A B C D F G J K M N P R S T U (links to the glossary below)


Dried mango powder. This is added to dishes just before they finish cooking to add a tangy taste.

Asafoetida (Hing, pronounced Heeng)
The dried gum of a plant belonging to the fennel family. It has a potent, foul aroma but when added to hot oil imparts a wonderful buttery aroma to the dish.

Aniseed (Saunf)
A liquorice-like seed that is used as a digestive. Similar to fennel seeds but not used as widely in cooking as in after dinner mints.

Arhar is a type of lentils also known as toor or tuvar. These are like flat discs, split and sometimes sold with an oil coating that you can just wash off.


This word means bucket. It is also inexplicably used to describe British Indian curries.

Long grained Indian rice that is hugely popular because of its light, fluffy texture when cooked. You can get white or brown. While white rice is more traditional, Indians are increasingly enjoying the healthier brown variety.

Bay leaf (Tej Patta)
Pungent dried leaves of the Laurel plant. This is a staple in curries, added to hot oil where they sizzle and release a heady, woody fragrance.

Cooking term referring to mash.

Cooking terms referring to stir fried dishes.


Cardamom (elaichi)
A fragrant seedpod available in both a small green and large dark brown shape. The small green elaichi is used to delicately flavour curries and sweet dishes. The brown elaichi is used more as a powerful aromatic in curries and rice dishes.

Quite simply, chickpeas. Don’t bother soaking these overnight and cooking for hours. Use a tin of ready boiled ones.

Channa dal
Yellow lentils resulting from a smaller relative of the chickpea being split in half. It has a nutty sweet flavour and is often cooked with sweet vegetables or sugar.

Chicken tikka masala
A British curry invention of skewered chicken in fluorescent orange red curry. This is loosely based on the North Indian butter chicken or Murgh Makhani.

This can mean one of many things. Green chilli refers to finger chillies, which are used fresh, whole or chopped up. Dry whole red chillies impart a lovely, soft spiciness to hot oil and these powdered are what give us chilli powder. Use them the Indian way – don’t deseed. Read more here.

Cinnamon (dalchini)
The bark of a tree with a sharp, sweet taste. This is used whole in hot oil to flavour curries and pulaos.

Small flower buds that look like nails. These have a sweet and strong minty taste and are used in hot oil for meat curries.

Coriander (Cilantro, dhaniya)
This is one of the most basic ingredients used in Indian cooking. The fresh leaves are used whole to garnish dishes or as a curry base. The berries of the plant are dried and used both whole and powdered.

Cumin (Jeera)
The other basic ingredient for Indian cooking, these are the seeds of a plant that are used whole or powdered. They have a distinct earthy and warm flavour.

While this is used to generically refer to Indian food, the word actually means a dish with sauce/gravy.

Curry leaves (Kadi patta)
The leaves of a tree used fresh to flavour curries and dry, vegetable dishes. It is used extensively in the West and South of India. The dry ones have hardly any flavour, so buy a bag and freeze to use it for up to six months.

Curry powder
A generic mix of basic Indian ingredients such as turmeric, chilli, coriander and cumin powders. This takes the fun out of Indian cooking. Avoid.


Dal (or dhal)
The word used to describe lentils and also the curry made by adding a tempering (tarka) to boiled lentils.


Fennel seeds (Badi saunf)
Similar to aniseeds, but longer, more subtle and used in cooking. They have a distinct liquorice-like taste.

Fenugreek (methi)
A bitter fragrant plant. The fresh leaves are used as a leafy vegetable. The dried version, known as kasoori methi, is soaked in hot water and sprinkled over curries to balance sweet or acidic flavours.


Garam masala
Literally hot spice, this is a combination of rich and bitter whole spices that are dry roasted and then powdered. Some garam masalas can have up to 33 ingredients but the most common are bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, green cardamoms and coriander seeds. Avoid the hassle and buy this readymade.

This is clarified butter or pure butter that is cooked for about two hours, until the impurities in it settle to the bottom. This is the highest quality cooking fat you can use. Delicious but also most fattening!

