandoor oven or something crazy.

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+ Madhur Jaffrey does some great intro books. –  Jeremy French Nov 17 '10 at 9:27
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+1 for suggesting building a real tandoori oven –  warren Nov 23 '10 at 14:38
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-1 for suggesting that building a real tandoori is crazy :) –  belisarius Nov 23 '10 at 14:46
    
Nitpicking: the oven is called a Tandoor, food that comes out of it is said to be cooked in the 'Tandoori' style. And there's nothing crazy about building one: piers.thompson.users.btopenworld.com (well ok, maybe he's a little bit crazy) –  5arx Feb 16 '11 at 16:45
    
Reasonable nitpick--I over-defined because I wasn't sure the OP would know that a Tandoor was an oven. And I agree that it's not entirely mad to build one--my sister designed and built a wood-fired pizza oven in her backyard a few years back. –  bikeboy389 Feb 16 '11 at 18:15

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