I was always amazed at how fast my mum and grandma could whip up a Gujarati meal for the whole extended family. No stress or sweat, cooking up a delicious meal for six to ten people at a time. I slowly started to realise this was all down to the preparation that was done beforehand. Here, I will uncover Indian cooking tips and tricks and let you in on the secrets of how you can save time when making delicious Indian food for your family and friends.
I know it sounds crazy but it starts with the shopping. When I lived on my own in London, I fell into a habit of going to the supermarket or grocery store every day. I blame the introduction of small metro supermarkets, with one situated every few yards. When in the supermarket, I would stand there staring at the vegetables thinking about what I should make for dinner.
My mum on the other hand only goes food shopping once a week. I went to the Indian supermarket with her recently and was amazed to see all the Indian women in their element. They expertly handpicked all the seasonal and imported Indian vegetables, everything they needed and more and purchased in large quantities.
Always buying much more than is needed and items she doesn’t plan on cooking immediately. I explain how you can make this work later on. The point is, Indian women shop based on what is available in the Indian grocery store and worry about how or when they will use it later. I have started shopping in this way and it saves so much time. Plus, you have lots of fresh vegetables at home so you can cook whatever your heart desires after a long day at work.
As a child, my sisters and I would go to stay at my grandma’s during the school holidays. I loved going shopping with her. She would effortlessly handpick fruit and vegetables, instantly knowing if it was ripe and fresh, selecting only the greenest of green chillies, beans and okra. It didn’t matter if the potatoes, tomatoes or onions were round, but they needed to be firm and just so.
Picking vegetables is an art. I am definitely getting better at it but by no means am I as good as my mum or grandma. Picking the best ingredients will really transform your cooking and bring out true flavours. At the little Greek grocery store they understand this and hand pick every item for you, knowing most people are clueless at doing this themselves.
Now this is a big one, my mum washes every vegetable, even mushrooms. I tell her just to wipe them but she won’t listen. She has been known to tell me off for not washing my vegetables before cooking. This all changed when she complained about a piece of grit in a salad I had prepared for her. From that day forward, I thoroughly wash all my fruit and vegetables.
Always wash vegetables and fruit in cold water, laying them out to dry on a clean tea towel or placing them in a colander to drain. This is important as it removes any soil, bacteria, and reduces the level of pesticides. Squeaky clean fruit and vegetable is the way forward.
We have been shopping and picked the best of the best vegetables, even ones we don’t need. Any vegetables which need trimming or cleaning up such as green beans, chillies, herbs, okra, etc. should be prepared directly after purchasing and frozen if not needed immediately.
This is why a lot of Indian people have multiple freezers in their house. The saving time element all comes together at this stage as you have bought and prepared in bulk and can freeze in batches. Your freezer will be full of a variety of vegetables and herbs which are fresh and ready to go.
This takes out the hassle of washing, trimming and chopping vegetables when you want a quick but authentic meal. If I am using vegetables I have prepared in this way, I will mention it in my recipe to give you an idea on the type of vegetables I do this with.
Sometimes it’s best to use fresh herbs in cooking. For example, to garnish a dish with coriander. Store herbs such as mint, coriander and basil in the fridge for up to 3 weeks by placing them in an airtight container wrapped in kitchen paper. You will be amazed how long they last.
Preparing chillies, garlic and ginger
I have saved the best Indian cooking tips and tricks until last. You may have noticed that a lot of my recipes include green chillies, garlic and ginger, which needs blending into a paste. This is known as masala. This involves getting the food processor out every time I cook, which I absolutely hate mainly because they are so difficult to clean. My get around is to buy chillies, garlic and ginger in bulk and mince them in a food processor and freeze the mixture. You can also do this for the base of the coriander and yoghurt dip.
Follow these steps:
- Wash, trim, peel the chillies, garlic or ginger.
- You will need a tray or old ice tray. If you are using a tray, prepare it with a layer of cling film.
- Mince the chillies, garlic or ginger in a food processor individually into a fine paste.
- Then spread the minced mixture about 1cm deep over the cling film in the tray.
- Cut into 1.5cm cubes and place in the freezer. If you are using an ice tray, place in a Ziploc bag and skip the final steps.
- After about 15-30 minutes remove from the freezer, it should be set but not fully.
- Lift the cling film and the cubes will separate.
- Place the cubes in a Ziploc bag and freeze again.
Now you have pre-minced chilli, garlic and ginger paste for you to use every time you make my lovely recipes. The Ziploc bags will stop your freezer smelling of the mixture. Each cube works out to be about 1 teaspoon, 3 green birds eye chillies, 3 cloves of garlic and about a thumb-sized root of ginger.
I hope you have found these Indian cooking tips and tricks helpful! I would love to hear your feedback so leave me a comment and share your cooking tips.