Indian Ingredients 101

Indian food depends on a stable of distinctive ingredients. Here’s the lowdown on four essentials.

Chat masala is a spice blend often sprinkled onto snacks known as chats or chaats. Tangy (from amchoor, a powder made from dried green mangoes), spicy (from chile powder) and herbaceous (from dried mint), chat masala is generally added to dishes at the end of cooking. The blend also includes tongue-numbing ajwain seeds and pungent asafoetida, a funky, garliclike plant resin.

Garam masala translates as “warm spice.” The blend varies but generally includes sweet spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, along with earthy cumin and citrusy coriander. It’s easy to make at home, but store-bought versions are convenient and delicious.

Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is made by heating butter very slowly to separate the golden fat (the ghee) from the water and milk solids. It is prized for its high smoking point and rich flavor.

Millet is a staple of the traditional Rajasthani diet because it grows well in the desert climate. The grain can be ground into flour or cooked whole. It is usually eaten in place of rice.


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