What About The Desi Food?

It's not all that complicated...

It's not all that complicated...

I’ve had several emails recently complaining that The FTB Blog focuses on firang food, and asking whether I eat or cook desi khaana at all. I will admit that I prefer the subtle flavors of Western cuisines over Indian; however, I cut my teeth cooking non-vegetarian curries in our tiny kitchen in Banashankari II Stage.

I dish out a mean mutton curry; a kori gassi that even my 71 year-old mother-in-law approves of; lace-thin neer dosas; and a couple of pretty decent, basic dals and vegetable side dishes (I don’t hide the fact that my vegetarian repertoire is somewhat limited).

Since The FTB Blog is not really a recipe-based blog (plenty of those out there; try this or this), I’m going to try and stick to a) reviewing restaurants that serve Indian food; b) exploring ingredients (mostly spices) used in Indian cuisine; and c) tossing in the odd “how-to” whenever I feel like it. If there’s anything else you’d like to see, just say the word.

My Basic Basics

To begin with, here are the absolute bare-bones basics I cannot do without in my kitchen for everyday Indian cooking:

From The Market

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Lemons
  • Meat of some kind
  • Whatever vegetable(s) that you like


  • Chilli powder
  • Coriander powder
  • Turmeric powder
  • Garam masala powder
  • Cumin powder
  • Whole cumin
  • Mustard seeds


  • Vegetable oil
  • Rice (or wheat flour, if you prefer rotis)
  • Dal (lentils) of some kind
  • Yoghurt

You don’t need anything else. Really. I know the purists will be apoplectic at this, but I’ll say it anyway: poppy seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, bay leaf, coconut, and any other spice or herb you can think of are great if you have them – but their absence won’t cripple you. Using the above ingredients alone, you can create meal after meal after meal (rice, veggies, meat, and a salad/raita), and each meal will be different, depending on how you vary proportions, omit ingredients, or employ different cooking techniques.

A special note to my American and British readers: there is no such thing as “curry powder”. Honest. Meena has a great little homily on how not to cook Indian food on her excellent blog Hooked on Heat.

And here’s a magical masala that morphs itself into myriad different forms as you vary the quantities and add different finishing touches to it.

“Bachelor” Masala (named after the many bachelors who have survived on it in times of dire need)

  • Magic masala

    Magic masala

    Four tbs vegetable oil

  • One medium onion, diced very fine
  • One tbs ginger-garlic paste (pre-packaged if you’re lazy, fresh-ground if you’re not)
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
  • One tbs chilli powder
  • Two tbs coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • Two large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded, and diced (if you’re lazy, don’t bother skinning or deseeding. If you’re very lazy, use 4 tbs purée instead).
  1. Heat oil until it shimmers. Lower heat, add onions. Fry until golden brown, stirring every few seconds. This takes time, and is crucial to how your end product will taste, so resist the temptation to raise the flame, and be sure to keep stirring.
  2. As the onions begin to brown, add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry for 30 seconds or so, then add all the powders. Stir, adding small quantities of water and stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  3. In a short while, you’ll notice the oil beginning to separate from the masala. At this point, add the tomatoes (or purée), plus a tablespoon or so of water, and stir until the oil separates itself again. Switch off heat.

Voilâ! You have made a basic curry masala, into which you may now add pre-marinated (or not!) meat (suggested marinade: yoghurt, lemon juice, salt, turmeric powder); cook over low heat until done (again, adding small amounts of water as required to prevent burning); and then season with salt and lemon juice to taste.

I have never tried putting veggies in this masala, though I am told that vegetable koftas work quite well. The masala can be refrigerated, or even frozen, and used as necessary.

For a thicker gravy, start with ground onion instead of diced – but be warned that this is tricky and will take much longer to brown.

Or, toss a handful of cashew nuts in the spice grinder, mix with a little milk to form a paste, and stir in towards the end of cooking (this also helps tone down the pungency). Simmer until the gravy thickens.

To dress up your curry, stir in a generous dollop of cream at the end.

The possibilities are endless;  use your imagination… or whatever you find in your refrigerator.

Enjoy – or as we say down South: enjaay maadi saami!


9 thoughts on “What About The Desi Food?

  1. hee.

    you know how hard I laughed when I saw that insipid yellow shite (aka “curry powder”) sold in bangalore food world? “curry powder” does exist, but it is never, ever, never, ever used in real desi cooking. it is something unknowing firangs put in bad “curries”


  2. Dear Friend!
    Thank you so much for notifying me!
    “Bachelor Masala”! I know a few friends who would need that!
    Curry powder was properly a term invented by the Jpanese as it is everywhere here!
    I personally use it only an additive and tend to follow the real Indian way!
    Great post!

    • Robert-Gilles: Hello and thanks for dropping by! “Curry powder” has made its presence felt all over the world, unfortunately. The Japanese are great adopters… but I, personally, believe that the British invented the stuff and sprinkled it across their vast Empire back when Britannia “ruled the world”!

  3. Hey Suman,

    Interesting blog. I was looking for some info on bachelor cooking and ended up reading your blog. I like the layout and the way you have organized everything on your website.

    And yes, I so miss Neer Dosa. And kori roti and so many other mangalorean stuff..

    Keep writing. Keep travelling.. Keep sharing…

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