While most Indian food(like lentils and curries) can be cooked in any kitchen, having these Essential Indian Cooking Utensils and Tools makes cooking much faster and easier.
These are ESSENTIAL Indian cookware because their absence will affect the quality of output you get or cause inconvenience when cooking. However, would definitely not call them MANDATORY.
If you are a beginner and testing the waters, have also listed ways to work without them until to decide to take the plunge and invest in one.
If you decide to invest in one, have listed tips on what to look for.
Fundamental tools in any Indian kitchen- North Indian and South Indian
Both North Indian and South Indian cuisines use dry beans and legumes for cooking. You are cooking these almost every day whether its for North Indian dal or for South Indian Sambar.
A pressure cooker cuts down the time significantly. We did test runs and below are the numbers that we found-
|Option||Meal Prep||Cookware||Time Taken|
|1||Soak Overnight or Quick Soak||Instant pot||15-20 mins on High Pressure|
|2||Soak Overnight or Quick Soak||Pressure Cooker||20-25 mins|
|3||No Soaking||Instant Pot||30 mins on High Pressure|
|4||No Soaking||Pressure Cooker||45 mins|
|5||Soak Overnight or Quick Soak||Stove top in a pan with lid||60-70 mins|
|6||No Soaking||Stove top in a pan with lid||90 -120 mins|
As you can see Pressure Cookers or Instant Pots cook these hard to cook legumes much faster.
What to do if you do not have a pressure cooker?
If you don’t have one then you can simply cook these on the gas in any regular pan with lots of water (Usually 4-6 times more than quantity of lentils).
This will take much longer to cook without a pressure cooker as you can see in the table above but can be done. If you are not using a pressure cooker then definitely soak overnight or do a hot quick soak to save time.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker and want to buy one – What to look for in a pressure cooker when buying?
Buy Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker-
I have made this mistake so learn from me and don’t buy Aluminum pressure cookers even though they are much cheaper than the stainless steel ones.
I bought an aluminum pressure cooker and its a pain to clean and turns black very quickly.
Size of the pressure cooker-
For a family size of 4 a 3-4 ltr pressure cooker is perfect size.
If convenience is a higher priority than cost then would suggest you go for an Instant Pot as its much more convenient.
Kadai or Karahi (Indian Wok)
Its an essential Indian cooking utensil that looks like wok. The shape makes its conducive for frying as its deep but requires less oil for frying.
Its used to fry fritters, samosas and pooris (Indian bread) etc. in North India and in South India for frying Vadas, Papdums etc.
What to do if you do not have a kadai?
You can simply add oil in a Wok if you have one or use a soup pot and fry in that.
The only drawback is that you might end up using too much oil to fill the pot enough to be able to fry them.
What to look for in a Kadai if you are trying to buy one?
The kadai bottoms have a round shape and not all work well with coil or glass cooktops. If you have a glass or coil cooktop make sure you buy a flat base.
Also, if you are going to only fry things for a family of 4 or so then buy a medium to small size one as it will need less oil.
You can buy kadai online here.
Jhaara (Perforated Spatula)
Its a spatula with holes in it so you can use it to fry things. The holes in the spatula hold the food while draining out all the oil.
It makes frying very convenient and less oil consuming so healthier.(Note I wrote healthier ;). Cant call frying healthy… I wish though!)
What to do if you do not have a jhaara?
You can use any metal spatula. Make sure that its metal because it needs to go into boiling hot oil.
When using any other metal spatula pick the fried food with it from the wok and then tilt it slightly on the wall of the wok. This will get rid of any extra oil.
What to look for in a Jhaara if you are trying to buy one?
Long Handle because its going be close to hot oil.
Preferably an insulated handle but if its not there then its not a deal breaker. Mine does not have it and it does not bother me.
There are some utensils that are essential based on the cuisine you are cooking i.e. North Indian or South Indian. For more details on the differences between the two check this post.
These can be found online on Amazon here.
Traditional North Indian cooking equipment for making bread
Even though I mentioned North India because most breads are native to North India. However, breads like naan, chapatis etc. are no more limited to North India only.
Chakla Belan (Flat Base and Rolling Pin)
These used to roll breads like pooris, chapatis and naans. Chakla is the flat base on which breads are rolled. It is usually wood or marble.
Belan is the rolling pin that is used to roll the bread. This is same as rolling pins used in other cuisines to roll and flatten the dough.
What to do if you do not have a Chakla Belan?
