Ajwain seeds

I only use this very occasionally as it has quite a bitter taste.   The seeds smell of thyme but when cooked taste a little like caraway seeds.


I tend to use the seeds which have a distinctive licorice-like flavour. Indians will often eat a palmful of the seeds as a digestive after a meal.


Also known as hing, devil's dung, stinking gum and more optimistically food of the gods.   This spice smells hideous but is used as a digestive.  Once cooked it imparts a taste somewhere between garlic and onion.

Canned tomatoes

I love canned tomatoes - they are convenient, quick and juicy. However feel free to substitute these for fresh tomatoes in any of my recipes.

Chilli powder

This is made from powdered dried chillies. The heat varies depending on the type of chilli used to make the powder. You can add more or less chilli to your recipes depending on your heat tolerance without affecting the flavour.


Cinnamon is one of my favourite spices. However I know a few people that really dislike it including my father. As a result I have found that you can omit this spice easily from all of my recipes without any issues. I almost always use the dried bark as opposed to the ground spice.

Coriander-cumin powder

Coriander-cumin powder is literally coriander powder and cumin powder mixed together. My mum has always bought these two spices as a ready mixed blend and it was only after I started writing this blog and having to answer questions about it that it occurred to me that other people have the two separate powders in their spice cupboards (okay, okay I realise in retrospect that it should have been obvious...). According to my mum, the proportions are: 3/4 coriander seeds to 1/4 cumin seeds + a little turmeric for colour.   Indian cooking isn't an exact science, however, and so I wouldn't worry if you just use a 50:50 split.

Cumin seeds

I typically add whole cumin seeds to hot oil in the early stages of cooking as they impart a nutty, peppery taste. Take care when you add these to the oil as they will spit quite violently.

Fenugreek ('Greek hay' in Latin)

I use both the leaves and the seeds in my cooking. The uncooked seeds have a strong bitter smell that mellows with cooking. The leaves are wonderful with meat especially dishes such as karahi methi chicken.

Fresh chillis

The Chilli Conundrum is a hot topic amongst cooks of Indian food; Big chillis don't have any heat and bird's eye chillis are too hot. What we really need are the long, thin, green, Indian chillis that supermarkets don't seem to stock. You can generally find these in Indian grocery stores but if (like me) you don't have one of these nearby it can be a problem. In my recipes I refer to the small Thai chillis that you can get in most supermarkets. These aren't quite as hot as bird's eye chillis but are pretty spicy. If you are concerned about how much chilli to add then add a little at a time. You can always add more chilli during the cooking process. The last thing that you want is a dish that is too hot to enjoy.

Fresh coriander

I use fresh coriander (the stalks and leaves) in the majority of my recipes. My mum often claims that "you can never add too much coriander." but I have tested this assertion and she's wrong. As in most cooking balance is the key.

One tip is to chop the coriander prior to washing it. Once you have chopped it, pop it in a fine-holed sieve (or tea strainer!) and then rinse it. If you try to wash it first you will find that the coriander leaves become soggy and textureless as you try to chop them.

Garam masala

Garam masala translates as "hot mixture" in Gujarati. The "hot" refers to the intensity of the spices rather than a chilli type heat. It is made from a blend of ground spices that varies depending on the brand you buy. In India the blend varies by region and where a family blends their own masala by family.


I use fresh cloves of garlic. The majority of dishes that I have inherited from my mother are light on garlic as my parents do not like the smell emanating from their pores. Steve and I have no such qualms and you will notice that in my own recipes I use garlic quite liberally.


I use fresh root ginger rather than the dried powder or very lazy ginger. Be careful when using ginger as it can completely dominate a dish if you use too much of it.

Mustard seeds

This is the other main spice that I add to hot oil early on in the cooking process. You can buy black, brown or white mustard seeds. I generally use the brown Indian variety.

Star anise

I love this spice mostly because it looks so pretty. It has a similar taste to aniseed although they are unrelated. Generally speaking if I use this in a recipe and you don't happen to have it in your store cupboard then feel free to omit it.

Turmeric powder

This is dried powdered turmeric rhizomes and gives a distinctive yellow colour to food. Take care not to get this on your clothing or work surfaces as it stains immediately and is very difficult to remove .

In Gujarat a paste made from gram flour, turmeric and other random ingredients is applied to a bride and groom during a pre-wedding ceremony called "Pithi" to give an attractive yellow glow to the skin. Unfortunately at our wedding Steve with his pasty white skin turned a bright yellow colour and developed a rash instead.

Vegetable oil

Generally when I use oil in my cooking I am not using it for its flavour. As such I usually include it in the ingredient list as "light tasting vegetable oil". I tend to use rapeseed oil as it is produced locally to me and does not alter the flavour of my cooking but any oil that has little flavour and a high smoke point is fine. Olive oil is an example of an oil that is very flavoursome and can completely dominate a dish - I really don't recommend it for Indian cooking.