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Indian Cooking for One

I am a seasoned pro when it comes to ordering Indian food for delivery. I can also track down the one Indian restaurant in just about any city, from Guadalajara to Torino (actually, Torino had about three). However, I've always been too afraid to try cooking Indian food myself. I just found a great spice store where I can stock up on Indian spices without spending an arm and a leg, so I've bought what I hope are basic spices. Tonight I tried making aloo gobi and dal masoor. I've been cooking for about four hours and I'm guessing I've got another hour to go. I think I used half the cookware in my kitchen! I don't recall feeling this overwhelmed when I've cooked other food (I make a lot of Italian and Mexican stuff). I've also got a lifetime supply of dal and aloo gobi now! (I'm not totally sure of the best way to store this.)

Does anyone have any tips for cooking Indian for one? People from India who live and eat alone... can you help me out? It all just felt like too much. Too much time, too much effort, too much attention, too many ingredients, too much food when I was all done (if I'm ever all done). I need help! I'm on the wrong track!

PS - I am a vegetarian.

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  1. We find that Indian curries, etc. freeze very well.

    1. I don't think there is any getting around the fact that cooking Indian food from scratch is time consuming.

      About two weeks ago I had friends over for my first full Indian dinner. I made Chicken Tikka Masala, Lamb Rojan Josh, Green Beans in Onion Paste, Mint Cucumber Riata, and a Kheer. All of these things I made a day in advance - and it's one reason I chose to cook them.

      From experience cooking just one dish at a time I knew it would take me HOURS to prep and cook all these dishes, and it took me HOURS. All I had to cook the day of the dinner was the popppodums, Basmati rice and warm pre-made naan.

      My husband thought I was absolutely crazy, although he doesn't comment when cooking Thanksgiving dinner from scratch takes me two days!

      Even with four of us I had quite a bit of food left over. I put the left-overs in freezer bags. I find they keep quite nicely. After going through all that work I like having the left-overs to enjoy.

      I am noticing more and more boxed food products in the Indian section at our local supermarkets, many of them for vegetarian dishes ( legumes, spinach and peas) as well as packages of flavored and plain rices that just require a heating in the microwave. You may want to try some of them, they're probably tasty and much easier than making the dishes from scratch.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Axalady

        I've been on a search for the past two years trying to find any of those boxed food products that are good. Most are just ok, and really just ok as in "edible." They mostly taste like they were made at the chef boyardee plant - can't explain "taht flavor," but they all had it. I only buy them from the various Indian Markets around town, and usually ask the clerks if they recommend any of them. I second making from scratch, and freezing if the components are freezer ok. Also, the "Shan" brand masalas save a whole buncha time if you find any that you like. I always have a pkg of their Chicken Handi, and chana masala mixes on hand. Sure you have to doctor them up, but if you find ones that you like, it saves a whole buncha time, and will net you a respectable meal. If you decide to try any of the pre-packaged masalas, beware the sodium content. I generally use about half of what the Shan package recipe states to use. - High salt content in those things.

      2. Indian cooking IS time and labour intensive, but five hours for those two dishes seems too long. Masoor dal is known for its quick cooking, and aloo gobi doesn't take hours, either. If part of the time was for making garam masala, well that's done now, and you won't have to do that again for a while.

        What cookbook are you using? I wonder if that's the problem.

        I always cook MORE than I need, just so I'll have plenty of leftovers (most improve overnight in the fridge). I'll eat them a second time later in the week, and freeze the rest in small amounts. Even leftover rice freezes well. It's wonderful to pull three or four different dishes from the freezer, add a raita, and have my own Indian buffet. Even a poppadom can be microwaved in less than a minute!

        1. Sorry but I can just not fathom how masoor daal and alu gobhi took so long. I cook Indo-Pak food 3-4 times a week for my family and unless I do some labor intensive dish like biriani (which is actually easy, it just has a lot of steps), it takes me about an hour for 2-3 dishes.

