Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We Went Shopping: starting an Indian pantry

This week's Diwali-preparedness post has to do with stocking an Indian pantry.  Indian food is often considered complicated and requiring a lot of ingredients.  It really doesn't have to be, but you do need a very different set of basics than you do for European-ish foods.

I had the great pleasure of traveling this past weekend to see a friend in Rochester.  Abby just moved there to start school, and needed to restock her pantry to make delicious (and cheap) Indian food all winter long.  We went to India House, which has a small but awesome selection of dried, fresh and frozen foods, toiletry items, and also religious icons and holiday supplies.  So if you are looking for diyas to celebrate Diwali with, your local Indian grocery store will probably have them.

We wanted to keep the items basic and the costs down, so that really, with just the addition of fresh vegetables, Abby could make easy, simple dinners.  Here's what I suggest, clockwise from top left.

* Chick peas
* Turmeric powder
* Urad dal
* Massoor dal
* Red Chili powder
* Whole black peppercorns
* Mustard seeds
* Garam Masala
* Cumin seeds
* Asofetida (hing)

The total for these ten items came to $23.00, and along with rice, provide the basis for a whole lotta cooking.  With the addition of green chiles, onions, ginger and garlic, you can make so many recipes, with only these basics and vegetables.

The most perfect comfort food, Pongal, only needs these ingredients, plus the optional addition of ginger and butter.  Or to make basic dal, just pick up some onions, ginger, and green chiles.  Same thing for basic cauliflower curry or potato curry.  A squeeze of lime and a handful of cilantro make these dishes extravagant!

As you come across recipes, for instance, last week's channa masala, you can add, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves to your pantry.  Or to start making south Indian dishes, dried tamarind, sambhar powder, coriander seeds, and methi seeds.  You will start adding different dals and flours.  One day you will eventually have amchoor powder and then you will really have a powerfully stocked Indian pantry.  But it can start with just these 10 things!

Happy cooking!



  1. YAY! I have a question though..when you say green chiles...these are not your common easy to access jalapenos are they? I'm not sure what I should be buying! THANKS RADHIKA!

  2. I am not particular about what kind of green chiles I use, and I think anything is better than none at all. So if all I have are jalapenos in the fridge I throw those in. If I see small Thai/birds eye chiles, serrano, or finger hots/cayennes, in the market and they look good (bright green, shiny and smooth) then I get those, and keep them in a storage container in my fridge. They will usually last a couple of weeks, and I try to always have some kind of chile in my refrigerator.

    Some chiles are hotter than others, but one in a big pot won't add too much heat. If you are worried, you can remove the seeds and the white ribs before you toss them in.

    Here's a website with pictures!