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What's Wrong With My Indian Food?

I have been eating Indian food for over 25 years, both home cooked and in restaurants. I started cooking it consistently about 4 months ago. I like to make various dals and other beans like kala chana and rajma. I made black eyes peas and it looked great but didn't taste that good. I am getting nice gravies but something is really missing from the actual taste. It is edible but it doesn't have that 'wow' flavor that I find in restaurants and friend's homes. Restaurants use a lot of oil which I use a smaller amount of, but there has to be something else that my food is missing. I wasn't using enough salt before but have corrected that. I just don't know what's missing from my food. I can actually make good stuffed parathas and my biryani is good but my veggie dishes are completely lackluster in flavor. I don't grind my spices daily but have Indian markets close by so they aren't 6 mos old.
Any advice or secrets to making great homemade Indian food would be more than appreciated!

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  1. I use chopped onion and grated fresh ginger as a base. I think it is important to grind one's own spices so that one can toast the whole spices first before grinding. Add the spices to the sweated onion/ginger mixture and give it a good high heat saute without burning them. Also I don't mind cooking the vegetables or lentils in the spiced onion longer to allow the flavors to blend together. Before serving, I stir in some garam masala and fresh chopped herb such as cilantro or mint. Don't skimp on the spices. Restaurants uses a ton of it. Reheating is also good for flavor.

    1. Not sure if you are already using it, but a pinch of asafoetida (hing) made a world of difference with my dals. It stinks, so be sure to keep it tightly capped and perhaps in a plastic bag.

      1. I'm no Indian food expert, but I cook enough to know that the amount -- and kind -- of fat you use can very assuredly make the difference between 'edible' and 'wow.' Also, try using ghee rather than oil.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Tatania

          Oh, that ghee suggestion is a good one!

        2. post a recipe you are using that produces something you are not "wowed" with.

          1. When we were doing the Indian books for COTM, one of the authors [does someone else remember who?] included the following comment [total paraphrase}:

            When making Indian food cook with the full amount of oil or ghee since building the flavors is dependent on the oil spreading the flavors properly. For those who wish to reduce the amount of oil they eat, defat before serving.

            After reading this, that is what I started to do. If the recipe said 5 tbl of oil, that is what I used, but I did remove visible oil before serving and the flavors of each dish became fuller and deeper. Perhaps this would help?