Whether you enjoy eating at a restaurant or cooking at home, here’s an inclusive guide to Indian food ingredients
Aachar Any kind of pickle mainly made with vegetables and fruits like mango, lime, green chilies etc.
Aloo Chole A vegetarian dish using chickpeas, potatoes, and tamarind.
Appam Wafer thin, round and flat. They are usually made out of rice, potato and/or various lentil flours.
Atta Flour Also know as a chapatti flour. Whole wheat flour widely used for making unleavened flat breads.
Avial Vegetable curry from the south of India.
Barfi A dessert made from milk that has been cooked slowly and reduced to a fudge-like consistency. This sweet is flavored with either saffron, vanilla essence, cocoa, rose water, etc. Sometimes nuts and fresh coconut is added. Eaten and served in bite-sized pieces “Barfi” is a very popular after dinner dessert.
Basmati Rice Authentic Indian long grained white rice, which has unique nutty flavor. Basmati rice is very popular in India and all over the world. A wide variety of rice dishes are made with Basmati rice. They are plain steamed rice, pulaos, pilafs, biryanis or just different types of fried rice – which include meat, vegetables, nuts, and even fruits sometimes. Gourmet cooks prefer to use Basmati rice for its fragrant flavor. Special occasion rice dishes are mostly made with Basmati rice.
Bhaaji or Sabji Deep-fried vegetable dipped in a seasoned batter – usually made with onion.
Bhunao or Bhuna is to saute or stir-fry. Usually onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and green chilies are fried in oil, but to make sure that this doesn’t’t stick, burn or cook unevenly, a small amount of liquid is added, repeatedly. After the oil separates from the mixture, the main ingredient (meat or vegetable) is added and cooked.
Bharta A spicy vegetable dish, with a pulp like consistency. A commonly made bharta is a “baingan” (eggplant) bharta
Bhel Puri One of Bombay’s favorite snack’s. It is a mixture of puffed rice, “sev”, “puri”, lentils, finely chopped onions, chopped coriander topped with two kinds of chutneys; one is the sweet tamarind date chutney and the other is the spicy cilantro chutney.
Biryani Elaborate dish made from spiced saffron rice cooked with pieces of lamb, chicken, seafood or vegetables.
Bondas or Vadas Round deep-fried savory snack made in different varieties usually from lentils, potatoes etc. eaten with a chutney.
Boti Kebab Marinated boneless cubes of meat cooked in a tandoor.
Cayenne Pepper A type of chili powder.
Chaat Salty snacks served with an array of sweet and spicy chutneys.
Chai Indian tea.
Chana Dal A very versatile dried split yellow lentil with a slightly sweet taste, nutty flavor. It is used in variety of vegetable dishes. It can be cooked until soft for the dish called simply dal, or as in southern India, it can be used as a spice.
Chapatti/Roti Unleavened Indian flatbread made with wheat flour, water, oil and salt. Usually cooked on a “tava” or thick griddle and brushed with “ghee”.
Ceylon Curry Usually cooked with coconut, chili, and lemon.
Chick Peas Also called gram or garbanzo beans.
Chili There are a great many species of chilies, which are the fleshy pods of shrub-like bushes of the capsicum family. Chilies range from large to small and colors include green, white, purple, pink, and red. Chilies are the most important heat agent in Indian cooking. They vary in hotness from mild to incendiary-like potency. Most commonly used are the small, fresh green or red chilies. Red chilies can be dried and used whole, and chili powder is made from grinding dried chilies.
Chutney Fresh relishes made with fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Curry To Indians, the term curry means gravy or sauce, Curries are what made Indian cuisine famous all over the world, the most famous of all is the Chicken Curry. Residents of the rest of the world, however, have come to think of “curry” as simply a thick creamy yellow sauce or any dish seasoned with a curry-powder blend, whether it has a sauce or not. An authentic Indian curry is an intricate combination of a stir-fried wet masala (mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes), various spices and seasonings with which meat, poultry, vegetables or fish is prepared to produce a stew-type dish.
