Almost a quarter of which? members told us they’ve been ordering less take-out since the lockdown began * and, with more time at home, many of us are cooking from scratch more often.
To help you recreate your favorite take-out meals at home, we asked cooking experts for their secret tips and tricks on how to take your homemade meals to the next level, starting with Indian cuisine.
1. Cook your onions for as long as it takes
Chef and author Hari Ghotra, who runs Indian cooking classes online, told us that a good curry depends on how you treat your onions.
For a deep dark meat curry, Hari recommends cooking the onions gently for at least 30-40 minutes, adding more water as needed.
If it is a vegetable curry, the onions should be cooked for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, while for lighter curries the onions do not need to be cooked until translucent.
Culinary writer and Indian cuisine expert Chetna Makan said: “Adding a little ghee to cook the onions adds a lot of flavor to the dish.”
2. Use tamarind and jaggery
According to Ibolya Olah, director of the Borough Kitchen cooking school, “almost any Indian curry could benefit from a little tamarind and jaggery.
“It is very important to have a good balance of flavors in your dish. That would mean sweet, salty, bitterness, sourness, and a bit of umami. Jaggery would add some sweetness and the tamarind would give the sweet and sour taste.
3. Make sure the spices are not exceeded
Hari advises checking your spices before using them.
She told us, “If your spices are dry and dusty, they will no longer have the natural oils you need to add flavorings to your food.
To extend the shelf life of your spices, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, away from direct heat and sunlight.
4. Cook the seeds and spices whole at the start.
Monisha Bharadwaj, chef and owner of Cooking with Monisha Indian cooking school, suggests adding seed spices to cold oil at the start and cooking them over high heat.
Monisha explains, “It gives a little bit of control and keeps them from flying away and burning.”
Hari says whole spices should be added at the start, cooking them “until they release natural oils and you can melt the aromas.”
“This is your basic flavor – you add whole spices at the start as they are as they are, which means they will release their oils gradually throughout the cooking process.”
Find out which wines go best with Indian cuisine in our food and wine pairing guide.
5. Don’t add meat and vegetables too early
“A very basic curry is usually cooked with onions, ginger, garlic and peppers, to which you add tomatoes and then your spices,” Hari explains.
“This base should be cooked until the onions and tomatoes melt together and make a thick paste.
“If you add your protein before that happens, you’ll get a decent curry, but not a good curry that packs the curry. “
6. Add as much or as little pepper as you want.
Despite what you may think, “there are no rules regarding the level of heat in any dish,” according to Hari.
“The thermal gradient of their country’s dishes was introduced by the first restaurateurs so that customers could order something to suit their tastes.
“The only rules are to cook what you like and add heat to whatever suits you. If you like the flavor of a korma but you like hot food, add some chili. ‘
7. Add the powdered spices halfway through cooking
Hari recommends adding powdered spices, such as turmeric, chili, cumin powder, and cilantro powder, after adding the liquid – which can be tomatoes, yogurt, or coconut cream. .
“These are added halfway because, in powder form, they release their aromatics much faster due to their larger surface area, so you don’t need to add them at the start,” she says.
8. Don’t dilute your curry with too much water
The biggest mistake people make, according to Hari, is adding water immediately after adding meat or vegetables.
“After spending so much time doing a deep reduction full of flavor, if you then add your protein and water, it dilutes everything you just did,” she explains.
“What has to happen is you add your protein over high heat to sear the meat and vegetables in the masala, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting possible.
“This ensures that all the flavor will come from the meat or the vegetables. People panic that it will burn, but Indian cuisine boils down to slow, slow cooking.
“If it’s just veg, you may need to sprinkle a little water on it, but not too much – you don’t want a mushy veggie curry.
“Once it’s cooked and the flavor comes from the meat or the veg, then you can decide if you want more sauce and add hot water to get the consistency you want.”
9. Finish with a little butter
For a rich flavor, Chetna advises adding a little butter to the sauce once it’s almost ready and cooking for the last few minutes.
10. Add the herbs and aromatics just before serving.
Hari explains that herbs and aromatics such as fresh cilantro, garam masala, and nutmeg should be added just before serving.
Chetna says, “One of the spices that work very well in many curries is dried fenugreek leaves or methi. These are crumbled and added towards the end of cooking to give the curry an incredibly aromatic flavor. ‘
* Results based on a survey of 5,619 Which one? members carried out in May 2020.