Indian food may be on the list of Britain’s top three favourite takeaway cuisines, but it does have a reputation for being cumbersome to cook at home.
I must admit that we do use a fair amount of spices, spice mixes and marinades even in our most basic recipes, but stay with me here – all you need to do is get the BASICS right. If you do that you can literally cook any dish you like much quicker than you think. Now, that means learning to Prep like a Boss!
Naturally, your very next thought is why should I go through the whole bother of prepping?
Here is why:
- Saves time!
- Save money by cooking at home instead of getting a takeaway!
- Healthier to make popular Indian dishes at home.
Meet the holy trinity of Indian curries: Onions, ginger, and garlic. These three humble everyday ingredients are what can be used to create the most flavourful food, and not just Indian recipes.
So, let’s get started with my prepping tips: first up let’s dive straight into the time-consuming bits – the wet marinades:
- Roasted onion puree
- Tomato puree
- Ginger paste
- Garlic puree
- Coriander and green chilli puree
These can be sorted in no time if you have a power blender. Make large batches of these marinades and divide them into smaller portions that you will use, say, for each time you make a dish. You can freeze small portions by pouring into ice cube trays or using small sized freezer friendly storage boxes. Remember the small round plastic ones that you get your raita and pickles in, when you order your takeaway? Those are simply perfect for this purpose.
Roasted Onion Puree
Top and tail red onions, if you can source Bombay onions, that would be ideal but red onions will do just fine. Remove the skin and half and chop into big chunks. Heat in a heavy-bottomed pan until they begin to brown, then cool completely in a ceramic bowl. Using minimal water blitz in your blender, scoop out and choose how you wish to store them in your freezer. See para above for freezer friendly storage ideas and handy tips.
When in season, I love to get fresh tomatoes, roast them in the oven, peel and puree them in the blender with a little water. Rest of the time, I use canned, peeled whole juicy tomatoes without any added flavours. Simply whizz them up in my blender. Freezer storage tips are the same as above.
It would be unfair if I did not mention at this point that tomato and its use as a souring agent in Indian cooking happened much latter. Traditionally, locally available ingredients like the beautiful Garcinia Indica or Kokum and tamarind pulp are used even now.
I like to buy a big batch of fresh whole ginger and make a nice big batch of fresh paste and freeze it. When ginger is fresh, you can peel it relatively easily using the back of a spoon. The longer it stays in your refrigerator the tougher the skin becomes as it loses moisture. If you have an Indian grocery store nearby try and purchase Indian ginger, it is smaller in size, darker in colour and oh so very fragrant!
Peel your garlic bulb and place the bulbs in the microwave for 30 seconds, the skin comes off easily.
After they cool down, add a little water and blend till you get a thick puree. Freezer storage tips are the same as above.
Fresh Coriander Leaves and Green Chilli Marinade
Coriander leaves add a beautiful umami flavour to food and when used as a marinade with green chillies they help carry the pungent heat from green chillies very efficiently.
Dry Spice Powders and Masalas:
The main dry spice powders that are commonly used in Indian recipes are:
- Coriander seed powder
- Cumin powder
- Fenugreek seed powder
- Turmeric powder
- Red chilli powder
Coriander and cumin seed powders are very easy to make at home. I toast the seeds separately in a heavy bottomed pan and cool completely. Blend till you get a powder, you can play around with how fine you like your powders over time. Make small batches and store in neatly labelled, air-tight containers.
Red chilli powder comes in varying levels of heat, from extra mild to extra extra hot. I have ALL the variants (of course) and I mix and match them in various proportions. A word of caution here, unless you are a pro with handling spicy chillies, please refrain from making chilli powder at home. It can cause serious skin and eye irritation. And good quality chilli powders are very easily available in most Indian grocery stores.
Turmeric powder – the most amazing ingredient in every Indian kitchen – popularly used as a cure for everything from minor cuts and bruises to being added into beauty products – this is the most multi-faceted edible ingredient ever.
The most important masala is – yes you guessed that right – Garam masala! I roast whole spices at home and make my own blend but this is a complex mix and I suggest you experiment with various brands until you find one that works for you. Look for local small business that make this masala from scratch. Thank me later 😊
Fenugreek: Fenugreek seeds are used sparingly as they have a bitter aftertaste. I always have some in my masala dabba to chuck into curries and sabzis.
Other important whole dry and fresh spices
Now that you have a freezer full of wet marinades portioned out to use when required, and you are armed with the basic masala dabba full of dry spice powders and masalas – you are almost sorted.
Here is a handy list and some storage and budget-friendly tips for other important ingredients:
- Curry leaves – these tropical beauties are so fragrant, taste fab in a tadka and look so very pretty. They are also hard to find and expensive. So, when you do find some fresh buy a big batch, wash and pat dry between two kitchen towels and allow to air dry on another towel. Then you can roast them at the lowest possible temp in your oven and store then in an air-tight container. Do not be put off by the dark colour, they retain their taste and come alive when chucked into a hot ghee tadka. Alternatively, you can buy a big pack of frozen curry leaves and freeze them, be warned though, once your friends know you have that pack in your freezer you might have to share 😉.
- Bay Leaves – Easily available, last forever in an air-tight container and because they are used sparingly you only need to buy a small pack.
- Cinnamon sticks – there are several varieties available to purchase, personally I prefer the Indian cinnamon barks or cassia barks. They are thicker, darker and have a rough texture. I even make my own cinnamon powder using these – but then you already knew that didn’t you?
- Whole black pepper – Black pepper is my FAVOURITE spice – do not ask me why – I can fill a whole book with my answer! I have a power pepper mill that is the best Christmas gift I have EVER got for my kitchen from any friend – EVER – I use it every day.
- Black mustard seeds – an essential part of any proper tadka.
- Asafoetida or Hing – the magical strong smelling yellow powder that you only ever need a small pinch of – acts like a digestive aid and helps your body process all the lentils and grease that you consume.
- Dry Red Kashmiri chillies – Love them and use them often, especially for a proper dal tarka.
- Green chillies – these pungent little bullets of flavour are indispensable in my recipes; I buy a big pack and freeze them. If you need only a small amount, remove the top and store them in a bag that they can breathe through in your refrigerator’s vegetable tray, that way they will not get mouldy and slimy, if you were to forget that they live in that tray.
Some handy tips and suggestions:
- Invest in a masala dabba – makes for a fabulous photography prop for one 😉 and it is your best friend when cooking a curry – trust me!
- I cannot imagine cooking Indian food without my trusted pressure cooker! Get one, or if you have a multi-cooker you are sorted!
I hope that my tips and tricks will help you ace your Indian cooking skills.
About the Author
Manjiri is a freelance social media manager and content creator. She has always been passionate about food and has even worked in the food industry in both India and the UK. Her food and travel blog is her creative outlet where she shares a good mix of heirloom recipes, fusion dishes and her travel adventures. You will also find a good selection of restaurant reviews and interviews with food entrepreneurs. During the lockdown, she took to Instagram to share recipes on her IGTV channel and has garnered a loyal following.
She loves exploring different cuisines writing, travelling, photography and hopes to end up writing books for young people someday.
Follow Manjiri on her travel adventures and don’t miss any of her ‘experiments’ in her ‘kitchen laboratory’ as she likes to call it 😊