Curry Leaves (Not to be confused with the curry spice blend) The curry leaf plant is a tropical tree of the citrus family. The long slender leaflets that look a little like bay leaves are dark green on top and paler underside. The leaves have a strong, warm curry (combination of nuts and lemons) aroma when bruised or rubbed.
Dal Dal is an Indian word, which includes dried peas, beans, and lentils that are red, yellow orange, or pink, plus split peas and other legumes. Dal can also be used to describe a soup like dish prepared with lentils. Dals are the primary source of protein in a vegetarian diet. Dals are cooked whole or pureed, depending on the dish. Ground powdered dal is used in unleavened breads and crackers, and even in spice mixtures
Dhansak Traditional chicken or meat dish cooked in lentil and vegetable puree.
Dosa A popular delicacy from southern India made from rice and “urad” dal. They are usually made very thin and pancake-like and sometimes filled with a spiced potato mixture. Served with chutney and “sambar”.
Dum A way to steam foods in a pot with a tightly covered lid or a sealed pot. A popular spiced vegetable dish is “Dum Aloo”. In the olden days, the utensil was sealed with atta (dough) to capture the moisture within the food as it cooked slowly over a charcoal fire. Some coal was placed on the lid to ensure even cooking. The food continued to cook in its own steam, retaining all its flavor and aroma. Dum means, “to steam” or “mature” a dish.
Garam Masala A North Indian spice blend, literally meaning, “hot mixture”.
Ghee Clarified butter
Gram Flour Chickpea flour.
Gulab Jamun Deep-fried cake balls served with aromatic syrups.
Haldi or Huldi Turmeric Haldi is a very important Indian spice. It is the basis for all Indian curry spice blends.
Halvah Indian sweet made from a variety of finely grated vegetables, milk, and sugar and flavored with cardamom. The consistency is that of a thick pudding. Among the popular halvah is the “Gajar Halvah”.
Hing Asafetida is the dried gum resin of an East Indian plant. It has a strong odor and the flavor is a little like “spicy garlic. Usually just a pinch is used for cooking mainly fish, vegetables and making “Indian pickles”. It is available in a yellow powdered form.
Idiappam or Sevai South Indian rice noodle. Soaked rice is ground into a paste, steamed into idlis and then extruded through sevai maker. Served with sweetened coconut milk or vegetable side dish. It is also seasoned with boiled toor dhal or lemon juice or grated coconut.
Idli South Indian steamed rice cakes a very popular snack from thesouth of India. Generally eaten with “sambar” and “chutney”.
Jaggery Raw sugar, eaten as it is and used to flavor various dishes, even vegetable curries.
Jal Frezi Sauté or stir-fry.
Jalebi Sweet crisp round whirls, made from plain flour and water deep-fried and then dipped in sugar syrup, served hot or cold, make a favorite Indian dessert.
Jinga Prawns or shrimp.
Kachumber Indian salad usually made with cucumber, tomatoes, and onions flavored with salt, sugar and lemon juice. As it goes with any Indian dish the varieties can be endless.
Kalonji or Nigela Small black tear-shaped onions seeds, used to add piquancy to vegetable curries and Indian breads.
Karela Also known as bitter lemon. Small, dark green, knobby vegetable of the gourd family.
Kashmir Chicken Whole chicken stuffed with minced meat.
Kebabs Marinated and spiced small pieces of any meat, poultry, fish, ground meat, vegetables, skewered and grilled in a tandoor/oven or over a grill. Kebabs can also be shallow fried over a pan.
Keema Ground meat, raw or cooked.
Kewra Water Sold in the stronger form of essence, kewra water is used for flavoring and has a delicate fragrance.
Kheer Rice pudding, made with rice, milk and sugar flavored with cardamom. Sometimes nuts are added. Served either hot or cold.