Gram flour (besan)
Gram flour is chick pea flour. It is used to make the batter for bhajis and also in soups and curries. It is gluten free, pale yellow in colour and has a soft fine powdery texture.

Greek Yoghurt
This is thick and creamy textured yoghurt. Widely available in Europe, if you live in the US try a yoghurt with a higher fat content or strain your regular yogurt in a muslin cloth so it doesn’t split when cooking.


Jaggery (gur)
Sticky sweet and dark brown unrefined sugar from the sugar cane plant. Dark brown muscovado sugar makes a great substitute.


Kadai (pronounced kar-hai)
A heavy-bottomed wok with two round handles on either side. Dishes cooked in this also bear its name.

Kewra water
Extract of the pandanus flower, with a heady fruity, rose-like fragrance. Added for its aromatic punch to sweet and savoury dishes.


Mace (javetri)
The dry dark outer part of the nutmeg. It has a stronger and more bitter flavour than the nutmeg seed.

The term used to describe a spice or collection of spices.

Masoor dal

Split red lentils. These are widely available and cook quickly.

Meat tenderizer
The powdered enzyme of the papaya fruit that softens meat and reduces its cooking time.

Mint (pudina)
The leaves of the plant are used fresh and dry in cooking and chutneys. It is a digestive with a pleasant, cooling quality.

Moong dal
Green gram which can be split and de-husked to give a oval shaped yellow lentil.

Mustard oil
Warn golden orange oil pressed from mustard seeds. Unsurprisingly, this has a sharp and strong flavour.

Mustard seeds
Seeds of the mustard plant. You get three varieties – white, brown and black. The black mustard seeds are used widely in cooking.


Nigella seeds (kala jeera)
Also known as black onion or black cumin seeds, these are small with a distinct bitter and peppery taste. This is stuff that gets sprinkled over naans.

Nutmeg (Jaiphal)
The seed of the evergreen nutmeg tree. It has a bittersweet, aromatic flavour that adds depth when grated into a dish. Buy whole as it lasts forever and tastes fresh every time you use a bit.


Panch phoron
Combination of five whole spices used in Bengali cooking – Nigella, Mustard, Fennel, Fenugreek and Cumin.

Indian cheese that is rubbery when cold and with a soft, mozzarella-type texture when cooked.

Papad (Pappadom in South India)
Wafer thin discs of spicy lentil crisps. These can be dry roasted on a naked flame or deep-fried according to the variety.

Fried Indian flatbread made with plain white flour or whole-wheat flour.

Poppy seeds (Khus Khus)
Pale seeds of the poppy plant used to add a nutty and creamy thickness to curries and vegetables. It is also sprinkled liberally on flatbreads like sesame seeds.

Roti (chappati)
Flat and round whole wheat breads cooked without any oil or yeast.


Word used to generically describe green leafy vegetables like spinach ad mustard leaves.

Word used to generically and collectively describe vegetables.

Saffron (zafran)
The most expensive spice in the world, these delicate golden read threads. Soak in warm milk before adding to dishes to get the full power of its rich, musky aroma.

Semolina (Rava)
Grainy, pale-yellow colour flour derived from durum wheat. I has a course texture and is used to make sweet and savoury dishes.

Star anise
Anise flavoured, star-shaped seed pod of a dried fruit. This releases a heady fragrance when added to hot oil.

Tamarind (Imli)
Fruits and seeds of the tamarind tree encased in a brown, dry seedpod. This flesh is extracted as a pulp to add a tart, tangy taste to dishes.

Indian clay oven used to make speciality foods at high temperatures.

Heavy-bottomed flat frying pan used to make flatbreads.

Skewered and tandoor-grilled pieces of meat or vegetable.

Toor dal
See Arhar.

A bright yellow powdered root and relative of the ginger plant. It is used in small quantities to add a soft bitter taste and yellow colour to curries and other dishes.

Urad dal (Black lentils)
These resemble small black beans and have white interiors. Urad dal has a distinct earthy and thick way about it and is most famously used to make the North Indian Kali dal.