Curry On: Joshua Lewin Shares Seven Go-To Indian Ingredients

As executive chef of Beacon Hill Bistro, Joshua Lewin strayed frequently from the restaurant’s French base, exploring the foods of Persia, Armenia, and the Levant. When he parted ways with the restaurant this spring, Lewin used his free time to study another cuisine he’d like to see more of in Boston: Indian. The chef spent last month staging (i.e., interning) at celebrated Washington, DC, restaurant Rasika and DC supper club Hush, two spots putting inspired spins on the subcontinent’s wide-ranging fare. Now he’s hoping to bring what he learned back to Boston—for one night, at least—with a pop-up dinner called “A Tasting Tour of India,” which will be held at the Sloane Merrill Gallery, in Beacon Hill, on August 10. Can’t make it? Here, Lewin shares a few of his favorite Indian staples to cook with at home.


Photograph by Dave Bradley. Styling by Darcy Hammer/Anchor Artists.

1. Black Lentils

“When an [Indian] recipe calls for lentils and doesn’t specify, they are usually talking about black lentils,” Lewin says. “They have more structure to them, and stay more toothsome.”

2. Tamarind Paste

Lewin prefers to work with the concentrated paste of the nubby brown fruit, which offers the dense sweetness of dates and the mouth-puckering tartness of citrus. Use it to add a kick to vinaigrettes, sauces, or desserts.

3. Fenugreek Seeds

Though savory, these pungent seeds—which are often toasted and ground—have a “woody, maple-y backbone,” Lewin says, and make a great addition to fruit-based sauces and chutneys.

4. Pani Puri Shells

These puffed crisp breads are typically stuffed with chickpeas, spiced potatoes, tamarind chutney, and an herb sauce to make the classic street snack pani puri. Store-bought shells are shelf stable, making it easy to assemble hors d’oeuvres on the fly.

5. Mango Thokku Pickle

An addictive, fermented mix of grated unripe mango and a slew of chilies and spices, this is a sweet-sour-spicy condiment that “you can spread on something like you would a Mexican salsa,” says Lewin, who recommends the brand Priya.

6. Masala Chai

Beyond drinking the fragrant brew, which typically contains cardamom, cloves, rose, and ginger, Lewin suggests steeping it in milk or cream to flavor your next batch of whipped cream, ice cream, or pudding.

7. Curry Leaves

They look like bay leaves and serve a similar function—rounding out the flavors in soups and stews—but curry leaves have a flavor all their own. “They have spicy bell-pepper [notes]; they’re a little bit funky, a little tropical smelling, and a little musty,” Lewin says.


Find these ingredients at Shalimar India Food & Spices, in Cambridge, and Waltham India Market.