Khoya or Mawa Made by bringing milk to a boil in a pot and stirring continuously thereafter on a low flame. It is then reduced and thickened to the consistency of soft cream cheese. Used widely in the making of many Indian desserts and sweet meats.
Khurzi Lamb or chicken, whole with spicy stuffing.
Kichadi Mildly spiced rice and dal preparation. Popularly made when you want to eat a light meal, when suffering from a stomach disorder since it is not only nutritive but can be easily digested.
Koftas Spiced meat or vegetable balls deep-fried and served with a currysauce.
Korma Rich sauce thickened with yogurt, nuts or poppy seeds, fragrantly seasoned with aromatic spices.
Kulcha Tender, pita-like bread cooked in the tandoor.
Kulfi Sweet, aromatic ice cream made from cream, milk, and sugar flavored with mango, pistachios, saffron etc.
Lassi A tall cool drink made from yogurt and water and made either sweet or salty.
Makhani A traditional dish. Tandoori chicken is cooked in ghee and tomato sauce.
Makke Corn flour
Masala Spices, herbs and other seasonings ground or pounded together. When wet ingredients like water, vinegar, yogurt etc. are added to the spice mixture it is appropriately called a “wet masala”. Dry spice mixtures are also called “Garam masala” or commonly known in the world as “Curry powder”. Indian cooks generally don’t use pre-prepared curry powder (originally a British invention to approximate Indian seasoning) but prefer making their own ever-changing blends.
Masoor Dal Skinned split red lentils. They are actually orange in color.
Mattar Paneer or Mutter Paneer Curried peas with cubes of fried homemade cheese.
Mint Widely used herb often paired with lamb. Indian mint has a stronger flavor and more pungent aroma than Western varieties.
Moong Dal Skinned split moong beans.
Murgh Masala A specialty dish of whole chicken, marinated in yogurt and spices for 24 hours then stuffed and roasted.
Mustard Oil A yellow oil made from mustard seeds that is pungent when raw and sweet when heated. Primarily used in Kashmir and Bengal.
Naan Indian flat bread made from wheat and baked in a tandoor.
Naan Keema Baked naan bread, stuffed with a thin layer of minced meat curry.
Naan Peshwari Baked naan bread stuffed with almonds and or cashews and or raisins.
Nargis Kebab Indian scotch egg spiced minced meat around a hard-boiled egg.
Paan Betel leaf stuffed with supari (betel nut), quick lime paste, kathechu paste, gulukand (rose petal preserve), fennel seeds and dried grated coconut. Paan is eaten usually after a meal and has known to aid in digestion. Paan connoisseurs always add tobacco in their paan. The paan is garnished with edible thin silver foil called “Varak”.
Pakoras Popular Indian crispy and spicy snack served usually hot out of the frying pot along with coriander chutney. A popular teatime snack served with Indian tea. Slices of different vegetables like potatoes, onion, chilies, spinach leaves, eggplant etc. dipped in a batter made out of chickpea flour and a few dry spices and deep-fried.
Palak or Saag Spinach or green leafy vegetable.
Paneer Cheese (aka Indian cottage cheese) made from bottled milk that can be fried and curried.
Papadams (Papad) Thin wafer like discs about 4 to 8 inches in diameter made from a variety of lentils, potato, shrimp, rice etc. The discs are deep-fried or dry roasted on an open flame and served as a crispy savory appetizer. Served in many Indian restaurants complimentary before a meal. Great with Indian beer.
Paratha Whole-wheat unleavened flatbread. It is sometimes filled with cooked ground meat or a vegetable mixture. Slightly larger than a Chapatti and shallow fried to perfection.
Pasanda Meat, usually lamb, beaten and cooked in one piece.
Pooris or Puris Deep-fried whole-wheat flatbreads. They are usually around 4 inches in diameter and puff up when deep-fried. Delicious when hot!
