Discoveries and deals

What to look for while you shop

Indian markets can seem intimidating at first, but Alur-Kundargi and Hiremath led me to foods that are both easy to like and easy to use. I found great bargains for everyday cooking as well. Since spices play a prominent part in this cuisine, they're bountiful, fresh, and cheap at Indian grocery stores. Saffron, especially, is a deal. Many Indians are vegetarians, so the markets carry a huge assortment of dried legumes and well-priced nuts ― notably cashews. Here are some of the foods we particularly like.

SNACKS AND CRISPS

Spicy plantain chips.

Samosas: Savory filled pastries, frozen or fresh in the deli. Serve with hot ketchup or chutney.

Murukku, chakri, or chakli: Crisp fried cumin-spiked spirals made from a batter of rice, garbanzo, or other flours.

Sev: Thick or thin fried strands of spicy garbanzo batter.

Rice chica or khichiyia: Bright- or natural-colored thin disks or extruded wafers of rice, potato, or tapioca flour; when fried, they puff into crisps reminiscent of potato chips.

Pappadums or papads: Paper-thin dried lentil wafers that cook into crisp disks.


BREADS (ROTI)

Chapati: Tortilla-like flatbread, fresh or frozen.

Naan: Flat rounds or ovals of yeast bread, plain or seasoned.

Paratha: Flaky flatbread rounds.


CHEESE

Paneer: Fresh, mild, pressed cow's-milk cheese; grill it or use it like firm tofu in curries.


CONDIMENTS

Eggplant relish: Eggplant preserved in spices and oil; good with Indian breads. Alur-Kundargi recommends the Patak brand for newcomers (if you want to tone it down slightly, mix 1/2 cup eggplant relish with 2 tablespoons cream cheese).

Hot ketchup: Indian-style ketchup with a spicy kick; Tom Tom is Alur-Kundargi's favorite brand.

Tamarind-date chutney: A dark brown, sweet-sour chutney.


RICE

Basmati: Highly aromatic long-grain rice that grows in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Poha: Flakes of dried and flattened cooked rice that resemble old-fashioned Ivory soap flakes; they come thick or thin. Use thin poha in snack mixes. Rinse thick poha in a colander until thoroughly moistened and drain; mix with seasoned oils or yogurt for light grain salads (similar to couscous dishes).


SPICES

Individual: Saffron; green or black cardamom (the green is the form that is bleached for white cardamom); black and regular cumin seeds; and coriander.

Blends: Garam masala (all-purpose aromatic seasoning; buy a whole-seed version and grind it in a blender or spice grinder for freshest flavor); chaat masala (sprinkle over fruit, buttermilk, or potatoes); pav-bhaji masala (for vegetable dishes); tandoori masala (rub over meats, seafood, and vegetables for grilling); mukhwa (roasted seed mixture; use as an after-dinner digestive or breath freshener).


BEVERAGES

Black teas, coffee.

Rose syrup: Sweet, fragrant red syrup; mix with soda water and ice or with cold milk for pink coolers.

Tropical fruit juices: Mango, litchi, guava, and passion fruit.


SWEETS

Canned sweetened Alphonso mango pulp: The Alphonso variety contains few fibers; Hiremath likes the Ratna brand. Use it for desserts and drinks.

Chikki: Candied nut and seed brittles.

Cookies: Cashew, coconut, almond, and pistachio.

Ice creams: Saffron, saffron-rose, pistachio, mango, litchi, and cashew-raisin; Kwality and Real Ice Cream are good brands.