So you love Indian food. You regularly frequent the lunch buffet at Phoenix’s top Indian restaurants and hubby cannot do without his weekly dose of chicken curry and naan. Are you ready to cook Indian food at home? Here is a list of some basic utensils and kitchenware you would need to get started. The list also contains some easy substitutions for the traditional utensils that are easily available in the Phoenix area stores.
- Karai or Wok: You would need this basic utensil in almost every Indian recipe. Whether it is for frying, sautéing or deep frying, no Indian cook can do without a karai. If you want a real Indian karai, you can buy it at Indian grocers like Ashoka in Chandler or India Plaza at Tempe. Go for the ones made with aluminum or alloys like Hindalium and have flat bottom (traditional, round bottom karais do not heat well on modern cooktops). Do not buy stainless steel karais as they tend to burn easily. The fancy ones with copper at the bottom are good for warming and serving food not cooking. A good substitute for karai is a Chinese wok. Always buy heavy bottom, carbon steel woks as thin walled woks tend to burn the food cooked in them. Even a Calphalon nonstick 3 qt sauté pan or 13” wok available at Macy’s or Bed Bath & Beyond works well as a karai.
- Pressure cooker: This is another essential piece of cookware required for cooking Indian food. You need a pressure cooker for boiling lentils, meat and also for steaming food like vegetables and dumplings like idlies. Rice dishes like pulao and biriyani also cook faster in a pressure cooker. Presto 4 qt stainless steel pressure cooker available at Macy’s is a good buy. You can also get Indian brands like Hawkins or Prestige pressure cookers at Amazon.com.
- Tawa or skillet: A skillet is required for roasting spices and bread like chapattis. Also fried bread like parathas and crepes like dosas are cooked in a skillet. Traditional Indian skillets (called tawas) are made of cast iron but any kind of nonstick skillet would do.
- Chakla belan: Chakla-belan is a pair of rolling pin and a round platform. It is made of wood. All kinds of Indian bread are rolled with this. You can get this at Indian stores. A thin, wood rolling pin and a wooden cutting board can be substituted for the Indian chakla-belan.
- Casserole/tortilla warmer: Since Indian breads are unleavened; they have to be stored in a closed container after cooking in order to prevent them from drying up. A tortilla warmer or insulated casserole is required for storing bread.
- Spice grinder: Indian cuisine is all about spices. So grinding spices is an essential part of Indian cooking. You need a mortar and pestle for grinding ginger, garlic and whole spices. If you have a food processor with attachments for dry and wet grinding, it can take care of all the grinding. If not, even a coffee grinder works well for grinding whole dry spices like cumin, coriander and chilies. Just make sure you clean the coffee grinder after you grind spices to avoid consuming cumin flavored coffee for breakfast!!!
- Spice holder: It is also a good idea to keep spices in air tight spice holder compartments as they tend to lose their flavor over time. A traditional Indian spice container is round with a lid and multiple compartments for storing different spices. Spices that are kept in the spice holder include cumin, coriander, mustard, five spice (panch phoran), fennel, methi and turmeric. Spices like asfeotida (hing) and garam masala (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom) are best stored separately in airtight containers. There are many kinds of spice jars available at the kitchen appliances sections in departmental stores.
- Spatulas, ladles, slotted spoon: In Indian cooking, food is stirred during cooking with a spatula or a long handled spoon made of steel called a karchi or khunti. Wooden spatulas are generally avoided as wood soaks up flavors. If you are using nonstick cookware, use wooden spoons. For a wok and steel utensils, use the steel spatulas as it is easier to stir and flip food with the narrow edge. You also require ladles for transferring curries, daals and other liquid food. A slotted spoon (like a Chinese wire skimmer) is useful for removing food after deep frying as it drains excess oil.
- Rice handi/Rice cooker: A handi is a deep vessel with a wide rim. It is useful for cooking rice and other slow cooking food like pulao, biriyani and dum aloo (potatoes). I also like to invest in a rice cooker as you can program it to cook rice, lentils and other dishes and it switches off automatically when the food is done. One less thing to monitor when you are cooking multiple dishes.
- Degchi: A degchi is a heavy bottom deep vessel like a stockpot. It is very useful for cooking food that needs to slow cook for a long time. Plus the heavy bottom prevents food from burning. Degchi is useful to boil and reduce milk and make kheer or rice puddings, carrot puddings etc. A 4-5 qt heavy bottom stockpot works well as a degchi.
- Colander: You need a colander to wash and stain vegetables. Also good for staining water from soaked and boiled lentils like chickpeas, kidney beans etc.
- A set of Indian plate, bowls and glass: Lastly you would need a set of stainless steel Indian plate called thali along with small bowls called katoris for serving the food. A stainless steel glass for serving water is also required.
This list is by no means exclusive. There are many more utensils and cookware that are used for cooking Indian food. However, most Indian dishes can be cooked and served by using these basic utensils.