Essential tools for Indian Cooking

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Essential tools for Indian Cooking: Are you about to leave India and embark on a journey to live abroad for the first time? Or perhaps you were blown away by the flavors of dishes at an Indian restaurant during your recent trip and now aspire to recreate those delicious meals at home?

Fear not, I’m here to guide you through this culinary adventure.

Having left India 8 years ago myself, I know how daunting it can be to figure out which cooking tools are essential when moving to a new country like the US. Thankfully, my husband, who happens to be an enthusiastic cook, had already amassed a collection of useful tools before I joined him in the US. He has a passion for cooking, which turned out to be a blessing for me.

Over time, I’ve also gathered a selection of essential tools needed for everyday Indian cooking. The great news is that due to the widespread popularity of Indian cuisine worldwide, these tools are readily accessible through various sources. You can find them on Amazon, at Indian grocery stores, and sometimes even at general supermarkets like Walmart. So, you won’t have to go on a wild goose chase to get your hands on these essential cooking aids.

Essential Tools for Indian cooking

Based on the preference I have categorized them-

  • Oh, I must have them!(Basic and beginner-friendly)
  • Maybe, I could have them! (Intermediate but important)
  • Impressive, its nice to have them!(for Advanced and pro-cooks)

Of course there are individual preferences as well. So feel free to swap as required.

If there’s anything in this list that requires updating or if you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them with me. I’ll be delighted to include any valuable additions to ensure the list stays current and helpful. Together, we can make this resource even more comprehensive and informative.

Oh, I must have them (Basic and necessary)

This category has all the essential tools which are of utmost importance when you want to start with Indian cooking at any new kitchen.

1.Polpaat and Laatna(or Chakla Belan or Indian Rolling pin and Board)

A polpaat or chakla is a circular wooden rolling board designed to create an elevated platform for effortlessly rolling out dough using a belan. Additionally, it serves as a guide to achieve perfectly round rotis.

polpaat or chakla and laatna or belan as a set(Indian Rolling Pin and Board)
polpaat/chakla and laatna/belan as a set(Indian Rolling Pin and Board)

Usually, a polpaat or chakla is sold together with a laatna or belan as a set. The laatna or belan, an Indian rolling pin, is crafted from thinner wood and tapers towards the ends. This unique design allows for greater control when rolling dough for chapatis, rotis, puris, and other delicacies. It complements the polapaat or chakla perfectly and proves especially useful for delicately rolled doughs that could tear when using a heavier rolling pin.

2. Tawa or Indian Frying pan or Griddle

Tawa is a large, round frying pan, usually flat or very slightly concave or convex. These are used to make rotis, parathas or dosas. Tawas are commonly crafted from cast iron, carbon steel, or aluminum, offering different cooking experiences.

Tawa or Indian frying pan
Tawa or Indian frying pan

The design of a tawa ensures the even distribution of heat from the center to the edges, guaranteeing uniform cooking throughout. Additionally, it serves a dual purpose, as it can be inverted over a flame to replicate the cooking effect of a traditional tandoor, adding a delightful smoky flavor to your dishes.

3. Masala Box or Spice Box:

This round stainless steel tin with six smaller cups holds your most used spices, offering convenience and efficiency. It sits on the counter or in a nearby drawer for easy access while cooking.

Indian Masala Box or Spice Box
Indian Masala Box or Spice Box

Each Masala Dabba can be personalized with the cook’s favorite spices and even bears engraved initials, making it a cherished heirloom. Embrace tradition and flavor with this must-have tool for every Indian food enthusiast!

4. Pakkad or Chimta or Tongs

If you want to make phulka or roti at home, after rolling it out and cooking it on Tawa, you can briefly flip it on open flame. For this, you will need chimta or tongs. They are mostly made out of stainless steel.

Chimta or Pakkad or Tongs
Chimta or Pakkad or Tongs

You can also use these tongs to serve salads and other accompaniments. It is staple in most Indian households and utmost important for your safety.

4. Spice grinder

The secret to delectable, soul-satisfying Indian cuisine lies in the artful blend of whole and ground spices. Crafting your homemade spice blends is not only simple but also enhances the authenticity and richness of flavors, all while being more budget-friendly than store-bought alternatives. For this purpose, I highly recommend a fantastic spice grinder equipped with low sharp blades, ideal for finely grinding small batches of dry spices.

Secura Electric Coffee Grinder and Spice Grinder
Secura Electric Coffee Grinder and Spice Grinder

This user-friendly and easy-to-clean grinder comes with two separate jars—one for coffee and one exclusively for spices—making it an excellent value for money investment!

