What to Cook: Quick Dinner Ideas with Indian Food?

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Many of us grew up with daily Indian meals that consisted of a Dal, a Sabzi or two, some Rotis, Rice and a Salad on the side. Top this off with some yogurt and Indian pickle, and the standard Indian meal was complete. In todays busy lifestyle that a majority of us lead, a meal like this not only requires immense planning and prep work ahead of time, but also a lot of patience and dedication to clean up afterwords. I’ve always been a strong advocate of quick Indian food recipes and I truly believe that you DO NOT have spend an eternity in the kitchen to churn out tasty and comforting Indian food.

If you walk into our home at dinner time, you’ll notice that we enjoy Indian food at least 3-4 times a week. Our meals are simple, most often quick and rarely consist of more than two dishes at a time. There is always a protein and vegetables, and some form of carbs to balance if all. I love giving new twists to traditional recipes and enjoy the challenge of revamping slow-cooking recipes to adapt them for a quick fix meal. Here are some of the tricks I use to make cooking Indian food a breeze when time is short on hand:

Plan Ahead: Every morning, as I sit down with my cup of coffee, I take a quick look at my planner and jot out my to do list. This gives me a good idea of what I have in store for the day and also lets me plan my dinner accordingly. I love doing this early in the day since it allows me enough of time to do any prep work that may be required for the meal I’ve planned. This may include soaking beans or lentils, taking out anything that needs to defrost from the freezer, or even prepping a few vegetables like boiling potatoes, to cut down on my cooking time. If I decide to make rotis/parathas for dinner on a given night, then I also take this time to make the dough. This allows the dough to rest a few hours before rolling which always ensures soft rotis in the end.

Create and Use Shortcuts: My weeknight Indian cooking is always restricted to quick curries or stir-frys and I save the slow simmering delicacies for a Sunday afternoon when I can take my time and enjoy the process. That said, I use simple short cuts to quicken a lot of things even further. For example, I always have my freezer stocked with portion-sized bags of pre-boiled chickpeas, kidney beans and toor dal. Along with that, I also keep a steady stock of ready-to-use frozen vegetables like peas, corn, chopped carrots, beans and spinach. I portion out my meat and freeze them as soon as I’m back from to store, which allows me to quickly thaw out just enough that I need for a meal.

Use Time-Saving Appliances: No Indian kitchen in complete without a pressure cooker, and duly so. It’s my secret weapon to shorten the time it takes to cook beans and meat. I also use my blender/mini food processor a lot to blend ginger, garlic and onions instead of chopping them for starting quick curries.

Cook Extra and Appreciate Leftovers: Hubby Dear and I have always been in the habit of eating leftovers for lunch the next day. So, I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of cooking more than I need and packing up the rest in the fridge. If I know that we won’t be eating it in the next day or two, then I’ll freeze the leftovers for a day when we need a quick fix and I need a break. To me, it simply make no sense to cook a tasty dinner for just one meal when you can easily double up the recipe and enjoy it another time.

Give Yourself a Break: Nobody said that home cooked meals had to be 100% home cooked from scratch. Make it easy on yourself and pair up freshly made meals something from the frozen aisle in the store to make your like easier. Making rotis everyday is not possible for me, so I find no shame in warming up frozen parathas and naans and serving them alongside the delicious curry I just cooked with love.

Over the past 10 years since I’ve been cooking daily dinners, I’ve come to realize that there are a few recipes that find their way into my dinner rotation every few days. These recipes are great starting points to experiment with and can easily be jazzed up to create new tasty versions of themselves. My trick is to mix and match from the various categories to map out a well-balanced meal. I almost always multitask and cook them either at tandem, or start on one while I prep for the other. Then, if need be, I add in a salad and some yogurt on the side and call it a prefect desi meal.

Dal: Lentils are a staple in Indian meals and great way for vegetarians to up their protein intake. Dals are also a comfort food on cold nights, and paired with some warm, fragrant Basmati rice makes it a classic combination. I love to add a veggie or two to my Dals to increase in nutritional value. My favourites include spinach and fresh fenugreek leaves. I often change up the Dal I cook and serve up a variety during the week.

Curry: Curries are great way to combine more than one main ingredient and cut down on the number of sides you may need to complete a meal. I love adding in potatoes, carrots and beans to my already quick Chicken Curry. Rajma and Chana work well for quick cooking if you use pre-cooked or canned version of the beans. Paneer, Fish and Shrimp curries literally take minutes to cook and always a treat in the middle of the week. When all else fails, my go-to is always a lip-smacking Egg Curry.

Sabzi: Vegetable dishes for us generally take center stage on most nights. While many people see them as a side option, I sometimes like to skip the Dal and cook 2-3 Sabzis for my main meal. When doing so, I like to pair to curried vegetable dish like this Methi Matar with a much drier dish like Achari Mushroom.

Pulao: Pulaos are the perfect vehicle for one pot meals that can be laden with meat, veggies and beans. They are simple to cook and rarely need  to be paired with anything other than Raita to make a scrumptious meal. The Mushroom & Peas Pulao and Minty Paneer Pulao are some of my favourites to cook up on short notice and are always a huge crowd pleaser!

To help get you all started off on the right foot, here are a few ideas from the archives that might make dinner time a little easier this coming week:

  1. Kadhi, Baingan Patiala and Rice
  2. Chana Masala, Jeera Alu and store-bought Naans
  3. Palak Paneer, store-bought Rotis and a Salad
  4. Chana Dal Masala, Dahi Bhindi and Rice
  5. Methi-Anda Curry, store-bought Rotis and a Salad
  6. Coconut Chicken Curry, Jeera Pulao and a Salad
  7. Matar Paneer, Alu Palak and Rice

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