Cooking South Indian Food? – Know these 10 Must-Have Ingredients!

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South Indian Cuisine is a world-famous cuisine. It is also well known for its comfort dishes like rasam and rice, steamed idli with sambhar, and dosa. Making South Indian food is easy. Moreover, the best part is that these dishes require simple ingredients that impart extremely aromatic flavours.

However, to enhance the taste of your dish, you must use the right ingredients in a proper quantity. Hence, in this blog, we will discuss seven essentials that are a must to pull off an authentic South Indian dish!

Essential South Indian Ingredients

If you have settled in a foreign country, you will find it hard to find curry leaves – an essential ingredient in South Indian cooking. We have suggestions for substitutes just in case you don’t get an ingredient.

We have made a shopping list of ingredients; which you may start buying in small quantities.

1) Asafoetida (Hing):

Asafetida is a highly aromatic resin sourced from the sap of a plant related to fennel. Most stores sell a powdered version of the spice, which may contain wheat flour above 70% but Vasant Masala’s Supreme Hing has only 55% wheat components. A pinch goes a long way, and most recipes only call for a pinch. It emits an aroma and flavour that is similar to onion and garlic. Although garlic could be substituted for its flavour, I highly recommend looking for this spice — in my opinion, it’s what makes Indian food taste Indian.

2) Black mustard seeds:

Black mustard seeds are linked to yellow and brown mustard seeds, but are more pungent. They’re in most of the South Indian dishes I make. When added to hot oil, they pop as moisture is released. Vasant Masala’s high-quality mustard seeds are sourced from the best places in Gujarat. Try them to achieve the best flavours.

3) Turmeric Powder:

The taste of turmeric will blend perfectly with any South Indian dish. Turmeric enhances the colour and taste of any dish. Turmeric powder is an important element in a dish like rasam-rice and sambhar.

4) Ghee:

The Indian-styled clarified butter is made by boiling butter until it becomes clear and the browned milk solids settle to the bottom. These milk solids, which give the butter its distinct nutty flavour, are then separated, resulting in a rich, flavorful cooking fat that will make your house smell like heaven when you fry anything in it. It has a higher smoke point than butter and most oils, and because it does not contain milk, it can be stored at room temperature for weeks or in the refrigerator for months. You can use unsalted butter as an alternative to ghee.

5) Coconut oil:

Most South Indian dishes contain coconut oil. It adds its aroma to the food, which makes it even tastier. Not just that, it has endless health benefits. When accompanied by other spices, it takes the dish to another level altogether.

6) Fenugreek:

The leafy fenugreek plant produces these light brown and wrinkly seeds. The seeds have a nutty, almost maple-like flavour when roasted and ground, but they’re quite finicky and become bitter if fried in oil or roasted for too long. It is usually just roasted until it has a nutty aroma, but some people like to roast them past golden brown until they’re a little reddish to get a hint of bitterness. In South India, the spice is primarily used to flavour pickles and spice blends, and I use it in my dosa, coconut chutney, and sambar powder recipes.

7) Curry leaves:

When fried in oil, these small, dark green leaves impart a sharp citrusy and herby flavour to dishes. They are sometimes confused with an ingredient in the ubiquitous British-invented curry powder, but the two are unrelated. These leaves can be found in almost every South Indian dish, often paired with coconut and used in a variety of ways, including frying in oil, roasting and grinding into spice blends or ‘curry powders,’ boiling with lentils, and puréed raw in pastes and chutneys. Look for them in the Indian store, either fresh or dried. To make fresh leaves last longer, freeze them. Bay leaves are frequently mentioned as a substitute, but curry leaves, to be honest, have no substitute.

8) Urad daal/Dried Split Matpe Beans:

Skinned whole urad gota is urad dal that has had its skin removed, leaving it white. Black gramme is another name for it. You can also use whole urad dal with its black skin intact, but this will result in black flecks in your dosa batter. If you can’t find the whole variety, you can make dosas with urad dal, preferably skinned. These beans are white but have black skin in their original form. You may find varieties with the skin still attached, so choose the one without the skin. This dal is used as a spice in South India, and it is fried in oil to add a nutty, crunchy texture to rice and vegetable stir-fries, as well as to season chutneys. It’s also known as split black gramme or black lentil.

9) Chana dal/ Dry split chickpeas:

Chana dal is black chickpeas that have been skinned and split. It resembles split yellow peas (and is frequently mislabeled as such), but it is larger and has a slightly wrinkled surface. Look in the bag for chana dal if there are still a few that have some brown skin on them. This dal, like urad dal, is fried in oil to add a nutty, crunchy texture to dishes. It’s difficult to eat if it’s not thoroughly fried, but you can avoid this by dousing it in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes before frying.

10) Dried red chilli:

These slender, dark red peppers are usually broken in half and fried in oil or roasted and ground into spice blends. There are numerous varieties of chilli peppers grown in India, and the state of Andra Pradesh in South India is the largest exporter of them. The most well-known chilli pepper from this region is referred to as the Guntur Sannam. Karnataka’s contribution to chilli pepper production comes in the form of the Bydagi pepper, which is wrinkly, bright red in colour, and mild in flavour. Dried Byadagi chilli peppers are used in a variety of South Indian spice blends, along with Guntur or cayenne peppers. This variety is optional but highly recommended if you can find it for its unique flavour and rich red colouring.

Lastly, if you do not wish to spend time getting the perfect blend of spices for making a South Indian curry like sambhar, you can use sambhar premix from Vasant Masala to prepare an authentic-tasting curry.


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