5. Tadka Pan

Tadka, also known as chhonk or phodni in different regions of India, involves tempering spices in ghee or oil using a small circular pan called a tadka pan. This popular technique in Indian cooking extracts rich flavors, perfectly complementing dishes like dals, curd rice, chutneys, koshimbirs and more.

Tadka pan
Tadka pan

The round and deep tadka pan ensures the spices are fully immersed and covered by the intensely hot oil, enhancing the infusion of flavors. It is also a staple in most Indian households.

6. Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot

The whistle or seethi of a pressure cooker holds a special nostalgic charm for me, instantly transporting me back to my childhood every time I use it. I remember our moms being particular about counting the whistles before adjusting the flame or turning off the gas.

Pressure Cooker with whistle
Pressure Cooker with whistle

The pressure cooker was a convenient and healthier option for them, as it cooked food using steam and pressure instead of excessive oil.

However, with technological progress, Instant Pots have found their way into our homes. While they perform the same cooking functions as pressure cookers, they offer additional features like fermentation. And it has a timer, making it easier to keep track of the cooking process. No longer do we need to rely on our ears for the whistles. Everything that could be made in a pressure cooker can now be effortlessly prepared using the Instant Pot.

Instant Pot
Instant Pot

 

Some may argue that the taste of food prepared in the Instant Pot doesn’t match the traditional charm, but I, for one, am a big fan of its convenience, especially when time is of the essence and you need to serve your family or guests promptly.

Maybe, I could have them! (Intermediate but important)

1. Kadhaai or Karahi or Indian Traditional Wok

The Kadhai, commonly known as an Indian wok, boasts a distinctive deep, wide, and curved-bottomed design, facilitating even heat distribution crucial for enhancing the flavors of Indian cuisine. Originally fashioned from cast iron, it is now available in stainless steel and nonstick versions as well. Personally, I treasure a special Kadhai made of hindalium, gifted to me by my Mother-in-law, which adds sentimental value to my cooking experiences.

Kadhai
Kadhai

Indeed, the Kadhai is a remarkably versatile tool in the kitchen, capable of handling various cooking tasks, including tempering, frying, steaming, and boiling. Its multi-functional nature makes it an essential and practical utensil. It’s no surprise that my mother had 4-5 kadhais in her kitchen, each in different sizes, as they prove to be indispensable companions for a wide range of culinary endeavors.

While a Karahi is undoubtedly a valuable tool for Indian cooking, it’s not an absolute necessity, especially if you’re just starting out in the world of Indian cuisine. Don’t fret if you don’t have one; you can still make delicious curries and stews using a regular saucepan. As you gain more experience and confidence in your cooking, you can consider adding a Karahi to your kitchen arsenal to elevate your Indian culinary adventures.

You can try these recipes to make in the kadhai

2. Jhaara (Frying Ladle or Skimmer) or Palta(Flat Spatula)

These 2 ladles are one of the most important ladles in the Indian households. They are either made of stainless steel or or wood.

For dishes like Jalebis, Gulab Jamun, and Puris that require frying, the Jhaara or Frying ladle proves invaluable. It helps strain excess oil after frying these delightful treats, ensuring they are perfectly cooked and not too greasy.

The perfect skimmer should have a slightly concave shape, which is ideal for holding Puris  under the oil to allow them to puff up beautifully. It also comes in handy for scooping up gulab jamuns and effortlessly transferring them into the syrup for that delightful sweetness. The concave design ensures precision and ease when handling these delectable Indian treats in the kitchen.

Jhaara or Skimmer
Jhaara or Skimmer

The other important tool is the Palta or Flat spatula, which comes in handy for flipping rotis, parathas, dosas, or puran polis on the Tawa. This versatile spatula ensures these flatbreads and pancakes are evenly cooked and turned with precision.

Flat Spatula or Palta
Flat Spatula or Palta
Both of these ladles are essential aids in the Indian kitchen, contributing to the mastery of various delicacies with ease and finesse.

 

3. Stone Mortar and Pestle

In an Indian kitchen, whole spices play a crucial role, and grinding them freshly unlocks the most vibrant flavors. For this purpose, a mortar and pestle is a timeless and versatile tool used in Indian kitchens worldwide. This ancient grinding apparatus consists of a bowl-shaped mortar and a pestle, typically made of stone, wood, or ceramic. It allows for the manual crushing, grinding, and blending of various ingredients, such as herbs, spices, and seeds, to create fresh and aromatic mixtures for cooking or medicinal purposes. This simple yet effective tool continues to be cherished by chefs and home cooks alike for its ability to unlock the true essence and flavors of the ingredients, making it an essential companion in the culinary journey.

