My sister (owner of the fabulously written RabbitFoodRocks), asked me to write up a guest post on appliances. You see, she blogs beautifully so frequently, that she leaves the boring stuff up to me ;)
I did the guest post on her site last April, but since I’m behind on my list of posts, I decided to publish it here too…to buy me some time ;) before my next 2 posts.
Actually, she knows I adore my gadgets and that I adamantly use everything in my kitchen drawers and on my shelves so that I can buy more ;) and she thinks I ought to share my opinions about culinary gadgetry and appliances here.
So, here’s a list of 5 must-haves if you are cooking Indian food once or twice a week or more. Know that you could and would use most of these when cooking non-Indian food too.
- Microplane “ginger” grater: The microplane is a versatile tool in any kitchen, novice or professional, Indian or not. There are microplanes out there for zesting citrus fruits, shaving parmesan or other hard cheeses, or simply coarse or fine grating whatever it is you need. The one I use, almost daily, is the “ginger” one. If you plan on getting this, make sure you buy the one that is labelled for ginger. The texture you get from a microplaned ginger root is perfect for South Indian style Indian cooking, which uses a lot of minced or pureed ginger and garlic. I take this tool with me always when I’m a guest instructor anywhere.
- Blender: We Indians love our blenders. So much that we have our own brands of “Indian” blenders that grind and puree solids into sauces and chutneys. Kinda like a Vitamix, but not as versatile. What would I recommend for anyone cooking Indian food sometimes? On the lower end of the cost spectrum, I’d say an Osterizer blender. They are high-powered, but most importantly, they have a narrower tapered base so that smaller amounts of liquids can blend fairly well. Wider blenders have too much surface area and therefore the chutney or sauce end up needing too much water, making the sauce too liquid. A more expensive blender of course is the Vitamix, which superbly blends, for example a small amount ofcilantro chutney, or garlic chutney, to the right consistency. You can use both Oster and Vitamix for smoothies, drinks, milkshakes, etc… of course, but with the Vitamix, you can grind flour, make nut butters, soups, etc…
***A side note: if you’re planning on grinding rice or lentils for say idli or dosa batter, you’ll need an Indian grinder. I’m pretty certain a Vitamix will allow you to do the same, but I haven’t tried it yet. Vitamix does sell a dry goods container with their blender for grinding flours. Also, I have made dosa batter in my Oster blender. Took a bit longer than my Indian grinder, but it did work. However, those blades may not last if you do it often, and the motor excessively heats up.
- Mortar/pestle OR spice grinder: a mortar/pestle duo costs about ten bucks. A spice grinder (basically sold as a coffee grinder) is about 20-30 bucks. The spice grinder is useful for larger batches of masala (spice mixes), like about a half cup or so. If you just want to make garam masala for one curry, use the mortar pestle. Or even use the MP for grinding fresh cardamom and cinnamon for a cup of masala chai. If you use a coffee grinder for spices, dedicate it just to the spices. Smell the grinder before using it. If there are remnants of coffee or something unwanted, grind a small piece of bread in the grinder to help eliminate the odor.
- Non-stick 10 inch skillet: An inexpensive non-stick skillet is perfect for making all kinds of Indian flatbreads. Chappattis, paranthas, theplaas, etc…Typically North Indians make these breads more often than South Indians, but modern day Southies make or purchase chappatis often too, because of the slightly increased health benefits over plain white rice. Disposing of the skillet every year or two is a good idea, since they scratch and wear easily and are coated with chemicals. The traditional cast-iron tawaa pan is an alternative, though hard to find.
- A sharp chef’s knife: Last, but not least, is the important chef’s knife. Now, I know people of my parents’ generation and those before them created beautiful food from using plastic serrated knives from the dollar store or metal-handled dull knives passed down to them from their grandmother. But a sharp sharp 10 or 12 inch chef’s knife in combination with some knife skills will do you good in the kitchen! Your sharp knife will carve a few onions into a heaped mass of little tiny squares in no time. The chef’s knife is a convenience tool that helps avoid you from getting carpal tunnel’s in the future from years of forcing a dull knife through a hard carrot or a large onion. They don’t have to be expensive either, but they do need constant sharpening (maintained with a sharpening steel) to be effective.
That’s it! There’s a quick short list of a few appliances or gadgets. If you think of an item you use a lot in the kitchen or one that I’ve forgotten, please leave a note!