Have you ever eaten at an Indian restaurant and walked away thinking “Wow! I wish I could make that at home,” only to find yourself standing in the aisles of your local supermarket trying to figure what to buy to make zesty Indian food? The most challenging part of cooking Indian food at home can be shopping for the right ingredients.
Because of the tremendous variety of deceptively similar products carried by Indian grocery stores, novice Indian food cooks sometimes become overwhelmed by the wide selection of products and either buy too much of the wrong ingredients or do not buy anything at all. Contrary to popular belief, with the exception of a few ingredients, you can find almost everything you need to make amazing Indian food at your local supermarket.
For a successful ingredient shopping trip, review your recipes and make a shopping list of the required Indian food ingredients.
To make authentic an Indian meal, you need rice and flour. Basmati rice, a staple food in India, can be purchased in grocery stores across the United States and in bulk at mega stores like Sam’s Club and Costco. Many U.S. supermarkets sell fresh, decent quality Indian basmati rice. However, if you are a rice connoisseur, you might want to shop for rice at Indian grocery store just to gain more knowledge about aged rice and different grain lengths. Additionally, Indians use flour to make flat bread such as nan, roti and chapati. A mixture of regular baking-aisle white flour and bread flour makes the best Indian flat bread. Shop Indian grocery stores for gram, lentil and rice flours when you are ready to make fried snacks like pakora and bonda.
Indian spice shopping can be tricky. Depending on the diversity of the area where you live, your local supermarket may carry basic Indian spices on an ethnic food aisle. To make tasty Indian dishes, you need curry powder. Curry powder, a spice mix, contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek and hot pepper and gets its yellowish color from turmeric. However simplistic this may sound, and especially if you decide to go spice shopping at an Indian grocery store, to avoid purchasing the wrong ingredient, only purchase packages that read “Curry Powder.” Other essential Indian spices available regular supermarkets include peppercorns, bay leaves, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cardamom and cloves.
Vegetables, Legumes and Nuts
Indian culture has a rich tradition of vegetarianism that dates back thousands of years. The cuisine uses simple vegetables and legumes that pack a flavor punch such as tomatoes, eggplants, green peas, potatoes, spinach, green beans, onions, garlic, carrots and the list goes on. Because Indian cuisine is versatile, you can make authentic-tasting dishes out of just about any vegetable. You can also purchase Indian food staples like chickpeas, sometimes called garbanzo beans, lentils, cashew nuts and almonds at your neighborhood supermarket.
Generally speaking, Indian grocery stores in the United States do not sell meat. One reason could be that large numbers of Indian grocery store patrons happen to be vegetarians. Another reason could be that selling meat requires cost-prohibitive special licensing and equipment. Whatever the reason, organic chicken and beef, available are regular supermarkets and specialty grocery stores, make the best curries, soups and other Indian dishes.
Ingredients Best Purchased at Indian Grocery Stores
You might have eaten various sweet, hot and sour condiments the last time you went out for Indian food. Indian grocery stores are truly the best places to shop for condiments like pickles and chutneys—lemon and mango pickles in particular. A word of advice, well-stocked Indian grocery stores sell numerous types of condiments. Purchase the exact condiment you want and purchase one more you’ve never tried just to expand your knowledge and culinary palette. Products such as paneer cheese, commonly used in spinach dishes and soups, can only be purchased at Indian grocery stores.
Lois Guchu, a freelance food writer and culinary arts student, has been cooking Indian food for more than twenty years. She writes the blog ingredientstreet.blogspot.com and her chef profile can be found on Kitchen Monki as Lois G.