Quick Indian

Friday, December 18, 2009

Posted by Bina

A perfect example of an oxymoron! I bet it's what some of you are thinking. Especially if you believe a common misconception about Indian cooking; that it is complicated and time-consuming. In reality, it's quite the opposite. Just look at the delicious, quick and healthy Indian meals made with little fuss in millions of Indian home kitchens everyday. Food that makes its way into lunch boxes packed early in the morning, evening meals with family and leisurely meals with friends. You can do it too. It is not difficult, I promise!

The series will hopefully inspire you to cook Indian food in your own kitchen. The recipes over the next few months will be simple, vegetarian dishes that are typical to everyday meals-vegetables, legumes (lentils and beans), rice, breads, snacks/appetizers, chutneys and desserts. Don't be fooled by their simplicity though. Many of them are also great for entertaining, and show up on my table when friends just drop by and stay for a meal, as well as for formal parties.

All the recipes are fairly quick but factor in some time for prep work like chopping vegetables, soaking beans etc. You can, of course, use frozen vegetables when possible. Canned beans are really convenient but make sure they are rinsed well before cooking. As far as cookware and tools go, you will need a very basic coffee grinder for the spices and a blender for the chutneys. I know many Indian cookbooks suggest using a kadai (a wok shaped vessel) for cooking but it isn't a must. I use regular, heavy-bottomed pans (nonstick and stainless steel) and only use the kadai for deep-frying.


Any talk of Indian cooking is immediately followed by that of spices. The seemingly endless variety can be very daunting. It's true....there are a lot of spices used in Indian cooking in general. However, you don't need to have all of them in your pantry, and not all of them are used together at the same time. Usually, it a combination of just a few spices that go into the making of a dish. Speaking of spices, a wonderfully detailed explanation about individual spices can be found here.

The initial recipes will use spices that are easily found in your grocery store. As we move along, we will add others like fenugreek, asafoetida, curry leaves etc. that might require a trip to the local Indian or Asian store. You can buy most of the spice powders/mixtures readymade. I do. Except coriander powder and garam masala, which I make at home. It is really not hard to do and makes a huge difference to the taste. Garam masala is quite possibly the most recognized among all the Indian spice mixtures. Many recipes for garam masala are very elaborate and are jealously guarded secrets. Mine is simple and not a secret at all!

Garam Masala

3 tablespoons cumin seeds

6 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns

3 tablespoons cardamom seeds

3 sticks whole cinnamon (about 2 inches long)

1 tablespoon nutmeg, freshly grated

1 1/2 tsp whole cloves


  • Put all the above spices except the nutmeg powder in a heavy bottom skillet or pan.

  • Dry roast it on medium to medium-high heat stirring very frequently. Keep stirring till the spices start turning darker.

  • Take the skillet off the heat and transfer the spices into a plate to cool.

  • Add the nutmeg.

  • Once the spices come to room temperature, grind it to a fine powder in the coffee grinder.

  • Store in a bottle with a tight lid (I use jam/jelly bottles)

  • Herbs and stuff

    Ginger, garlic, mint and cilantro are easily found in stores. You can use jalapeno, serrano or other hot peppers instead of the Indian or Thai chillies. The curry leaves will require a special trip to an Indian and Asian grocery store. I have found that the best way of storing them long term is by freezing. However, directly freezing fresh curry leaves results in the leaves turning black over time and also having an off taste. Flash-frying it first and then freezing works very well for me. Just remember to add the frozen leaves directly to the dish while cooking and not in the tempering oil (The moisture in the frozen leaves makes the oil splutter). When added during cooking, the leaves get rehydrated and look and taste very much like the fresh ones.

    The following recipe can obviously be scaled up or down based on your needs.

    Preserving Curry leaves

    1 cup curry leaves
    3/4 tbsp canola/peanut/vegetable oil


    1. Wash and dry the curry leaves (A salad spinner is great for this)
    2. Spread them on a kitchen towel and leave them for about 10 minutes.
    3. Heat the oil in a wide skillet (not nonstick). The oil should get very hot but not smoking
    4. Add the curry leaves and stir lightly for about a minute on medium heat. The leaves will make a crackling sound and start turning crisp.
    5. Transfer to a plate and cool completely.
    6. Put in a ziploc bag and freeze for upto 6-8 months. (I have frozen them for a year with no loss of color and flavor).

    Stay tuned because future posts are all about recipes that will hopefully have you cooking up a storm!

    This post was written by Bina

    Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: thedailytiffin@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing your ideas.


    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Helene said...
    December 19, 2009 at 12:31:00 AM GMT+1  

    Well, Bina, it's about time we saw your lovely writing, recipes and pictures on the screen.

    Add curry leaves on my shopping list for when I see you in January. I've always wanted to get some but wasn't sure what to do with them.

    I've witnessed and tasted first hand Bina's generosity and awesome cooking when she prepared a feast for my family. I am so happy that she decided to share some of it with the readers of The Daily Tiffin.

    Helene said...
    December 19, 2009 at 12:32:00 AM GMT+1  

    Fantastic writing! I always wondered why herbs turned black and if there was a way to prevent that when I freeze them. I am looking forward to the recipes so I can make your amazing dinners at home!

    Unknown said...
    December 19, 2009 at 1:06:00 AM GMT+1  

    Great post. I've been wanting to try to make my own Garam Masala. I will have to try this recipe soon.

    Matt said...
    December 19, 2009 at 1:16:00 AM GMT+1  

    Wow this is exciting! I look forward to making your garam masala and seeing the quick recipes to come! thank you!!

    Gaile said...
    December 19, 2009 at 5:08:00 AM GMT+1  

    This is a nice post! Indian food has this very unique taste and I love it. You may not like it at first because it tastes new.

    cedar chest said...
    December 19, 2009 at 6:59:00 AM GMT+1  

    Bina, thank you so much for this post. I love it! I am sure all our readers at the DT will too.

    Meeta K. Wolff said...
    December 19, 2009 at 1:30:00 PM GMT+1  

    Lovely to have you in blogosphere Bina. Nothing like a good lesson on Indian spices & herbs...YAY! Waiting for you to call from Mumbai! xo

    Deeba PAB said...
    December 24, 2009 at 11:17:00 AM GMT+1  

    I am glad to see your blog. I ate at your home with Matt and Jenny and was really impressed with your cooking. I didn't think I would like Indian food but found it surprisingly tasty. I am anxious to use some of your recipes. I hope I won't have to wait long. Good job.

    Unknown said...
    December 25, 2009 at 9:53:00 PM GMT+1  

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