Indian Style Sauced Vegetables
October 30, 2010 3:08 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure out quick ways to make Indian style vegetable sauces with spice blends from the Indian grocer.

I cook for myself only, so I don't spend a lot of time or energy on it.

It is important to me to get a lot of vegetables in my diet, and I love Indian curries and stew-like dishes.

Lately my technique has been to steam some vegetables, then simmer in some pre-made Thai-style sauce from the grocery store, and then pour over cooked quinoa.

I have never seen pre-made Indian type sauces, but a new little Indian grocery store has opened closeby and there are rows dried spices and spice blends.

I was hoping that I could figure out a way to make easy sauces with these spice blends that would allow me to make vegetable dishes like the above -- but I am having a hard time finding recipes that use spice blends.

Do you know what spice blends I could use or if there are any general techniques for making Indian style sauces that I could use to simmer vegetables?

Meat sauces are fine, too!

Thank you.
posted by alice_curiouse to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Brown a large quantity of onions in oil. Cook them for a long time. add equal amounts of very finely diced garlic and ginger, cook. You could add green chile now if you wanted it. Add your ground spice mix (holdback a tsp or so) and allow them to get aromatic in the oil (but not burn). If you are using dry chile add that now as well.

Add some combination of canned crushed tomatoes and water. Simmer. At this point either add your raw veg or your browned meat. Cook until tender.
You could add some chopped cilantro and a smidge of your spice mix at the end.

Not super authentic or anything, but it gets it done. Brown the onions well, use lots of spices. Try the different blends they have, try finishing with cream, etc, etc. Its a base sauce nothing more exciting then that.
posted by JPD at 3:20 PM on October 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

This doesn't answer your question, but maybe it'll help: The grocery stores by me sell pre-made Indian sauces right next to the Thai sauces. It just took me years to find them because there are less of them and they are hidden in between the Thai sauces and Chinese sauces. I would look again more carefully. If they really don't have them, then JPD's method sounds good.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 3:38 PM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: Here's a recipe for Dal and Potato "sauce." Seems pretty easy, and adaptable (substitute cauliflower for potato). Since you do have an Indian grocer nearby, I have friends that swear by Patek, and Maya brands of pre-made, meals/sauces.
Also, I can't think of anyone more qualified to ask about this than your grocer. Latin and Asian grocers here carry a good amount of Indian items; check any ethnic market you have.
posted by JABof72 at 4:22 PM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: Get a pack of 'shaan masala' brand dry spice mix for meat or 'parampara' brand paste for vegetables from the Indian store and follow the directions on the package. The latter would be the easiest to cook with as all you need to add is veggies or meat and yoghurt/tomatoes. These can be super spicy so you can halve the amount of the sauce mix and adjust for salt at the end.
Another option for an easy but rich sauce is any curry mix plus fresh cream.
posted by cynicalidealist at 4:43 PM on October 30, 2010

You can also buy jars of minced garlic, minced ginger, and both combined! Helpful for tikka masala sauce.

If you want creamy sauces but don't want to use a lot of cream, soy yogurt can be helpful - add it as a last step, after the cooking's done, but while the pan is still very hot.
posted by amtho at 5:38 PM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: The company Seeds of Change has a line of ready made Indian sauces in jars. There are four varieties: Korma, Jalfrezi, Tikka Masala and Madras. All of them are delicious! We will open two cans of garbanzo beans and pour a jar of Tikka Masala on it and serve over rice. Yum! Channa Masala! When we use the Korma, we tend to add a little sour cream to it (maybe two tablespoons to the entire jar). I like how it mellows it out just a little more, plus it stretches it slightly if you have more veggies/meat than usual.

They have a Locator on their website so you can see if it's in your area. I live in the Midwest and it's available at Baker's (a Kroger chain). It's in the organic food section.
posted by wwartorff at 6:42 PM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: I regularly buy Pataks' Indian sauces. Tonight we are having Chicken Cashew Marsala (I think - can't quite remember what I have).

I often buy a sauce made for a meat, ie a korma sauce and use it with lots of vegetables. Think potato, carrot, pumpkin or squash, onion, beans, peas, cauliflower, aubegine etc.

