I grew up on a very robust diet of Indian food, and it’s safe to say I wasn’t a huge fan. I would incessantly annoy my parents to take me out to new restaurants with exotic menus (yes, pizzas are exotic when you’re 7) and I would avoid any kind of lentil curry, flatbread, or cauliflower dish (oh, how I dreaded those!) like the plague. Fast forward to recent times, and I have been cooking up a storm of Indian staples on an almost-daily basis. What is it they say about craving familiar flavors that taste of home? I guess it is true after all.
As a novice Indian cook with a teeny-tiny kitchen, I have amassed a ton of tools — many of which have been collecting dust in a cabinet. But there are nine essential tools that I absolutely swear by. They make Indian cooking a breeze, and are multi-purpose enough to be easily used when cooking other cuisines or even organizing and optimizing your cabinet space. With Indian-ish by Priya Krishna being our October pick for Cookbook Club, it’s the perfect time to share this essential kitchen tools guide.
1. Stainless Steel Spice Container
When it comes to cooking Indian food, you will be packing in a ton of spices for even the simplest of dishes. Rather than store the spices in their original plastic bag, where they can tend to lose their freshness, or even emptying them in jars, which take up precious square footage in your cabinet, it’s preferable to keep them all contained in a spice box, aka masala dabba. A staple in every Indian household, the masala dabba is always pulled out when cooking, giving home cooks easy access to the most important spices at one go. Here’s another option (it has teeny tiny spoons too!), that’s a great pick.
Buy: Stainless Steel Spice Container, $24
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2. Stainless Steel Mortar and Pestle
The reason I prefer a stainless option is simply because you can easily wash off the pungent garlic and spices smell (a common feature in Indian cooking), unlike a wood or stone option where the food smells tend to seep into the porous texture. The small size also makes it easier to quickly grind pastes or the fragrant blend of spices for masala chai.
Buy: Stainless Steel Mortar and Pestle, $12
3. Tea Strainer
Speaking of chai (nope, not the same as chai tea), the deeply revered morning ritual is a staple in many Indian households. You boil a special tea powder (this one is a personal favorite) in water and infuse it with a blend of freshly ground spices (ginger, cardamom, mint leaves, cinnamon stick, and cloves are a few of the main ingredients). Once the aroma of the spices and tea leaves fills the air, you add milk and sugar and bring the light-brown mixture to another boil. Then you use this little nifty tool to strain the liquid and pour yourself a strong cup of milky sweet chai.
Buy: Tea Strainer, $8
4. Preethi Twin Jar Mixer Grinder
While this is similar to a food processor, it’s so much more — especially when it comes to Indian cooking. The mixer grinder (fondly called mixie) comes with two jars. The smaller jar is the perfect size for blending thick, aromatic spice pastes, fresh chutneys, and powders that are such a huge part of Indian cuisine; the larger jar is built to blend a heavy mix of lentils, nuts, and even rice into smooth batters for Indian-style pancakes and rice cakes. It also kneads dough, blends juices, pulses purées, and chops vegetables. It’s a real workhorse.
Buy: Preethi Twin Jar Mixer Grinder, $97
5. Futura Flat Bottom Deep Fry Pan
6. Hard-Anodized Mini Fry Pan
Some of the most popular Indian dishes need a sprinkle aka tadka of fried spices and curry leaves as a finishing touch, and this little tool is your guy for that job. All you do is heat the ghee or oil, swiftly add spices, and furiously fry them before chucking the sizzling mixture on top of your lentil curry or chicken dish. The long handles protect you from oil splatters, while the little curve neatly rests on the ledge of your coil or burners.
Buy: Hard-Anodized Mini Fry Pan, $16
7. Fixwell 12-Piece Stainless Steel Knives
I own a pretty good set of kitchen knives, but every time I’m cooking an Indian dish I bust out this very affordable knife that’s a true hero. Since Indian food prep is all about extra-fine chopping, I find that the sleek and sharp blade lets me power through without any extra added effort. Also, the tiny handle allows for a close and tight grip when tackling tiny cumbersome chopping of things like ginger, garlic, and chilis. And although they do look delicate, they’re dishwasher-friendly and very sturdy.
Buy: Fixwell 12-Piece Stainless Steel Knives, $32
8. Non-stick Tava/Griddle
If you plan on making flatbreads, Indian-style rice pancakes, or rotis, then this griddle is an absolute must-have. It has a slight concave middle that distributes heat evenly from center to edge, resulting in soft rotis. I have even used this pan for making tortilla wraps and Nutella crepes.
Buy: Hawkins Non-stick Tava/Griddle, $42
9. Chapati Chakla and Belan
This little wooden round surface and rolling pin is another kitchen staple in every Indian household. It’s the surface on which flatbreads are rolled out to ensure that the dough is smooth and not clumpy. I have tried using the smooth surface of my countertop and a baker’s rolling pin for rotis before, and the end result just wasn’t the same. Since it’s made from wood, it gives you good traction for even rolling, and the sleek rolling pin allows you to nail the optimal thickness and consistency.
Buy: Chapati Chakla and Belan, $25
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