Indian Cooking Basics: Indian Utensils and Cookware Guide
Indian cuisine and food has the misconceived notion of being elaborate and difficult to make, so people assume they need special equipment to cook it too. Contrary to it’s reputation, you probably already have most of the utensils you need to cook Indian dishes, in your kitchen already, and what your missing can easily be substituted by other similar cookware or you can buy them once your more familiar with the cooking methods and food.
Even so, if you peep into any kitchen in India you will see an array of utensils and cookware used to prepare various Indian dishes, that may not be familiar to you.
So here’s a Guide to some Indian Cookware and Utensils that are an integral part of Indian kitchens.
A karahi or kadhai is the Indian version of a Wok. It is a round deep pan made of heavy metal, with handles on both sides. The round Kadhai is used for sautéing, stir-frying and cooking curries with plenty of gravy and are great for serving food at the table as they make for an authentic Indian look and feel.
Traditionally Kadai’s are made of various metals and alloys, the most common being iron, stainless steel, aluminum and brass. Now a days there are plenty of non-stick varieties available with lids and stands.
You’ll often hear of dishes like Kadhai Chicken, Kadai Paneer and so on which are prepared and served in this wok like pan.
The Degchi is one of the most common utensil’s used in Indian cooking. It is a round, deep, broad-rimmed pan used for cooking daals (lentils), kheer (rice pudding) and other dishes with a liquid base.
The Degchi is traditionally made of brass or copper, but stainless steel is also available today. The Degchi’s neck is narrower than its round, thick base, making it a versatile pan for cooking sauces, gravies and milk-base dishes. Known for their versatility, degchis are used for cooking large amounts of food and making dishes like biryanis.
A Haandi or Handis is traditionally a circular clay pot with a fairly thick bottom and a clay saucer used as a lid. However now-a-days handis are made of alloys of steel, copper or brass.
Traditionally, water with flour mixed as paste is used to seal the haandi lid and is placed on an open fire or in hot charcoals. This method of cooking under sealed pressure is called Dum Phukt. Some even place the charcoals on the top of the lid to distribute heat evenly.‘Bhunao’ and ‘Dum’ are forms of Indian origin handi cooking.
Biryani’s and Pilafs as well as meat dishes of different kinds are generally prepared and served in Haandis.
A favourite in any Indian kitchen, a Haman-Dasta is generally known as mortar-pestle and is perfect for pulverizing and coarsely grinding herbs and spices into seasoning pastes and spice mixtures. Traditional hamam-dasta’s made of wood and granite have now given way to steel or ceramic ones.
It’s great way to extract the flavors of herbs and spices while still retaining their form by roughly grinding the spices in a mortar rather than a food processor.
Chakla-Belan (Rolling pin & board)
Chakla-Belan are two different tools used to make Indian breads like chapattis, roti and paratha. Chakla is a round flat rolling board typically made of marble or wood that the bread is rolled out on. Whereas, Belan is the rolling pin of India usually made of wood but are narrower than the usual western versions and are made of one piece of wood where the entire pin is required to be rolled. Together these two utensils make the breads and other dough type recipes.
A Tava is a slightly concave smooth pan like a griddle or skillet. The Tava is used for shallow frying or making Indian breads and everything from chapattis, parathas, dosas, omlettes to pancakes.
Over time, the iron pan becomes well seasoned and perfect for churning out perfect Indian breads. But today Teflon coated tawas which are non-stick and lighter are rapidly replacing the traditional tawas.
A unique component of Indian cookware is the “whistling” pressure cooker. Some Indian dishes are best cooked in this handy utensil. It speeds up the cooking process and is perfect for cooking foods in the “dum style”(pressure cooking foods in their own juices). Its primarily used to cook rice, lentils (Daals), etc. Now a days Electric Rice Cookers are replacing these traditional pressure cookers for boiling rice. It is a faster method to cook a variety of items like vegetables, meat, etc in a pressure cooker.
Cooks in India use the whistle noise of the cooker as their timer and signal when the pressure reaches set frequency. The cooking of most Indian food normally require around 3-4 whistles.
Chimta/ Pakkad (Tongs)
Also known as tongs, a pakkad is meant for holding a hot utensil while cooking. The traditional pakkads were made of iron which is now being replaced by stainless steel with a thick insulation of plastic for proper grip. The main purpose of pakkads is to lift pots without handles, but there are other types meant for picking up foods or to roast rotis and papads on an open flame, these are usually called chimta’s.
Pauni (Perforated Spoon)
A pauni is a perforated spoon meant for frying and draining deep-fried foods. The gaps between the rows in the spoon are meant to drain liquids such as oils, while retaining the residue for further processing.
The Masala Dabba spice box is one of the most important tools in the Indian kitchen. This round stainless steel box holds several cups that fit snugly in the box, keeping spices fresh and ready for use. Most come with one or more small measuring teaspoons and a tight inner lid that keeps the spices from mixing. Each bowl is filled with the seven most favorite and most commonly used spices in the household. No Indian Kitchen is complete without these certain spices which are a daily part of the cooking.
Thalis are large platters along with an array of Katoris (bowls) used to serve food. Thalis have remarkably progressed from banana leaf to metal since the ages of our ancestors and are a wonderfull way to serve a traditional Indian meals consisting of a variety of dishes. Thali’s sometimes come with pre molded section in the plate instead of separate bowls. The sectional plates are nice for smaller meals, while the completely flat thaali with katoris are typically used for large or formal multi-course feasts.