I always use brown rice as well because I prefer the flavour and I think it adds more fibre.
posted by chairish at 7:05 PM on October 30, 2010

I use the website Indian Food Forever all the time for dinners. They seem pretty authentic and are usually quick to make. Navataran korma and various potato curries are easy and taste awesome. I personally love any recipe with kasuri methi, or dried fenugreek leaves, but it might be an acquired taste.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:59 PM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There's a good recipe for a basic restaurant-style curry sauce at the Curry House Cookery Book site. You'll need turmeric, coriander, and cumin for it (or a spice blend which contains those three -- most Indian "curry powders" will work fine, though you'll be better off getting the spices individually. Swad and Laxmi are good brands). The rest of the recipes at the site use this sauce as a base, so you can make a big batch of sauce and then make two or three different curries with it. Just make them with lots of veggies (potato, cauliflower, okra, lentils, mushrooms, bell peppers, chickpeas, green peas, and/or tofu are awesome in curry) instead of the meat, if the recipe calls for the latter.
posted by vorfeed at 10:03 PM on October 30, 2010

JPD claims his recipe isn't authentic, but that's almost exactly how I've seen my best friend, who is Punjabi, make Indian vegetable dishes. Not everything gets the diced tomatoes, but otherwise, yes. That. Do that.
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 PM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: Mark Bittman has some nice dal recipes, which are surprisingly easy to make. Here's his simplest one: If you can nget the spices, the rest is just putting the time in.
posted by hwickline at 10:57 PM on October 30, 2010

Best answer: JPD really did nail this straight off the bat. Fry the onions, and any wet spices, then cook your powdered spice blend in that mix, stirring until aromatic. The dry spices need to be cooked, or they taste raw. The liquid base (tomatoes, tamarind water, yoghurt, plain water) goes in next. And then your veges for simmering.

If you're using meat, or vegetables that need a bit of caramelizing on the outside, you can introduce them between the onions and the dried spices, so that they can cook long enough to brown without the spices being in hot oil long enough to burn.

There's often a final stage in a lot of curries and dhals (etc) called tempering. You use a mix of dried spices (brown mustard seed, whole cumin, etc) cooked until crispy and roasted, curry leaves, chillies, and/or fried garlic (along with the oil you cooked them in) to dress the dish. This adds aroma and flavor highlights.
posted by Ahab at 11:13 PM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: JPD's answer is really good, although I would say use garlic and ginger that have been blended to a paste, rather than just chopped. A few tips from my mother and mother-in-law that have helped my cooking of desi food:

1) Try to keep the onions of as uniform a size as possible, otherwise they don't brown evenly and then things just go downhill from there.
2) When you get to adding the dry spices, mix them in a little bit of water, so that they cook, rather than burn. By a little bit, I mean just enough to make them into a thickish paste.
3) The way you know the spice-garlic-ginger-onion mix has cooked long enough to know add the other ingredients is that you will start seeing the oil separate from the mix. A lot of people are able to tell just from the smell. I find that by the time the spices are cooked well enough, my sense of smell has been overwhelmed, and I can no longer tell if they're done yet. So watching for the oil helps.
4) Depending on the veg, I might add a twist of lemon at the end with the cilantro.

If you want advice specific to particular vegetables, feel free to memail. Spice combinations do vary depending on the vegetable, if you care about "authentic" cooking. (I enjoy not sticking to the authentic combinations, but please don't tell my mother-in-law that).
posted by bardophile at 11:46 PM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: See if you can get a small pressure cooker. My authentic Indian mom is also an efficiency expert since all this stuff tends to take ages over a hot stove ;p

Base sauce (with pressure cooker): heat some oil, throw in cumin seeds, tomatoes, onions and ginger/garlic. Add vegetables - potatoes and peas, mushrooms and peas, cottage cheese and yes, peas, cauliflower and potato with a half a cup of water or a little more (depending on how watery the vegetable is). Shut lid and wait for one whistle. Take it off the heat and let cool to open. Stir. Add some garam masala if you like

Base sauce, can be frozen in portions and used with anything from egg curry (hard boiled eggs whole or cut in half) to all of the above veg combinations.

