My dad’s family is from India, but I’ve always been intimidated to cook Indian food regularly at home. I have all of the essential spices and tools; I’ve combed through my grandmother’s handwritten recipe book many times over; and my palate is familiar enough with the dishes to know whether or not things have come out right.
My intimidation comes from the space and time I know will be required to develop flavors in my favorite dishes. I know this because I’ve watched my grandmother cook for hours on end, ending up with a vegetable curry, a rice dish, and sambar that’s simmered to its full potential—simple-seeming dishes that actually require a lot of finesse. Save for a quick dal, when I try to make my favorite Indian dishes at home, I find myself fretting about the ingredients, fumbling around with the method, and working much more slowly than I’d like. These dinners are often ready by 10 p.m., by which time I’ve lost my appetite due to sheer exhaustion.
Recently, though, I’ve learned there’s a different way.
Chetna Makan, cookbook author, semifinalist of Season 5 of The Great British Bake-Off, and avid home cook, recently released her newest collection, Chetna’s Healthy Indian: Everyday Meals, Effortlessly Good for You. In it, Chetna aims to “show people how easy it is to make good Indian food at home”—not to mention, fast.
“There’s this idea that Indian food is really complicated and takes a long time,” Chetna told me. “But the food that my mum cooked at home, and the everyday dishes I make for my family, are very fresh, flavorful, and don’t take very much time at all.”
Chetna’s Healthy Indian is filled with those kinds of recipes: many of which are super-quick, and all of which pack a punch—like a riffable cashew and tomato curry that comes together in just 30 minutes; hot and spicy coconut shrimp that can land on the table in just 15; and a rather non-traditional (but very welcome) 20-minute chicken dinner with kale and yogurt.
All that happens is this: Fragrant cumin seeds are fried in oil with chopped onions, then thinly sliced fresh turmeric (which is mellower and sweeter than ground) gets added to the mix. Cubes of quick-cooking boneless, skinless chicken are thrown into the pan; torn curly kale and punchy curry powder join the party later. This mixture keeps going for a mere 15 minutes longer, creamy yogurt is stirred in to create a silky sauce, and it’s ready to serve—with chapatis or a pot of perfectly cooked rice. Your pick.
What are your favorite quick-cooking Indian dishes? Let me know in the comments.