          I recommend soaking ALL daals (though so many people on CH say it isn't necessary), it reduces cooking time. Masoor daal, whether you have the whole unskinned or the skinned, needs just a 20 minute to 1 hour soak, or if you are truly lazy you could skip the soak and just deal with a longer cooking time. I would set the lentils out to soak and go do something else. Then, when I am ready to start cooking, I would strain them and then boil, then simmer till done---perhaps adding whatever seasoning to the water. While they are going, I will just chop up my cauliflower and potato, perhaps onions (I don't use onions in my alu gobhi though), and take my garlic ginger paste, which I make about bi-weekly out of the fridge, a long with some chilies and cilantro. Then I just open the spice cabinet and take out whatever spices. Heat the pan, stir fry the potato for about 10 minutes (I always use an Indian-ish quick cooking potato that is done in 20 mins, not a long baking potato), then add in the cauliflower, stir fry that until both the aloo and gobhi are done, having added my spices, seasonings during the cooking. In the meanwhile, the daal has finished up, I have already set out the spices/seasonings for the tempering. I heat the oil, add in the spices, then throw it in the cooked daal. Oila, it is done. About 30 mins before dinner, I do my rice in the rice cooker. I also wash all dishes/pots/utensils as I cook. I never make my own flatbread, I always use store bought (we have good available where I live), whole wheat tortilla, whole wheat pita, or even buy and freeze naan from the Indian restuarant near you if it is reasonaly priced.

          Some time savers are that I make my garlic ginger paste and keep in the fridge, and I also brown-crisp fry a large amount of onions and keep them in the freezer. I know some Asian housewife types also keep pureed fresh green chilies, pureed fresh tomato in the fridge, and grated onions (for sauteeing) in the fridge, too. I feel fine just with the browned onions and g/g paste.

          Do you know how to use a pressure cooker? That is great for many Indian lentil dishes as well, and reduces the legume cooking time to 10-15 mins. I have been using the pressure cooker more lately myself and it is a huge time saver.

          I think after having done it a few times you will get things down pat and it will go faster for you. You can eat the leftovers for a few days. Another solution to certain types of Indian leftovers is to learn to make stuffed paratha and use left over veg (such as aloo gobhi!) to roll into a paratha.

          Anyway, I hope you keep up with the cooking. Better luck next time.

          6 Replies
          1. re: luckyfatima

            Oh, stuffed paratha. The food of the gods. The breakfast of champions.

            1. re: luckyfatima

              That's the first time I've seen it spelled gobHi, but I looked it up in Devanagari, and you're right. Cool.

              1. re: luckyfatima

                In defense of the OP, I grew up with South Asian food and still find a lot of dishes to be a challenge without proper mise en place, especially when I am making a dish I don't normally make. I can make dal or bhindi masala in my sleep, but something like rogan josh turns my kitchen into a chaotic jumble as the onions brown, I search through the pantry for that old cardamom bottle, smoke accumulates from the searing lamb... or is it the burning onions?... wtf did I do with the ginger?... why don't I have ground cumin... dhania... oh crap I forgot to add coriander to the masala. The many moving parts and ingredients can be daunting to even the experienced.

                1. re: JungMann

                  jungmann beta, auntiji says you must organize before you start cooking!

                  I didn't mention meat because the query is about vegetarian, but yes goat takes longer in organizing cooking (you will either have to stand there while you brown the meat in oil, or while you braise it in an oily gravy, and there are many dishes with a lot of steps. Most of the goat or beef cooking is "passive" cooking as you wait for the meat to tenderize. Also, a lot of the dishes I see mentioned in the responses are more "party dish" type fare. But simple veg and daal should be easy. Practice makes perfect.

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    I think what I need even more is a cooking lesson from Fatima chachi herself!

                    I suppose you are right in that the vegetable dishes are usually simpler and require less active involvement than the searing, draining and stewing required for mutton. But having taught people to cook recipes that I think of as simple, I've seen how the earnest desire not to mess up a recipe can translate into a profoundly retarded pace. Combine that with unfamiliar spices and a 5-hour 2-dish prep does not sound outside the realm of possibility.

              2. Don't forget the Patak's pickles e.g., lime, mango, etc. They really add to an Indian meal, are widely available, and they keep forever in the fridge.