Indian Pantry 101: Aarti's Spice Essentials

Not sure where to start when it comes to cooking Indian food? We asked Aarti to share her top five spice-rack staples — plus how and when to use them.

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Garam Masala
Aarti says: "Pronounced 'GUH-rum ma-SAA-laa'. Masala means, more or less, spice mix — and don't confuse it with maRsala, which is a sweet fortified wine. Two different things entirely! Garam means "hot"; this particular blend of spices punches up whatever you have going on already. Every garam masala mix is different, and all Indian cooks have their own blend (my mum's is strictly cinnamon and cloves, nothing else). The kind you find at the supermarket has a lot of coriander and cumin in it, which I don't like, but it's great if you're just starting out or you're in a pinch. I make a version that uses cinnamon, cloves and cardamom."

Aarti uses garam masala to give Tri-Tip Tacos (pictured) some Indian flair.

Read on for more of Aarti's top spices.