Indian Food Glossary

भारतीय भोजन

Go to Dals | Spices | Vegetables

Indian cooking is an astounding resource of healthy, economical and delicious new dishes, ingredients, techniques, styles, spices and flavors for vegetarians. Good for the body and spirit, and easy on the bank account, Indian cooking has become a life-changing revelation for many of us.

But as exciting as it is, the unfamiliar and exotic names of these ingredients and techniques can also be intimidating to the vegetarian who is just beginning to explore Indian cooking. I speak from experience as someone who had never even tried Indian food until adulthood — my own journey into Indian cooking began with confusion and many stumbles, and even after many years I am still discovering new aspects.

This food blog has been an attempt in part to share my love of and appreciation for Indian cooking to vegetarians who are looking for creative and healthy ways to eat — regular readers will certainly have noticed the emphasis on Indian recipes. This glossary of Indian ingredients, dishes and techniques is meant to help guide those readers who are new to Indian cooking, or to provide a quick assist to cooks who just want a quick hint or refresher.

The glossary is broken into expandable sections describing the major components of Indian cooking:
  1. Dals (beans, legumes and pulses)
  2. Spices (including herbs and spice blends)
  3. Vegetables
  4. Fruits and nuts ***not published yet
  5. Rice, grains and flours ***not published yet
  6. Dairy products and oils ***not published yet
  7. Dishes and techniques ***not published yet
***Note that this page is under construction — some sections are not complete but will be published when available***

The lists provided in this glossary are by no means exhaustive — there is an almost inexhaustible range of regional cuisines within India, each of which has its own variations and unique ingredients, dishes, methods and names for these that such an attempt could fill several books. Instead, I have attempted to provide the most common items in each category, and those ingredients which we are most likely to be able to find in an neighbourhood Indian grocer. Given the increasing popularity of Indian cooking, many of these ingredients can now be found in ordinary supermarkets as well.

Common Indian names in this glossary are provided in italics, but please note that there are almost as many different names for each ingredient as there are regions in India, and spellings may differ (transliterations from Indian characters vary considerably). Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions for items that I have not covered.

Finally, although I hope that readers will find this glossary helpful, there really is no substitute for immersing yourself in the experience of the Indian grocers that are now found in almost every urban area of North America and beyond. I invite you to browse through these stores, inhale the intoxicating aromas along the shelves, ask questions, and pick up any unfamiliar ingredient or implement, most of which are extraordinarily affordable — take them home, experiment, learn and have fun!

Go to Dals | Spices | Vegetables

दाल   Dals ( Beans, Legumes, Pulses )

In Hindi, "dal" translates literally as "split bean", but in general usage the word refers not only to any dried bean, pea or lentil — split or whole — but also to any cooked dish of legumes or pulses. The word may also be found spelled as "daal", "dhal" or "dahl". India is the world's largest producer and consumer of legumes. For most Indians, dals are the most significant source of daily protein, and dals are consumed every day and with almost every meal. Most dals have a mild flavor and for this reason are very versatile ingredients — when cooked in curry dishes, dals will absorb the flavors of spices and vegetables. Dals are also sprouted, ground into flours, or fried for use in spice blends or as a tempering — the latter use is most common in south Indian cooking.

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मसाले   Spices, Seeds, Herbs, Aromatics & Blends

If dals are the workhorse of Indian vegetarian cooking, spices are its breath and life. Added in one form or another to almost every Indian preparation, from breads to breakfasts and from snacks to dinners, spices are what most of us think of when we think of Indian food. Spices may be cooked, fried, roasted, added as finishes, ground to powders or pastes, or blended for use in countless variations. Many spices are also considered to have digestive or healing properties.

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सब्जियों   Vegetables

Along with dals and rice, vegetables are the centerpieces of Indian vegetarian cooking, appearing in one or more dishes at every meal. Indians cultivate a large variety of native vegetables and have been equally enthusiastic in adopting other vegetables from around the world in their cuisines — after all, neither chilies, tomatoes or potatoes are indigenous to the sub-continent. Along with the agricultural cornucopia, Indians have cultivated an enormous array of dishes, techniques and flavor combinations for using vegetables. Vegetables are added to dals and rice dishes, or combined with spices and seasonings and cooked until just tender or until soft in curries, or deep-fried, roasted, baked or stuffed, or minced and ground and fried into vegetable koftas.

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Anonymous said...

You've done a truly amazing job explaining all the masalas and other ingredients used in Indian cooking. My American husband would be very glad. Thanks a bunch!

Anonymous said...

Thats a huge effort...many thanks for this. I stumbled upon this page trying to find what a toor dal substitute....and still looking.

Lisa Turner said...

Yellow split peas or channa dal would work. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Testarosa said...

I hardly know where to begin. The best place is to say Thank You for all the powerful information you have shared with those interested in learning the what, hows, and when's of Indian cooking. I just discovered you website today (11/27/15) and I'm not overwhelmed (well, maybe a little!), but overjoyed by doing so. I've had so many questions about the "how to's" and wish I understood more about the ingredients (so much to learn) and here you are! To say I'm grateful is an under statement, but I want to get back to reading so that will have to do! The days to come will be filled with joy and appreciation for both my husband and I as well our friends and family members.

Thank you so very much,

PS I'd prefer any email follow-up comments be sent to instead of my Google account, which I don't use. Thanks!

Lisa Turner said...

Thanks so much Marcia for your interest in my site and your comment here. I hope you will enjoy the recipes and continue to learn more about Indian cooking! Best, Lisa

Anonymous said...

I love, love beans and recently started cooking with Indian spices. While surfing for recipes, I ran across your web site. I only wish there were enough days to try them all! My coworkers are always curious to know what I have cooked and are amazed that there's so much variety when cooking with vegetables! I am overwhelmed with the amount of recipes here! I'm in heaven!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. Your site and information is so wonderful!!!