Make classic Indian dishes even better by following these tips from cooking instructor and author Raghavan Iyer. 

By Raghavan Iyer
Updated January 24, 2020
Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

When I moved from India to America 34 years ago, finding ingredients to recreate the flavors of home was a challenge. Many grocers near me didn't even carry fresh cilantro. But stores have changed since then, and so has my cooking. During the entire year I spent developing recipes for my easy-Indian cookbook, I lived in Minneapolis and didn't go to an Indian grocery store or specialty market even once. People are always surprised when I tell them that, but it's true. At first, even I was a little skeptical. But I soon discovered that Indian cooking, while layered, doesn't have to be complicated. If you know a few techniques, you can create incredible Indian flavors with ingredients found at ordinary grocery stores. Each of my five go-to spices and five essential flavorings is used extensively in India but is also available at mainstream supermarkets all across the United States.

You probably already use many of them—things like cumin, cilantro, and chile peppers—in Mexican dishes. Backup players like cinnamon sticks, cloves, and bay leaves probably lurk somewhere in your cupboard, too. I'm here to say (and show) that you can extract new and distinctly Indian flavors by using them wisely. A lot of it comes down to spices, but not in the way you might think: You don't have to use 20 different spices for every dish to make it taste Indian. Buying a few whole spices, making your own blends, and using one or two spices in multiple ways within a dish can make all the difference.

For these recipes from the Allrecipes community, I'm suggesting ways to make the preparations a bit simpler or more flavorful (or both).

"The original recipe used minced onion and required cooking and pureeing the spinach separately. I've modified it here so that you chop the onions and toast the spices with them, wilt the spinach right in the skillet, and purre the veggies and spices together," Raghavan suggests. Also, this one can be made a day ahead of serving, covered and chilled.

"To give MyPlate's original recipe a little more Oomph, I built in more flavor from the base up. Instead of browning the onion, carrot, and ginger separately and adding them after the rice cooks, I sizzled some extra whole spices in the ghee. I then browned the onion, ginger, and carrot in that mixture and added the cooked rice in the same pan," Raghavan said.

Photo by Lutzflcat

This hearty vegetarian main course cuts down on prep time by cooking the cauliflower in the microwave. Reviewers point out that it's easy to turn up the heat by adding more curry powder. Get the recipes for Raghavan's Garam Masala and Curry Blend.

Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

Explore our collection of Indian recipes.

Raghavan Iyer is a seasoned chef and cookbook author. His personal story was featured in Allrecipes Magazine.