I'm interested in slowly getting started with Indian cooking and building up my store of spices. However, I generally don't have as much time to cook as I would like and really don't have enough space to go out and binge spend on cooking materials for Indian food.

What are the bare minimum ingredients / spices / etc that I would need, to make some tasty dishes for a wide array of palettes (in case I can convince friends to try my cooking).

  • Hi Michael, Welcome to the site! Polls and recipe requests are not considered on topic on this site (See the FAQ for some details). However, there is an on topic question here. I've edited your question so that it is more in keeping with the site. Please feel free to edit further if I haven't really gotten at the essence of what you're looking for.
    – yossarian
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 17:45
  • 1
    Seems pretty similar to the Curries from scratch question.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jul 15, 2011 at 19:15

6 Answers 6


Indian foods uses a lot of spices. Almost in a level that you will find one new spice in every new recipe.

Still the most common spices AFIK are the follows in the decreasing order of frequency of use

  1. Turmeric powder
  2. Coriander powder
  3. Cumin powder and seeds
  4. Chili powder (You can replace with green chilies if you must)
  5. Garam masala
  6. Dried red chilies
  7. Black peppers

Also asafoetida, fresh coriander leaf, whole cumin seeds, whole mustard seeds. Also, if you can get some ajowan, get it: While not useful in every recipe, it is really great in eg samosas and tikka marinades.

Also, these are very commonly used ingredients

  1. Garlic
  2. Ginger
  3. Onion
  4. Green chili peppers
  5. Tomato ...
  6. Cashew nuts for added thickening (as a paste of boiled cashew nuts) or whole as an ingredient (or both - cashew-thickened real korma with sundry vegetables, dried fruits, and whole cashews added is mind blowing - bring on the saffron too!).

Also always make some yogurt (Unflavored and unsweetened) available

Most common vegetables are

  1. Cauliflower
  2. Cabbage
  3. Potato
  4. Bell peppers (Green)
  5. Red Kidney Beans

Most common grains are

  1. Rice (Basmati rice is considered as delicacy)
  2. Dal (Many varieties, but you might need mung bean, lentil, toor daal, urid dal )
  3. Whole wheat flour and normal flour

Traditionaly different kind of oils are used but now a days mostly vegitable oil is used. You will also need ghee (Similar to clarified butter) to make some complex and rich dishes.

  • Suggested edit: Add tomatoes (for northern) and coconut in all forms (for southern) to commonly used ingredients... Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 11:40

I think you can get started quite easily with only two spices: cardamom and garam masala, the second being more important. Many of the other spices and flavors are quite common to a decently stocked kitchen. Garam masala is the quintessential indian spice mix. Add some cream, sub butter or oil for ghee, and use some fresh veg and chicken, and you can start putting together nice curries, etc.

Other useful spices (that I believe are fairly common) are: turmeric, chili, cumin, coriander curry powder, star anise, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon sticks.

  • 4
    The garam masala is indian for "hot mixed spices." and is a general blend of spice suitable for indian food. It's generally used as a base mix from which you can adapt. The blend varies depending on the brand you buy. Garam masala usually contains some of the following (not in order): black & white peppercorns, cloves, malabar leaves, mace blades, black & white cumin seeds, cinnamon, black, brown & green cardamom pods, nutmeg, star anise, and coriander seeds. The largest weight will be on the cumin and coriander. Commented Jul 16, 2011 at 14:43
  • but while using @yossarian list, keep the ground spices which will rich in fragrance and taste and you stock them for last longer due to its preserved shelf life as mentioned by Rincewind42. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 15:20

Here's the list of four Indian spices I can't live without:

  1. Garlic - not really known as Indian spice but used in many dishes; if you're cooking Hare Krishna recipes but are not into Hare Krishna beliefs I recommend replacing asafoetida with garlic. And I recommend Hare Krishna recipes (unlike their beliefs), they are usually extremely detailed since they can't taste the dish before they offer it to Krishna.

  2. Turmeric powder - this is the spice that gives color to curry, and it likes to give color to anything it touches, especially wood and plastic. If you spill it, it'll stick more if it's wet.

  3. Caraway powder - most recipes use cumin seeds, but in my opinion powder fits better with most dishes, and I like caraway more because it has similar but more intense taste.

  4. Chilli powder - again, I like powder because it allows for more precise dosage.

Obtain these and you can cook many dishes. And then there are non-essential but more often used spices:

  1. Coriander - seeds and powder are interchangeable; but coriander leaves can be replaced with parsley

  2. Cinnamon - powder or sticks

  3. Ginger - fresh ginger is better than powder, but it doesn't last

  4. Garam masala - a combination of spices, usually mixed in the dish before serving

There are a lot more spices in Indian cuisine, but for most dishes this is more than enough. Rincewind's remark is valid - I prefer most of the spices in the list in the form of a powder, but they last longer in the seed form, and taste better if they're freshly ground, but the difference is not as important, especially if you're still experimenting.

Most of the Indian dishes use pretty ordinary ingredients - it depends on the recipe itself. Once you cook your first dishes, you can try making ghee, paneer or chapatis yourself. But until then, you can replace ghee with butter, and paneer with tofu, and skip the chapatis.


The absolute minimum spice rack I'd use for indian food would be: - Coriander seeds - Cumin seeds - Chilli powder (and whole chillis) - Black & White pepper.

From this you can mix many spice pastes for some reasonable curries, masallas or kormas.

To get more into the authentic flavours you will have to build up an extensive selection of spices. If you don't cook too often, then try to buy your spices whole. They will keep their flavour longer than ground spices. If kept dry, most whole spices can last years.

  • the question is about Indian spice mix which the consist even more then 26+ spices,and especially their ratio obviously when using black pepper,white pepper and whole chilies or chilli powder altogether. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 14:58

youssarian's list is great as far as my experience goes. as far as other ingredients go, lentils and rice (basmati) are usually very easy to get ahold of. start with that and some meats or tofu, and try some basic dal or other recipes. you'll be up to speed in no time!

  • here it not asked about what to cook,its just the minimal spice list. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 15:21
  • @SunishthaSingh The question says "ingredients" in the title and asks about "ingredients/spices/etc" in the body; while there's a focus on spices, and most of the answers have understood this as a spice question, it's not at all unreasonable to discuss other basic ingredients as well.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 17:01
  • oh i do understand it very well,ty for your kind information. But i just answered as none of the ingredient is useless or less useful...thats it... Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 18:28

@yossarian has pretty good list (though I'd argue that cumin and turmeric are more useful than cardamom). I'd add ginger and chiles (fresh or dried cayenne, serrano or Thai green) to the list of essentials, and you'd be all set to make some delicious basic curries.

  • every spice has it own significance and health benefits, their ratio is to either enhance or neutralize the vegetable's taste and properties. cardamom is used for fragrance, garnishing and flavoring. Green cardamom is used with Indian sweets and spice tea while Black cardamom is used in curries. It also has preserving property. so you can't say that its less useful than turmeric and cumin. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 15:14
  • @SunishthaSingh This is a food and cooking site, not a health site. And we all understand that every spice has its use, but the fact is, there are some spices that are used in more common dishes than other spices, and that's what Laura is talking about here.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 17:02
  • @Jefromi i am not discusing here bout the health, just wrote because none of the ingredient is less or more useful. Its used for a purpose. And what ever we eat is not just for taste obviously for health so just few lines i used here to mark its reason behind using. Hopefully you have heard "eat healthy live healthy", That's it. Commented Mar 2, 2013 at 18:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.