Indian cuisine dates back more than 5,000 years, and each Indian region has its own traditions and cultures that influence its food. While the basic ingredients and spices for homemade Indian food are easily available in most grocery stores, says Deepa Alfano of The Indian Table, many home cooks give up on cooking Indian food at home, as they don’t know what to do with these mysterious items. So Alfano has made it her mission to make Indian cuisine more accessible, offering public and private classes in her home kitchen. The goal? To help students easily identify and use the basic spices used in Indian cooking—and to empower them to make her delicious recipes at home.
Basic Indian Curry Paste
Note from Alfano: This Indian curry paste is the perfect base for most Indian curries. You can choose various add-ins to make it your own. I usually make a couple of batches, as it keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for up to a week and it also freezes well. With this paste on hand, you can whip up a delicious curry of your choice in less than half an hour! This base sauce is vegan and gluten-free.
Ingredients (makes approximately 3 cups):
3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. cumin
2 each of the following whole spices: cloves, crushed white cardamom, cassia bark
1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds
6 large, finely chopped white onions
1 bulb crushed garlic
2 Tbsp. ginger paste
8 large tomatoes, or 1 carton of pure strained tomatoes
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. salt
In a large pan, heat oil on medium heat and add the whole spices. Once they start spluttering, add cumin seeds and chopped onions. Stir in salt, and turn heat down to low and stir frequently to prevent onions from sticking to the pan. Once the onions are golden brown, stir in the crushed garlic and ginger paste. Stir and cook for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes. Turn the heat to medium, stir and cook until the tomatoes have broken down and darken in color—you should be able to see the oil separate. At this stage, stir in the powdered spices and salt, and cook for around 10 seconds. Cool and store as needed.
Quick Chicken Makhani
For the marinade:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
1/8 cup plain yogurt
1/8 cup heavy cream
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 (2.5-inch) piece of fresh ginger, minced
½ tsp. garam masala
½ tsp. turmeric
¾ tsp. ground cumin
For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. butter, ghee or canola oil
4 Tbsp. of Indian Masala sauce
1 tsp. cane sugar
1/8 cup heavy cream
¼ cup water
1 Tbsp. butter to finish (optional)
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
Mix all the marinade ingredients thoroughly with a whisk and add the chicken pieces. Cover and transfer to the refrigerator overnight. Thread the chicken onto skewers and grill until cooked. Alternatively, sauté in batches, with a tablespoon of oil for 3-4 minutes on each side until the chicken is sealed.
For the sauce, melt 2 Tbsp. butter, canola oil or ghee over a low heat, then add the masala paste and fry for a minute—keep stirring so it does not stick to the pan. Stir in the chicken pieces and add cream and 1/4 cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes more, uncovered, then stir in the sugar and remaining 1 Tbsp. butter and cook for 2 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.