Diving into the culinary world of Indian cooking can be scary for many Americans. The spices! The smells! The ingredients! It can be very overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Luckily, you have a friend (me!) who has done the leg work on Indian cooking, and I’m happy to share my tips & tricks with you.
Tip #1: Cook 20-30 minutes longer than you think you should
This is by far my #1 tip for Indian cooking. Americans are accustomed to perfectly timing dishes to not over-cook meals. Probably because we have a culture centered around meat, so we are hyper-aware of cooking times and keeping meat tender and safe.
However, while cooking Indian food, feel free to throw timeframes out of the window. Your best indicator of if a dish is done, is how it looks. Most Indian dishes are vegetables or dals (lentils) and it is critical that both are cooked thoroughly. You will never ruin an Indian dish by over-cooking it, only under-cooking it.
Now what do I mean that your best indicator of an authentically cooked Indian meal is how it looks? When you peer down into that pot, does it look perfectly cooked? Have the vegetables reached the ideal color? Is the dal still wholly intact? Ok good- that’s your 1st indication that you still have 20-30 minutes left of cooking!
A good Indian dish is one that looks over done to the American eye!
Tip #2: If an Indian recipe has less than 5 spices, it’s not authentic
While perusing the internet for traditional Indian dishes, feel free to skip the one’s that have less than 5 spices. Most of these are made from other Americans, in my experience, and are not authentic.
Even the most simple looking Indian dish has an array of spices that fit perfectly together to delight the pallet. And you just can’t achieve that complexity with 1 or 2 spices. Especially dal (lentil) and bhaji (vegetable) dishes. Those two things don’t inherently have much flavor, so you must use a robust combination of spices to infuse a seemingly dull base with color and seasoning.
***tip – Hebbar’s Kitchen is a great authentic resources for Indian recipes.***
Tip #3: Half all the spice measurements
Look closely at the suggested measurements for all spices in online recipes. A lot of the amounts don’t make logical sense. I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve found that ask for a tablespoon of Chili Powder. Ok – Chili powder is hot. Very hot. Especially considering that most Indian recipes also call for green chilis (serrano or jalapenos can also be used).
My best tip for cooking with Indian spices, is to half everything in online recipes. Never put in more than 1/2 to 1 teaspoon initially. Once the dish is “over-cooked” (Tip #1), taste it and then add 1/4 teaspoon more of each incrementally.
Confused about which spices to start with, check out the only 5 spices you need to start cooking Indian food.
Tip #4: Invest in an InstantPot
Pressure cookers will become your best friend when cooking Indian recipes. But……pressure cookers are scary. All the whistling….and the risk of lifting the lid too soon and blowing off your roof.
No. Thank. You.
Instapot to the rescue! Instapot’s are modernized pressure cookers that are quick, easy, and you will not lose your roof.
Tip #5 Salt and Ghee are your friend
As an American, I’m terrified of salt. And fattening butter. I came from the generation of low-fat everything and had trouble fathoming the sheer amount to salt and ghee (clarified butter) that is actually needed to make tasty Indian food.
Luckily nutritional understanding has advanced through the decades, and we now understand that salt is good, and fat is not the devil. So armed with this knowledge, I allowed myself after years of cooking Indian food, to start putting in more than 1/2 teaspoon of salt (true story) and not substituting ghee for olive oil. Game changer.
And while I’ll never be as free with salt and ghee as my MIL (we went through an entire pound of salt in a month when she visited), I have loosened the reigns and now understand that part of the reason Indian food is so damn tasty, is because it’s a little naughty!