Ginger/garlic paste or pounded fresh
Tomatoes and onions - run them through the mixer/grinder or grate them (they dissolve faster)
turmeric, chilli powder, salt, ground coarse coriander seeds, garam masala for afterwards.

In pan with a little oil, stir fry ginger garlic, add tomato/onion mash (this is the base of the sauce, quantity as desired), fry with spices until some oil is released from mash, add salt to taste, check taste.

At this point, you can freeze portions of this base sauce.

Otherwise, add vegetables which have been microwaved (to al dente or your preference) and bring to a strong simmering heat (not quite a boil but enough so that the veg absorbs the salt and spice)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:28 AM on October 31, 2010

The pressure cooker is a staple utensil in every Indian kitchen. It is also a godsend with dal as lentils take ages to cook otherwise. Ditto boiling potatoes, making soups from scratch, boiling corn on the cob etc

I love my pressure cooker and have two of them in different sizes - the 1.5 litre and the 5 litre.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:35 AM on October 31, 2010

The Graduate Student's Guide to Indian Recipes (part 1) has a garam masala recipe.
(approximately 1 1/2 cups)

3 - 5" pieces  Cinnamon stick
1 c (???)      Green cardamom pods
1/2 c          Cumin seed 
1/2 c          Black pepper corns 
1/2 c          Cloves 
1/2 c          Coriander seeds 

Dry the ingredients in an oven.  Do not let them turn brown.  Remove
the seeds from the cardamom pods. Pound cinnamon sticks into smaller
pieces.  Combine ingredients until they are well mixed and blend at
high speed for 2-3 minutes until completely pulverized.
(LINE MISSING, The recipe seems to be complete, but as the original
had this I am letting it remain.)
I made this once, but now I usually cheat and buy pre-made.

(Here is part 2 in case you want to read the whole thing)
posted by bleary at 6:59 AM on October 31, 2010

(maybe you should add a 'recipe' tag?)

(oh and if you check out the spice section you can see containers for chai masala, which is for tea. I have made that by hand, but have also cheated)
posted by bleary at 7:05 AM on October 31, 2010

Caveat on garam masala - make it yourself, to taste (i.e. more pepper or less etc) and it keeps for ever in a spice jar. FAR better than that powdered dust they sell readymade (says the woman who has two different "lots" of mom's handmade).
posted by The Lady is a designer at 7:55 AM on October 31, 2010

From this thread, I found a book and made a curry base sauce from this, and froze 1-cup portions of it. I've enjoyed the results of my experiments with it.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:10 AM on October 31, 2010

I make a tomato-based curry by sauteing onions and garlic in oil, then adding chicken or fish, a can of chopped tomatoes, and curry spices. Sometimes I add potatoes, otherwise serve over rice.

Potato, ground turkey, broth and curry is easy & filling. It's just a different take on 'hotdish.'

My favorite approach is sauteing onions and garlic in oil, then adding chicken pieces (bone in) to brown, then water or broth, simmering till tender, and thickening with full-fat yogurt, and adding curry spices. I often add chopped spinach, or potatoes.
posted by theora55 at 8:31 AM on October 31, 2010

What @bleary referenced above:

The Graduate Student's Guide to Indian Recipes, Parts One and Two.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:39 AM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I recommend that guide. When I was married to Ol' Peculiar, he'd had it printed out and in the kitchen to stay alive in Pittsburgh - the south indian recipes are far better than the north indian ones, just fyi - try the range of sambhars
posted by The Lady is a designer at 9:55 AM on October 31, 2010

Best answer: "The Curry Secret" book is basically outlined by JPD et all, so if you'd like specific quantities and recipe ideas you could do far worse than buy that.

I've got batches of the sauce and meat in the freezer - when I need a curry, it's reheat the sauce, add a few spices, add the meat, cook for 10 minutes, garam masala and garnish and I'm good to go. The sauce also works really well with leftover cooked veggies

Set aside 2 hours for making a decent quantity of sauce and you'll have enough for a month's worth of curry

posted by nicktf at 10:54 AM on November 1, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, so many wonderful and helpful answers!!! Thanks a million everyone!!!
posted by alice_curiouse at 11:10 AM on November 1, 2010

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