Here is a list of amazing Indian spices. I’ll get some pictures up soon!
Ajwain (Carom) An interesting spice that has been described to taste like thyme, but I don’t really think it does at all. It is used some breads (like paratha) and can be used in pickles.
Black Peppercorns Good ole black pepper! I love it in some dishes, but usually leave it out. I find that black pepper is best in dishes where it is the main spice.
Black Salt Salty and sulfury. Great in chaat ( Indian street food).
Cardamom (Elaichi) Very intense and almost medicinal smelling. If you open a jar of it, the smell flows out almost like peppermint: strong and cool (but without the peppermint flavor!). Used in a lot of Indian desserts, biryani (rice cooked with spices and veggies), and chai (Indian tea) and also in some savory dishes.
Cassia Bark & Cinnamon Different plants, but they taste the same to me. Cassia bark isn’t rolled like cinnamon sticks.
Chaat Masala Great sprinkled on onions marinating in white vinegar, lemon or lime. Used in chaat (Indian street food). Contains amchur and black salt among other spices.
Chili Powder Ground dried red chilis. This goes in almost every savory dish!
Cloves (Laung) In the US and Europe cloves are used most often in desserts (pumpkin pie!), but in India it is used in savory dishes too and adds a sweet element. It is one of the ingredients in garam masala.
Coriander Seeds or Powder (Dhania) I consider coriander in the top 7 spices/spice mixes needed to get started with Indian cooking. The flavor is kind of spicy and citrusy. It can be used in fairly large quantities.
Cumin Seeds and Cumin Powder (Jeera) Top used spice. Cumin seeds are generally added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking to toast, then the other ingredients are added. Or after cooking a dish, you can heat up oil in a little pan, toast the cumin seeds, then pour into the dish (common when making dal/lentils). You should be able to smell the cumin seeds toast before adding other ingredients or pouring into the dish. Cumin powder can be added during cooking. To make cumin powder from cumin seeds, dry toast the seeds first, then grind in a spice/coffee grinder. Cumin has a musky warm flavor.
Curry Leaves (Curry Patta) Yep there is something called a curry leaf and it has nothing to do with what most people consider curry. Also it is not an ingredient in curry powder. Used a lot in South Indian cooking along with mustard seeds, the leaves need to be lightly toasted in oil either at the beginning of cooking a dish or in a separate pan and then added to the dish. Once toasted the leaves are very aromatic, but it is hard to describe the scent!
Dagad Phool (Black Stone Flower) A dried lichen that is a key ingredient in goda masala, a popular spice mix in Marathi (Maharashtra is a state in India) cooking. It has an earthy, musky scent.
Fennel (Saunf) Liquorishy tasting. Gives a little sweetness to a dish. Also the main ingredient in the Indian breath freshener typically eaten after a meal.
Fenugreek Seeds (Methi Seeds) Such an interesting spice! Very bitter, but with a very nutty aroma. You need very little in a dish. Essential in sambar masala and pickles.
Garam Masala Famous spice mix especially in North India. Typically contains cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, cardamom, and peppercorns but every mix is a little different. I buy it already made, but you can make your own as well.
Ginger Powder More mellow than fresh ginger but adds a different element to a dish.
Goda Masala A popular spice mix in Marathi/Maharashtrian cooking (Maharashtra is a state in India). Here is my recipe.
Hing (Asafetida) This fine white powder is impossible to describe, but pungent. Used in very little amounts in all kinds of dishes and helps with digestion. Should be fried lightly in oil at the end of cooking the whole spices before adding other ingredients to a dish.
Jal Moodi Masala YUM! This spice mix from Kolkata is includes toasted cumin powder and has a very rich smokey flavor. It goes in jhal moodi, a puffed rice chaat (street food snack) as well as Kolkata style pani puri.
Methi Leaves Dried (Kasori Methi) From the same plant as fenugreek seeds, but these are the leaves. Less bitter than the seeds and much more nutty fragrance. Great in North Indian dishes such as paneer makhini (butter paneer).
Mustard Seeds (Rai) Black mustard seeds. Also a top used spice, especially in South Indian cooking. Must be toasted in oil before adding other ingredients to a dish or toasted in oil separately and then added to the dish. Once the mustard seeds start to pop and smell super yummy, they are ready.
Nigella (Kalonji) A pickling spice. An ingredient in panch phoron, the pickling spice mix used in pickles and for achari dishes.
Panch Phoron Pickling spice mix which includes fenugreek, nigella seeds, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Used in pickles and in achari dishes.
Pomegrante Seeds (Anardana) A souring agent used in the same way as amchur powder (dried mango powder). Commonly used in North Indian channa masala.
Sambar Powder The spice mix used in the South Indian soup sambar which is served with idli, dosa, or in a South Indian thali (lots of dishes served together).
Shahi Jeera/Kala Jeera Looks like caraway but isn’t. I haven’t used this enough to be able to describe it yet!
Turmeric (Haldi) The mother of all Indian spices. It is used in almost everything. Bright yellow, stains everything, kind of a peppery bitter fragrance but not overpowering. Very good for you!