Flour (atta) wheat and gluten-free alternatives: In Indian cuisine, countless types of flour can be used—anything from wheat-based to gluten-free alternatives. The most important is chapati flour, a finely milled, stone-ground whole durum wheat flour used to make roti (also called chapati or phulka), an unleavened flat bread. Though chapati is traditionally a whole-wheat flour (atta), some manufacturers have started offering a more processed, less nutritious all-purpose flour called maida. While it makes lighter bread, it also has little nutrition. Why compromise? When you buy chapati flour, make sure the label clearly states that it is “100 percent whole wheat.”
Also, know that chapati flour is different from whole-wheat flours found in regular grocery stores. If you try making rotis with regular whole-wheat flour, they will be heavier, darker, and somewhat bitter, because flours made in the United States are made with hard red winter wheat. Chapati flour is without question worth searching for if you plan to make your own Indian breads.
If you can’t find chapati flour at your grocer, look for white whole-wheat flour. You can also substitute a mixture of one part regular whole-wheat flour and one part all-purpose flour.
CHICKPEA, GRAM FLOUR (BESAN): High-protein besan is made from skinned, split, and ground black chickpeas. This option is a vegan and gluten-free eater’s dream, because it’s naturally wheat-free. Besan is added to many savory items, like Pakoras. It acts as a binding agent and makes eggs completely unnecessary.
It’s also delicious blended with water and spices to make a gluten-free pancake that can be eaten on its own or as a wrap. If you follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, I urge you to purchase chickpea flour from mainstream, trusted grocers. (Their chickpea flour is most likely made from white chickpeas and thus a little softer in texture—just use a little less water when mixing the batter.) Indian manufacturers often don’t isolate gluten-free products from those with gluten, which could expose you to contaminants.
Garlic (lassan, Allium sativum): Garlic, like ginger and turmeric, is essential in my home—it’s downright powerful. Obviously, it’s a key ingredient in Indian cooking, but it’s also an amazing healing aid and a natural antibiotic. Garlic is the first thing my girls ask for when they are sick. If you have a cold, fever, or sore throat, mince one clove and swallow it with a glass of water (no chewing—use honey to make it more palatable). You’ll feel better instantly. Just make sure you eat something first—it can upset an empty stomach.
Because I use it in large quantities, I often purchase garlic already peeled. Just make sure it’s fresh. I also grind up a large batch in the food processor over the weekend for use during the week. It can keep for up to a week in the fridge. You can also freeze some in an ice cube tray (no water or oil needed) and pop out a cube in the morning for use that evening.