You can use your kitchen counter as the base for making the bread. Clean your kitchen counters well, use dry flour to stop the dough from sticking as you roll.
If you don’t have a belan or rolling pin, you can use a wine bottle to roll the dough. This can be cumbersome and might not give you a thin evenly flat bread. But works as a stop gap and if you are testing the waters and not sure if you need one.
What to look for in a Chakla Belan if you are trying to buy one?
Its better if Chakla has some slip resistant base or is heavy like a marble one so it does not have slip as you are rolling.
Belan or rolling pin – Make sure that the handles are well defined and you feel comfortable holding them. The handles should fit well in your wrist.
You can buy set of Chakla/Belan and Tongs here.
Tawa (Iron Pan)
It is a cast iron pan on which the breads are cooked. The ways in which it differs from a cast iron pan is that its much lighter and has a longer insulated handle.
It needs to be lighter with a long handle because lot of people cook breads partly on tawa and then directly on gas. So they need to be light and have good , long and heat resistant handles.
What to do if you do not have a Tawa?
You can use any pan you have to make breads. It can be non stick as well as cast iron.
The chapatis might not fluff up like a normal tawa but they would still be good.
What to look for in a Tawa if you are trying to buy one?
As explained above, a good tawa should be light and have a long heat resistant handle.
If you have a coil or glass cooktop they buy one that has a base compatible with your cooktop.
You can buy one online here.
Chimta (Metal Tongs)
These are metal tongs that are used to remove the bread from hot surface. These are long and do not have anything on the tips like regular tongs which usually have indented silicon on the tips.
What to do if you do not have a Chimta?
You can use metal tongs that don’t have silicone at the tips. It should work the same to hold the breads.
What to look for in a Chimta if you are trying to buy one?
No need to buy if you have metal tongs. If no then buy one that’s only metal and long.
South Indian cooking utensils
South Indian cooking is more rice based and thus most of it can be done using pressure cooker and kadai. We have already listed pressure cooker and kadai as common between North Indian and South Indian cooking above.
Cast Iron Tawa
South Indian lentil based crepes or breads i.e. Dosa, Adai, Pesrets are very different than North Indian dough based naan, chapati and pooris.
These need to be cooked well on low heat. Thus, one needs a well glazed, heavy bottom Cast Iron pan for cooking these.
What to do if you do not have a Cast Iron Tawa?
You can use a regular non stick pan. Just make sure that you cook on low heat so it cooks well.
What to look for in a Cast Iron Tawa if you are trying to buy one?
Make sure that the base is thick so that it does not get heated very quickly.
Idli are steamed rice and lentil cakes made from fermented batter. They are one of the healthiest recipes. The idli stand is a tiered mold that is placed in the cooker. The batter is cooked in the pressure cooker’s steam.
What to do if you do not have an Idli stand?
You can use a steamer and then place the batter in between banana leaves or corn husk. Its messier and more time consuming but gets the job done.
What to look for in an Idli stand if you are trying to buy one?
Make sure that the idli stand will fit into the cooker or steamer that you plan to use it with.
Also, it has enough Idli molds for your family size and isn’t too small. If too small you would end up doing multiple batches.
Even though this post is for essential kitchen utensils for Indian kitchen, there is one appliance that you need for both North Indian and South Indian cooking.
This is a Dry and Wet grinder or mixer. Its not exactly an essential Indian kitchen utensil BUT deserves a honorary mention here considering how important it is.
Dry and Wet Grinders
These are used in North Indian cooking for-
- Grinding your own spice mixes
- Blending the curry to smoother paste
- Making Chutneys
How to cook North Indian without a Dry/Wet Grinder?
- Buy ready made masalas from store
- Use whole masalas instead of grounded ones
- Instead of blending the curry, chop the ingredients very small and cook them well.
South Indian cooking-
- Grinding the lentils to make a batter that is used for making breads/ crepes. You cannot make any South Indian crepes/breads unless you have one.
- Most South Indian Masalas use lentils like a spice in them. Need a dry grinder to grind these.
- For making chutneys
How to cook South Indian without a Dry/Wet Grinder?
- Buy ready made masalas as well as Idli/Dosa and other crepe mixes from store
What to look for when looking to buy a Dry/Wet Grinder?
This deserves a post of its own so if you are looking for buying one and need tips then let me know and will write a complete post on it.
This list of essential Indian cooking utensils is only for the ones that are uncommon in non Indian kitchens. I have not included pots and pans in here because these are already present in kitchens and you can use the ones you have.