If you've ever shied away from cooking Indian food because of mile-long ingredient lists, I can relate. I've made countless curries, and have whittled that list to just five key spices—cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground turmeric, mustard seeds, and ground red chili.

Each of these essential spices has its own personality:

• Cumin brings a toasty-warm flavor and is believed to aid digestion

• Coriander is citrusy and adds texture to sauces

• Turmeric has a slight bitterness and characteristic yellow color

• Mustard seeds add a pungent flavor and a crunch to match

• Red chili provides heat

Together, these spices create the flavor harmony and texture contrast that define traditional Indian curries. Best of all, some of them have been linked to health benefits. Researchers have suggested that turmeric could play a role in slowing down the progression of Alzheimers disease, while cumin has been praised not only as an iron source, but also for its potential, like mustard seeds, to prevent cancer and aid in digestion. Coriander has been used in India for its anti-inflammatory properties and studied in the United States for its possible connection to cholesterol reduction; the spice already is considered a good source of dietary fiber, iron, and magnesium. And chili has been associated with everything from pain relief, reduced congestion, and stomach ulcer prevention to weight loss and increased cardiovascular health.

Heres a crash course in using the basic spices to add flavor, texture, heat, and color to dishes, plus a 10-minute recipe that will make you a curry pro in no time. Other than the ground red chili, these ingredients shouldnt be used raw; dry-roast them first in a hot pan or sizzle in oil. The cooking process helps release their aromas and essential oils. Once you master the basics, you can get more adventurous, and try your hand at tikkas and Samosas.

Curry in a hurry
To make our recipe even faster, you can skip the spices and go straight to Maya Kaimals fresh vegetarian simmer sauces. (We especially like the Vindaloo and the Tikka Masala.) Just throw diced vegetables and/or chicken in a pan with the sauce. Simmer for 20 minutes, serve over brown rice, and get ready for lots of compliments. $6.99 for 15 ounces at grocery stores nationwide or at Maya Kaimal.


This is a mild curry. To make it spicier, increase the ground red chili. You'll find all these spices at your local grocer or online at