15 Essential Indian Cooking Tools for Your Kitchen
Build a starter kit of Indian cooking tools that will help you make authentic Indian dishes. Your homemade food will taste even better than takeout!
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This belan, or rolling pin, is a mainstay in every Indian kitchen. It’s thinner and lighter than an American rolling pin, and usually made out of wood. Use one to roll out chapatis or rotis (unleavened flatbreads) and puris (deep-fried flatbreads) before cooking, among other types of Indian breads.
Traditionally, Indian kitchens did not have countertops, and the chakla was used to roll out dough while sitting on the floor. While counters are now a part of urban Indian kitchens, many cooks still use this raised wooden board to flatten dough with a belan. Bonus: It works great as a cheese board, too (but you should never tell an Indian mom that).
Making flatbread from scratch is a time-honored tradition in the Indian kitchen, and the charni is an essential tool. Made with ultra-fine mesh fitted into a steel rim, this sifter is used to remove lumps from the flour and make sure that the dough remains smooth. Add a tea towel and you’ve got yourself a strainer for yogurt, too! Use these tools to make some of these Indian main dishes.
A good tawa is worth its weight in gold, and traditional Indian kitchens often carefully maintain theirs for years. This round, slightly concave pan can be made out of cast iron or aluminum, and modern versions usually have a nonstick coating. While you can’t always get a round roti, a tawa will ensure you get a perfectly fluffy one. A flatter version may be used for dosas, a thin, crispy South Indian pancake made out of fermented lentils and rice. Take a look at these other crispy air-fryer Indian recipes.
From spicy samosas (parcels filled with vegetables or meat and spices) to syrupy desserts like gulab jamun (a milk-based sweet), Indians aren’t shy about loading up on deep-fried foods. That’s why every kitchen has a kadai, a cast-iron or stainless steel pot with deep sides and a flat bottom that’s perfect for getting food perfectly brown and crispy. A regular wok can be substituted for this, though the shallower sides may lead to uneven frying.
The pressure cooker might be a late entry to the Indian kitchen, but it’s definitely cemented its place there. When you have meals with plenty of side dishes, a device that can cook in minutes rather than hours is a lifesaver. Pressure cookers are used to make fluffy rice, hearty, meaty curries and yummy vegetable Indian recipes like this classic chana masala.
Opinions on idlis remain divided—some can’t eat this savory South Indian rice and lentil cake without a spicy coconut chutney, while others swipe half a dozen to eat plain before dinner (I’m definitely guilty of this). Regardless, there are two things you need to make perfectly oval, fluffy idlis: a great pressure cooker and a sturdy stainless steel idli maker.
Indian cooks are meticulous about their spices, and with good reason! Most preparations in an Indian kitchen require a delicate balance of several powdered and whole spices, and since they need to be added quickly, you don’t want to waste time rummaging in a cupboard looking for garam masala. A masala daba, or spice container, usually contains 4-6 small tins for the most commonly used ones, along with little spoons for easy scooping and measuring. Snap one up before learning how to make biryani.
When your dishes rely heavily on spices, you want to make sure they’re as fresh as possible. Store-bought spices are great in a pinch, but if you really want those Indian flavors to pop in dishes like this chicken tikka masala, buy your spices whole and invest in a spice grinder.
If you’ve got the time (and the arm strength), you can pummel your spices into powder in the traditional way—by using a mortar and pestle. This handy tool is still a staple in rural and urban kitchens in India, and gives spices a depth of flavor that a grinder just can’t match.
Now that you’ve got all your spices ready to go, it’s time to invest in a tadka pan. Many Indian dishes are finished off with a sprinkling of fried spices, which are allowed to bloom in a small amount of hot oil before being added to the main preparation. Tadka pans are small and deep, which protects your skin from any potential splatters. Any small nonstick pan can also work as a tadka pan, but be warned—without the traditional long handle, the hot oil can be a danger.
Indians take their chai tea VERY seriously, and teatime is a sacred ritual in most households. Ideally, chai is brewed from fresh leaves and whole spices like cardamom, and a small fine-mesh tea strainer is used to separate the liquid from the tea leaves. To keep the flavor of the tea pure, most Indian households won’t use this strainer for anything else.
Remember that penchant for deep-fried food? The jhaara is an essential tool for frying, allowing you to turn the food to ensure even browning. The perforated design also allows the oil to drain when lifting food out of the kadhai, keeping oil splatter to a minimum. If you’re really looking for authenticity, use it to fry your own boondi by making a garbanzo bean flour batter and dropping it through the jhaara into hot oil!
While most people think “tandoori” refers to a mix of spices, it actually refers to a style of cooking. Meat is coated in marinade and then cooked inside a cylindrical, vertical clay pot known as a tandoor, which superheats the meat and gives it its signature char. Tandoor ovens were also traditionally used to make naan flatbread. If you’re looking for an alternative, a Western pizza oven usually does the trick. By the way, here’s how to make naan at home.