Kitchen Essentials for Indian Cooking
Diwali known as the “Festival of Lights” is coming up, November 14th, actually. And, this special festival makes me think of my mother, and in particular her cooking. On this special day, our homes are illuminated with little lamps and the kitchen is abuzz with activity. When I was a kid, I would walk into the house, welcomed by the smell of my Mom’s rotis. She quickly rolled the Indian flat bread one after the other, slathering each piping hot wheat sphere with generous amounts of butter quickly pooling on their surface. We used the rotis to scoop up fragrant vegetable curries flavored with a myriad of spices from cumin to turmeric and chili powder. Mom and my Grandmother made cooking look easy. When I started also cooking, I realized there were some kitchen essentials I needed for my Indian cooking.
By Rina Chandarana, Zardozi Magazine
To get a delicate, thin roti, aside from the flour, you will need a thin rolling pin. Knead the dough with warm water and a little dollop of oil until its soft then pull into small mounds. Dust each mound with loose flour and gently apply pressure as you roll into hopefully a round circle (mine sometimes end up in different shapes). A roti, sometimes also called a chapati, is the basis of many Indian meals.
The screaming whistle of a pressure cooker that Grandma brought back from India, has now been thankfully replaced with quieter versions. Today’s instant pots and pressure cookers are just as effective at transforming lentils into delicious daals. These heartwarming dishes are a staple in north Indian cuisine. Without a pressure cooker, boiling lentils can take forever, so this is an Indian cooking kitchen essentials not to be missed. Once the lentils are cooked, you can liven them up with all kinds of spices, onion, ginger, and garlic, topped off with freshly chopped cilantro giving it a burst of vibrant color.
In every Indian household, you will find some version of a masala (spice) container. Visit your local Indian grocery store to find a stainless steel dabba (container) which looks like a round bowl with smaller little bowls and tiny spoons inside used to pick up just the right pinch of this or that. Or pick up a few small spice bottles (https://www.zulily.com/category/kitchen-storage) that you can label, so that you won’t mix up the cumin powder with the garam masala.
So let’s discuss the actual spices you will need for your Indian recipes. The most common are mustard seeds, cumin, cumin powder, turmeric powder, cilantro powder, garam masala and red chili powder. It can all seem a bit intimidating, but a trip to the Indian grocery store can get you stocked up quickly. Some other things you will often find in an Indian pantry are cloves, peppercorn, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, cinnamon sticks, and coriander seeds. This is just a shortlist of some of the myriad of tastes in Indian cuisine. The country is so vast and diverse that depending on the region, you will find a whole different set of flavors. In northern India, meals are eaten with rotis, while in the south, Indian recipes often include lots of coconut and are eaten with rice. Explore the whole range of the Indian menu.
The finishing touch in Indian recipes is a generous dose of spices. To temper cumin and mustard seeds, you will need a small pot or pan. Add a little oil and watch the mustard seeds crackle and pop. That’s when you will know they are ready to be poured on top of your steaming pot of daal. It might be small, but this is one of those kitchen tools you will end up using a lot.
Mom and Grandma like to add a lot of tomatoes in their vegetarian Indian meals. And although you can use canned tomatoes, try to use fresh whenever possible. Some Indian recipe curries require a puree of tomatoes, so a food processor is a handy kitchen essential for this.
Stainless Steel Plates
Indian food is a major bombardment on your taste buds. One dish could be savory while another is sweet or spicy. To keep all these flavors separate, try to find a thali plate, which is one large stainless steel plate with smaller bowls placed on top. This helps you keep each vegetable and lentil dish separate. Some traditional Indian restaurants serve their meals this way.
A warm cup of chai is a morning (and even afternoon) is a staple in India households. Whenever my Grandmother came to stay with us, I would rush down the stairs in the morning, hoping there was a little bit of her milky chai left. She would carefully pour the tea onto a tiny saucer, steam rising in the air. When it had cooled enough, she would sip it carefully with her toast. What makes this tea so different from a regular cup with a teabag is that it uses a whole array of spices and loose tea. You will find cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and even grated ginger in Indian chai. So to get the flavors without a mouthful of spices, you will need a small strainer that can be placed above a teacup to get a warm, frothy cup of sweet masala chai. Be warned, chai is very addictive with some biscuits.
On special holidays like Diwali, Indian meals include a lot of fried snacks and sweet deserts. A deep pan is used to fry samosas and crispy bajias, made from chickpea flour with an assortment of shredded vegetables and of course spices. Friend sweets include gulab jaman, flour fritters infused with cardamom, soaked into a syrup of rose water and heaps of sugar. As kids we loved eating these with a scoop of ice cream.
Luckily my Mom and Grandmother are just a phone call away whenever I need an Indian recipe, but there are so many online now too to get your started in your journey into the culinary treasure that is Indian cooking and these kitchen essentials will have your taste buds celebrating the flavors of India in no time.