Now that I have gone over all the ingredients, you must be wondering what the rest of this series will be about. I will explain that in this post.
First, in this post (Part V), I will explain a basic North Indian potato curry and variations. Many of the North Indian foods I will cover later will have many similar steps and techniques. This is a great beginner’s curry.
After this, I will give a recipe in each post for a very popular and well-known Indian dish (this will include: butter chicken [murgh makhani], palak paneer, biryani). Inbetween these recipes, I will give recipes for Indian flatbreads and breads such as chapati, paratha, naan, etc. Look forward to these delicious foods!
If you are a complete beginner at Indian cooking, it is okay! In these posts, I will introduce you to everything you need to know to cook Indian food. If you enjoy Indian food at a restaurant, you will be happy to know how to cook your favorite dishes at your own home.
Indian food is easy once you “get the hang of it”. To a beginner, including to me before I started making Indian food, it appears very challenging to cook Indian food with so many steps and ingredients. However, once I explain the basics, it will actually be revealed that it is quite easy. Indian food takes much more time than Chinese food, though. If you are in a hurry, especially if you are a beginner, I would recommend making Chinese food instead. Make Indian food when you have time, such as on a weekend.
First, you must understand that India is formed of many states. Every state’s cuisine is different and usually, the language is different too (although several states of North India speak Hindi). India may be divided into 4 main regions: North India, South India, West India, and East India. The cuisine of North India is the most well known overseas. There are also some South and West Indian dishes that are popular. East India is the least well-known. These four regions’ cooking styles are very different. Because the popular dishes I will introduce later are mostly North Indian, I will first teach you the basics of North Indian cooking. I also believe North Indian cooking is the easiest for a beginner to learn.
North Indian cooking always begins with making what I call the “masala”. This is made from cooking onion, garlic, ginger, green chilies, tomato, and spices in oil or ghee until soft and reduced. The ingredients may be either finely chopped or pureed. The “masala” is the flavor base for all dishes.
The basic masala is described above, but there are variations. Some religions of India do not allow consumption of onion and garlic. Therefore, there is also the “no-onion no-garlic masala” made without onion and garlic, but still containing oil, tomato, ginger, green chili, and spices.
The state of Kashmir’s cuisine differs from the rest of North Indian cuisine, so the masala is different. When I introduce my recipe for the Kashmiri dish “rogan josh”, you will understand what I mean.
After the masala is made, the vegetable, meat, paneer, or other main ingredient is added and cooked. Dishes may be dry or with “gravy”. If dry, little or no water is added. If with “gravy”, water and/or milk or cream is added. Sometimes, yogurt is also added.
Almost every North Indian dish is made with this pattern. As you can see, this makes it seem quite simple.
The recipe for aloo masala, also called aloo subzi, will demonstrate a basic North Indian dish made with a masala.
2 tbsp cooking oil
1 heaping tsp cumin seeds
1 inch long cinnamon stick*
2 green cardamoms, lightly crushed with rolling pin*
1 medium-sized red onion or yellow/brown onion (In India, red onions are always used. However, it is okay to substitute yellow/brown onions for red onions overseas.)
1 or 2 Thai green bird’s eye chilies (Optional if you do not want spicy. In India, the seeds are not removed! This makes the dish extremely spicy. You may remove the seeds for a mildly spicy dish.)
3-4 cloves garlic
1 inch long piece ginger
heaping 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
heaping 1/2 tsp Indian red chili powder (Use Kashmiri red chili powder if you want it red but not spicy. You can skip if you don’t have it.)
1 heaping tsp coriander powder
1 cup finely chopped or pureed tomatoes, or canned crushed tomatoes
salt to taste
2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
about 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro for garnish (optional if you don’t like it or don’t have it)
* Instead of these spices, you may skip them and add a heaping 1/2 tsp garam masala with the turmeric, red chili, and coriander powders. These spices are called “whole garam masala” and are sometimes used instead of powdered garam masala in a North Indian dish. Whole garam masala can also include black cardamom, Indian bay leaf, and other spices included in the powdered garam masala. You are supposed to eat the cumin seeds, but do not eat the cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. If you accidentally bite one of those spices, you will taste a very strong flavor. I recommend beginners who are afraid of biting into a spice to use powdered garam masala. 🙂
1. Finely chop the onion, green chilies, garlic, and ginger. You can also puree them. Pureeing them is less work and some people prefer the smooth sauce. It is your choice.
2. Heat a pan and add oil. Add cinnamon, cardamoms, and clove. Cook for 5 to 10 seconds. If skipping these, skip this step.
3. Add cumin seeds and wait 5 seconds. They should make a popping sound during this time. If they do not, the oil is not hot enough, and next time, heat the pot more. If they pop too violently (jumping out of the pot and hot oil splashing everywhere), the oil is too hot.
4. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and green chilies. If you finely chopped them, cook until onion is translucent and softer. If you pureed them, cook until the puree is reduced and becomes quite thick. This step is done over medium-high heat.
5. Add tomatoes, salt, turmeric, coriander, and red chili powders. If using powdered garam masala instead of the whole spices, add it too. Stir well.
6. Cook until the sauce is reduced and has become thick. If you chopped the tomatoes instead of pureeing, the tomatoes should be very soft.
7. The masala is ready! Now add potato pieces. Stir to coat the potato pieces with the masala well.
8. Add water to cover the potatoes. *If you don’t like much gravy, be careful not to add too much!* Bring to a boil and simmer until cooked.
9. Adjust the “gravy” to your preferred consistency. If you like more gravy, add water and bring to a boil. If you like it thicker, simmer until thick enough.
10. Add cilantro and stir. Turn off the heat and serve!
This dish is a side dish to a meal. You can eat it with more subzi (Indian vegetable dishes) and/or dal, rice or breads/flatbreads, etc.