Mortar and pestle
Mortar and pestle

However, using a mortar and pestle to grind spices is a traditional, albeit time-consuming, process. Nowadays, many opt for spice grinders to speed up the task. However, some people do find that the taste of spices ground in a mortar and pestle is more flavorful and delicious compared to those processed in a spice grinder. The slower manual method seems to enhance the overall taste and aroma of the spices, making it a preferred choice for some culinary enthusiasts.

4. Stand Mixer

Stand mixers have revolutionized the process of making wheat flour dough, eliminating the traditional hand-kneading method that moms used to follow. With the advent of stand mixers, the hassle of kneading dough by hand is now a thing of the past.

KitchenAid Stand Mixer
KitchenAid Stand Mixer

Personally, I adore my KitchenAid Stand Mixer for its exceptional versatility, not just for making wheat flour dough but also for effortlessly preparing cake doughs and various other culinary delights. This indispensable kitchen tool has become a time-saving and indispensable ally for modern-day bakers and cooks.

5. Box Grater

In Indian households, a box grater is a handy tool for various cooking tasks. It’s commonly used for grating vegetables like carrots, radishes, and coconut, which are frequently used in Indian recipes. Additionally, it’s convenient for shredding paneer (Indian cottage cheese) or hard cheeses, which are popular ingredients in many Indian dishes.

Box Grater
Box Grater

The box grater’s versatility and ease of use make it a practical and indispensable kitchen gadget for preparing delicious and flavorful meals in Indian homes.

 

Impressive, its nice to have them!(for Advanced and pro-cooks)

  1. Glass Spice jars

Due to the enormous amount of spices in the kitchen it is very natural to get overwhelmed. So, glass spice jars are a popular choice for Indian households to store and organize these essential spices. These jars offer transparency, allowing easy identification of the spices at a glance.

Spice jars
Spice jars

They help keep the spices fresh, protected from moisture, and retain their aromatic flavors. With airtight lids, they prevent spillage and maintain the potency of the spices. The convenience and elegance of glass spice jars make them a must-have in every Indian kitchen, ensuring a well-organized and delightful cooking experience.

These jars from Amazon are my absolute favorite.

2. Idli and Dhokla Stand

If you love fremented foods like idlis and dhoklas, you have to get this idli stand.

The Idli and Dhokla stand is a quintessential tool in Indian kitchens, specifically designed for making delicious and fluffy idlis and dhoklas. This stand is typically made of stainless steel and consists of multiple tiers or trays, each with round cavities to hold the idli batter and flat plates to make dhoklas. The stand is placed inside a large pot or pressure cooker, and the idlis and dhoklas are steamed to perfection.

Idli and Dhokla Stand
Idli and Dhokla Stand

This stand allows for the simultaneous cooking of idlis and dhoklas, making it a convenient and time-saving option, especially when cooking for a larger group or family. It is a staple in Indian households, where idlis and dhoklas are a popular breakfast or snack item.

Its simple yet effective design has made it an indispensable tool in Indian kitchens, ensuring that delicious and healthy steamed dishes can be enjoyed with ease.

3. Modak Mold

A modak mold is a specialized tool used for making modaks, which are popular Indian sweet dumplings filled with coconut and jaggery. Typically, manufacturers craft this mold from food-grade plastic or metal and offer it in various shapes and sizes.

It has two parts – one for shaping the outer covering of the modak and the other for creating the filling cavity.

Modak Mold
Modak Mold

Modak molds not only ensure uniformity in shape but also make the process quicker and more efficient. During the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, modak molds find widespread use as modaks are offered as a special treat to Lord Ganesha, the Elephant God. Nevertheless, these molds prove versatile and can be used throughout the year to craft these delectable and visually appealing sweet dumplings for various festive occasions and celebrations.

4. Chakli Press

The chakli press, also known as a murukku maker, serves as a handy kitchen tool for creating delicious chaklis or murukkus – beloved Indian snacks made from rice flour and gram flour. Typically, this press is made of stainless steel or food-grade plastic and includes various disc attachments that determine the chakli’s shape.

Chakli Press
Chakli Press

The chakli press simplifies the process of making chaklis, allowing for consistent and uniform shapes. During festive occasions and celebrations, people serve chaklis as savory snacks to guests and loved ones, making the chakli press a popular tool. Moreover, the chakli press proves itself as a versatile and indispensable gadget in Indian kitchens, enabling the preparation of other snacks like sev and bhujia alongside chaklis.

 

I hope you find this comprehensive list of essential Indian cooking tools helpful! Your feedback is valuable to me, as I put considerable thought into curating this collection. If you’re leaving India to live in another country, use this list as a guide to shop for and pack the necessary tools. On the other hand, if you plan to visit India soon, consider picking up some of these items as well. With these tools in hand, you can recreate and relish your favorite Indian dishes wherever you go. Happy cooking and bon voyage!