“COMMONLY USED INGREDIENTS TO HAVE ON HAND”
If you keep these staple ingredients in your cupboard and refrigerator, a delicious Indian meal is a simple matter of picking up a couple fresh vegetables or some meat and diving right into any of the recipes in this book.
Dals: If you have one or two types of dal (lentils) in your pantry, you’re never more than a few steps from a hearty and satisfying meal. Keep them in glass jars or airtight plastic containers to keep them fresh.
Garlic and red onions: Keep plenty of alliums handy in a cool, dry pantry or in a basket on the countertop, as they’re used in most of the savory dishes in this book.
Ghee: Keep a jar of ghee in the pantry or in the refrigerator; it should keep for several months either way. Just be sure to use a dry spoon each time you take ghee from the jar.
Ginger: Wrap unpeeled fresh ginger in a paper towel and keep it in the fridge, where it will stay usable for weeks. Or peel, slice, and submerge in a clean jar of dry sherry for longer refrigerator storage.
Green chiles: Fresh green chiles are used extensively in Indian cooking, either whole, split, minced, or puréed with other ingredients depending on, aside from textural considerations, the amount of heat desired: Whole chiles lend their flavor without imparting too much heat to a curry, for example. The best substitute for the long, slender Indian green chiles are serranos, which are about the size and thickness of your finger, medium-dark green, and a bit hotter than jalapeños. To store chiles, pull off and discard the stems, rinse them, then pat them dry (or let them sit on a sunny countertop on a clean towel to air-dry for an hour or so), wrap in paper towels, and store in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator; they’ll keep for several weeks. Alternatively, store them whole or minced in the freezer for several months, thawing only as many as you need at a time.
Red chiles: In this Blog, where red chile powder is indicated, a powder made from a milder variety like Kashmiri red chiles is my preferred chile type, though New Mexico chiles, or even paprika, can be used as a substitute. The quantity can be adjusted to taste. Many different varieties of dried chiles are sold in Indian grocery stores; check the package label or ask the store’s proprietor for guidance. In some recipes I indicate that the very mild and deep-red Kashmiri red chile powder is most appropriate, and in some cases deghi mirch, which is very similar to Hungarian paprika, is best; in these dishes you could use paprika instead, but don’t be tempted to substitute cayenne, which would be far too hot. Note, too, that U.S. “chili powder” (with an “i”) is a mixture of different spices and herbs for making chili, and should not be used for these recipes. When whole dried red chiles are called for, the thin, finger-length hot cayenne peppers (or a milder type) can be used.
Rice: Fragrant, long-grained basmati rice is generally used in India for special occasions and to make biryanis. There are many other types of rice, including jasmine and short-grain rice and parboiled rice, available at Indian grocers and regular supermarkets. Indian markets sell basmati rices at different price points depending on the length of the grains, the percentage of broken grains, and overall quality. For more variety, stock brown basmati rice in your pantry as well—it’s becoming more available in regular supermarkets.
Spices: Indian cooking relies on spices in a way unlike any other world cuisine, and staring down a typically long ingredient list can be intimidating if you are just starting to learn to cook Indian. However, once you have the basic spices, the recipes become infinitely more manageable. Whole spices, and many preground spices, will keep for ages in airtight containers in a dark cupboard (claims that they’ll lose all potency after a mere twelve months to the contrary). A convenient way to store your most-used spices is in a masala dhabba, a round stainless-steel container with seven smaller compartments for different spices. The best models will have two lids, one of them very tight-fitting to keep the spices from mingling. When you begin to cook, simply pull the whole container from the cupboard and spoon out the spices you need. To start, I’d recommend filling a masala dhabba with ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, whole mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds, whole green cardamom, and ground garam masala.
Tamarind: Tamarind is available in several different forms: as whole ripe pods, which you can shell, soak, and push through a sieve to remove the seeds and fibers; as blocks of stiff tamarind pulp, which also need to be soaked and strained; and as tamarind concentrate, sold in squat plastic jars. If you’re using concentrate rather than the reconstituted pulp, reduce the amount in the recipe by half.
Vegetable oil: Any kind of vegetable oil will do for most of these recipes—peanut and mustard oils are traditional in different regions (see page 589 for more about choosing an edible mustard oil), but canola or safflower or a blend of oils can also be used.
Yogurt: Plain yogurt is a very common ingredient in this book and is useful to have on hand—it keeps for weeks in the refrigerator. Use full-fat varieties, if possible.