Pullao Delicately flavored rice, sautéed in ghee and flavored with whole spices like cumin, cloves etc. Just like the Indian cuisine there are many varieties of Pullao.
Raan Leg of lamb marinated in yogurt-based masala.
Raita A cooling chutney of vegetables and yogurt.
Rasam A thin, spicy broth.
Rassgulla One of the most famous Indian sweets that originated from east India. The walnut-size balls of semolina and milk are cooked in a light sugar syrup, flavored with cardamom.
Rogan Josh/Gosht Rich lamb curry, literally meaning “red juice lamb”. It is a traditional Northern Indian dish of lamb that is marinated in yogurt, then cooked with ghee and spices and tomato. It should be creamy and spicy – but not too hot.
Rose Water Used like kewra water for flavoring many Indian dishes.
Roti Bread in Hindi. “Tandoori roti” is bread that is baked in a tandoor, “Rumali Roti” or literally meaning handkerchief bread is a kind of a thin and flaky paratha made up of many layers.
Saag Spinach, but can also refer to other greens.
Saffron or Kesar Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. Saffron is the stamen of the crocus flower. It takes 70,000 stamens to give a recipe a delicate yellow coloring and aroma.
Sambhar or Sambar Lentil curry from the south of India. Served as an accompaniment with “idli”and “dosa”.
Samosas The celebrated triangular deep-fried pastry appetizers filled with vegetable or meat mixtures.
Sev Thin string-like fried snack preparation made out of gram flour. Used in the preparation of “Sev puri” and “Bhel Puri” or can be enjoyed just plain. Nowadaysthere are many spicy and non-spicy varieties of “sev” available in Indian grocery and specialty stores.
Sheekh Kebab or Sheek Kebab The word “Seekh” in Hindi means skewer. Seekh kebab simply means kebabs on a skewer. Kebabs are usually made out of ground lamb mixed with various spices, cooked in a “tandoor”.
Shahi Means “Royal” in Hindi.
Shami Kebab Round minced meat rissoles.
Shashlik Cubes of skewered lamb.
Supari Mixture of seeds and sweeteners for chewing after a meal. It usually includes aniseed or fennel, shredded betel nut, sugar balls, marrow seeds, etc.
Tadka A garnish of spices and fried onions.
Tadka Dal Fried lentils and spices garnished with spices and onions.
Tamarind The most popular souring agent in Southern India. The pods are collected, de-seeded and dried. Before cooking the acid flesh is soaked in water, and the juice is squeezed out. It is this tamarind water that is used in the curry. In some Goan recipes, the tamarind flesh is ground with spices.
Tandoor The traditional Indian clay oven is called the “Tandoor”. A Tandoor is a clay pot usually sunken neck deep in the ground. Charcoal is put on the flat bottom of the pot. The heat generated by the hot charcoal in and on the sides of the clay pot is used for cooking. Long iron rods, long enough to reach the bottom of the pot, are used in the cooking process. It is probably the most versatile kitchen equipment in the Indian kitchen. Barbecues, breads, dal, gravies made in them acquire a unique taste, very different from the food cooked on the regular kitchen oven.
Tandoori Murgh This is the bright red world famous Tandoori Chicken. Chicken marinated with spices, dried red peppers, and yogurt, cooked in a tandoor.
Thali A stainless steel dish that holds the complete meal served in individual bowls.
Tikka Skewered boneless meat cubes cooked in a tandoor.
Toor or Toovar A type of lentil.
Upma Spiced semolina cooked with or without tiny cubed potatoes, peas, and sometime shrimp and garnished with freshly grated coconut and cilantro.
Urad A type of lentil.
Varak Fine thin edible silver foil used to decorate or garnish Indian desserts and “paan”. It has been known to aid in digestion.
Vindaloo Meat usually pork is used to make this very spicy and flavorful dish. Cooked in vinegar and typically served 2 to 3 days after it is made.