Like many Western foodies, I love Indian cuisine. Unlike many Western foodies, I am fortunate to have seasoned practitioners of Indian cuisine in my own family: my Indian husband, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law are all resourceful cooks I look up to. Venturing into their territory can be a little intimidating but I am game for the challenge. It does not hurt, of course, that they usually encourage my culinary explorations.
When I started cooking Indian cuisine I was struck by how time-consuming and labor-intensive most recipes I tried were. This was of course due in part to my inexperience but I think it is also an objective fact. One of the reasons is the sheer number of ingredients and procedure steps. To give you an example, the recipe for gobi masala (cauliflower curry), which now belongs to my répertoire, calls for 17 ingredients (including spices) and it is broken down into 23 steps — more about succulent gobi masala in a post to come.
A more profound reason, I guess, is that cooking has traditionally been a task devolved to women. Come to think of it, women’s need (or desire) to spend time on something else than housekeeping and child-rearing has not been widely recognized until a few decades ago. And it is fair to say it is not yet widely recognized in most developing countries. From that perspective I can see why time has been no issue in traditional cooking. But that does not mean you can’t tweak things a bit. Here are my Indian cooking tips.
Do your shopping at an Indian food store
There must be at least one brick and mortar Indian food store not far from you. Search for it online or ask your friends; pick a recipe; make a list of the ingredients you need; head to the store. Once there, don’t fret if you find it difficult to locate the ingredients on your list. First of all, it’s fun to explore. Second, I am positive the store staff will be more than willing to guide you as much as you need. Also, even if they’re not on your list, check out staples, such as rice or lentils. They’re generally good value and you can even find organic options in many stores.
Cut the prep work
A great many Indian recipes call for minced garlic and crushed ginger. It does take time to mince garlic, even more to crush ginger. Do yourself a favor and buy jars of ready-minced garlic and ready-crushed ginger — yes, at that Indian food store. They’ll keep well in your fridge and they’ll come handy so often you’ll wonder why you ever thought you needed a garlic press. Likewise, I am a great fan of cans of chopped tomatoes, such a time-saver. And why not stock on frozen Indian bread as well? Flaky paratha is my current favorite. A delicious accompaniment to home-made curries.
Spices, spices, spices
No breaking news: Indian cuisine is spicy. But I have found it is not so much about quantity as about variety. Rarely does a recipe call for fewer than three different spices. As a minimum, you need garam masala, ground turmeric, paprika or red chili powder, and ground coriander in your pantry. The good news, of course, is that spices keep forever so get as many as you feel like and start experimenting. A funny thing has happened as I have grown more accustomed to spicy food, I now can grasp how certain French dishes I (still) love might taste a little bland to an Indian palate. A side-effect of belonging to a multicultural family, I guess.
Make big batches
Cooking home-made meals takes some time anyway so why not cook large quantities and freeze half or two thirds? Next time you feel like Indian food, you’ll just have to re-heat. Do this consistently and you’ll save tons of cooking time. By the way, this tip works with other cuisines too. 😉 You’re welcome!