Basics of Indian Cuisine

By Deepa Alfano –


I am extremely passionate about Indian Food! It’s the cuisine that I grew up with, that I first started cooking and still prepare to this day. One of my earliest memories is sitting on my mothers kitchen floor, pounding fresh garlic into a paste in a brass mortar and pestle. I believe it dates back to my great grandmothers era. I can remember my mother giving me a rundown of meals to prepare when I would come home from school—meals that were equally delicious and disastrous at times! It’s from these experiences, (and many more) that can share my knowledge to enable you to quickly prepare delicious Indian food using fresh ingredients at home!


Spices & Recipes

While the basic ingredients and spices used in Indian cooking are easily available, they can be quite daunting. So lets start with the basic spices used in this cuisine:


One of the most powerful Indian spices. Used whole or crushed it is widely used in many Indian dishes to add a distinct aroma.

Most dishes begin by sizzling cumin seeds in hot oil before all of the ingredients are added.

Coriander (cilantro) seeds
An aromatic spice used for Indian cooking. The seeds are usually crushed before using.

Cloves are one of the key spices you need for Indian cooking. They are strong, and fragrant, so use sparingly.

Cardamom is used in a variety of Indian dishes, both sweet and savory.

Black Cardamom
These pods have seeds with a smoky flavor and aroma. Use sparingly to ensure that its flavor does not dominate other ingredients.

Turmeric is an important spice in Indian cuisine which is used to add color and flavor.

Fennel seeds
These seeds add richness to curries and sweetness to desserts.

Dried chillies
These have a concentrated flavor which can make them fiercely hot and spicy – so use sparingly!

Whole nutmeg is grated and used to flavor meats, curries rice and desserts.

Cassia bark
Cassia bark is widely used in Indian cooking. The flavor is similar to cinnamon which can also be substituted.

Star Anise
Star anise is known to enhance meat flavor and is an essential spice while preparing biryani and other masala items in the Indian kitchen.

Mustard Seeds
The flavor of mustard seeds is released when they are crushed or cooked in oil. Their flavor is a staple in curries and curry powders.

Ground cayenne pepper
This is a hot chili powder and is used in almost all spicy and savory Indian dishes to add heat!


Garam Masala
This is a spice blend used in Indian cooking. Recipe’s can vary between household and regions.


Deepa’s Garam Masala


Ingredients (Yields approx. 1 cup)
2 tbsp cumin & coriander seeds
1 tbsp each of: cloves, whole green cardamom, cassia bark
1 cinnamon stick – broken into small pieces
13 whole black cardamom pods
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 tsp fenugreek seeds
4 whole star anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground ginger powder


Grind all whole spices together in a coffee grinder. Mix in the grated nutmeg and ginger powder. Store in clear jars away from direct heat.


Basic Indian Masala Paste


This masala paste is the perfect base for most Indian dishes. Choose various add-ins to make it your own. It keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for up to a week and also freezes well. With this paste on hand, you can whip up a delicious curry of your choice in less than half an hour!


Ingredients: (Yield: 3 cups)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon cumin
2 each of the following spices: whole cloves, crushed white cardamom, cassia bark
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
6 large finely chopped white onions
1 bulb crushed garlic
2 tablespoons ginger paste
8 large tomatoes or 1 carton of pure strained tomatoes
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt


In a large pan, heat oil on medium heat and add whole spices. Once they start spluttering, add cumin seeds and chopped onions. Stir in salt, turn heat down to low and stir frequently to prevent onions from sticking to the pan. Once the onions are golden brown, stir in the garlic and ginger pastes. Stir and cook for 30 seconds and add the tomatoes. Turn heat to medium , stir and cook until tomatoes have broken down and darker in color. Stir in powdered spices, salt and cook for 10 seconds. Cool and store as required.


For More Information:
Deepa of The Indian Table

Providing a contemporary authentic Indian Cooking Experience through classes and demonstrations


Deepa Alfano – Contributing Writer

Deepa is very passionate about Indian food. It’s the cuisine that she grew up with, and still prepares to this day. Deepa’s culinary journey started very early; she recalls being a sous chef to her mother from the age of three! After moving to Sarasota from the United Kingdom ten years ago, she decided to host Indian cooking classes and dinners out of her home to friends and family. Deepa now teaches Indian Cooking classes at a location which can accommodate a larger class size – her approach is to teach a simplified version of Indian Cuisine which can be easily made at home using wholesome fresh ingredients and spices. The way people eat has changed over the years and they are more willing to experience different spices and cooking methods. For more information on upcoming Indian Cooking Classes and demonstrations: Facebook

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