Besides spices and fresh herbs, Indian cuisine uses other ingredients too. This includes dal and legumes, flours, oils, dairy products, and other seasonings. This post will go over everything that is used in my recipes. It will be updated in the future to include more items.
Split and Whole Legumes
Many legumes are used in Indian cooking. There are both whole and split legumes. Dal usually refers to split and peeled legumes, but it is often translated as “lentils” even though only one type of dal, masoor dal, is actually a lentil. Let’s see all the common types of dal and whole legumes.
The names in parentheses are the Indian names. In Indian stores, these will usually be the names shown instead of the English.
Each legume is the seed of the plant in italics.
Split Legumes (Dal):
Split Pigeon Peas (Toor Dal) – Cajanus cajan
Split Black Chickpeas (Chana Dal) – Cicer arietinum
Split Mung Beans (Mung Dal) – Vigna radiata
Split Black Gram (Urad Dal) – Vigna mungo
Split Red Lentils (Masoor Dal) – Lens culinaris
Kidney Beans (Rajma) – Phaseolus vulgaris
Chickpeas (Chole / Channa) – Cicer arietinum
Black Chickpeas (Kala Channa) – Cicer arietinum
Whole Mung Beans (Mung Dal Chilka) – Vigna radiata
Whole Black Gram (Urad Dal Chilka) – Vigna mungo
The most common flours used in Indian cooking are:
Whole Wheat Flour (Atta)
All Purpose Flour (Maida)
Chickpea Flour (Besan)
Whole wheat flour from India is slightly different from American whole wheat flour and can be found at an Indian grocery store. It is okay to substitute American whole wheat flour though.
The oils that you need for Indian cooking are:
A neutral flavored oil that can stand high temperatures (peanut, canola, “vegetable” [soybean], etc)
Clarified Butter (Ghee)
*Ghee is expensive and can be made at home from unsalted butter. I just buy it from Indian grocery stores, where it is still much cheaper than ghee in health food stores.*
For some dishes, you’ll need:
If you live in South India, it would be easy to get:
Untoasted Sesame Oil (to differentiate from the toasted sesame oil used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cooking to flavor foods)
But if you cannot get it easily and for a cheap price, you can substitute any neutral-flavored high temperature oil.
Milk (In India, it would be whole milk. 2% milk is also good. I would not prefer skim milk for cooking, but you can still use it if you want.)
Heavy Cream (You can substitute unsweetened evaporated milk or half and half, but cream is the richest.)
Plain Yogurt (Whole milk yogurt in India. Reduced fat, etc. is good too. Indian people make it at home, but I just buy it from the store.)
Paneer (An unfermented Indian cheese that looks like extremely firm tofu and does not melt. Often translated wrongly as “cottage cheese” in Indian recipes.)
Ginger-Garlic Paste – Many Indian recipes use this ingredient, a mixture of pureed ginger and garlic in a 1:1 ratio. You can substitute grated ginger and garlic pressed through a garlic press, or finely minced ginger and garlic. It is quite convenient to use this paste though, but it often contains preservatives if bought from the Indian grocery store. You can easily make it yourself, but it goes bad if you do not use it every day.
Tamarind (Imli) Concentrate – This can be found in jars at the Indian grocery store. It is dark and sticky and adds a sour flavor to food.
Shredded Coconut – If you live in Southeast Asia or India, please use fresh shredded coconut. If you live in somewhere like the USA or Europe, dried shredded coconut (dessicated coconut) is good for most recipes. In recipes requiring fresh shredded coconut (will be mentioned in the recipe), use frozen shredded coconut, found in Indian grocery stores.
Coconut Milk – Use fresh coconut milk in Southeast Asia or India. Otherwise, use canned/carton coconut milk. The Aroy-D brand, found in green cartons, is a good choice. It is also handy because many recipes use 1/2 or 1 cup, and it is exactly 1 cup (1 to 2 uses). If you can only find cans, the brand Mae Ploy is best. Aroy-D and Chaokoh cans are also good. Beware of fake Chaokoh coconut milk – there is a brand called Chaokoq!! The real one is much better quality.