10 Tips to Cooking Indian Food


Why Cook Indian Food in an Instant Pot - ashley of myheartbeets.com

1. Get an Instant Pot

If you cook or want to cook Indian food often, then you need an instant pot. It is a game-changer when it comes to cooking lentils, meat, curries, even Indian desserts (this is the one I have and love). Here’s a post I wrote with 5 Reasons Why I love Cooking (Indian) Food with an Electric Pressure Cooker.

Please get one! And then join my Facebook group, Instant Pot for Indian Food, with 250k members.

2. Read Recipes in Entirety

Make sure to read through the recipes before you begin cooking so that there aren’t any surprises halfway through.

3. Gather Spices

Taking a minute to gather and measure all of the spices listed in a recipe before you begin cooking can make a huge difference in the outcome of your dish.

If you’re not prepared, you’ll be searching for spices and adding them to the pot one at a time which will most definitely cause your spices to burn.

To learn more about spices, check out my quick guide to Indian spices.

4. Prepare Ingredients

I know I specifically called out spices right before this because I believe that’s crucial, but I also think it’s a good idea to prepare the rest of the ingredients beforehand as well. Go ahead and dice onions, mince garlic and ginger, etc. Better yet, keep a jar of garlic paste or ginger paste in the fridge or freezer. This will ensure that cooking goes smoothly.

Indian Food Meal Prep

5. Adjust to Taste

While you can’t substitute everything in a recipe and expect it to taste as it should, there are some instances when you can and should adapt a recipe to suit your tastes. Feel free to change the amount of salt or chilies in any recipe.

If you like your food on the saltier side, add more salt. If you want to enjoy spicier food, add more cayenne or extra green chilies. I personally like using Serrano peppers or bird’s eye chilies but you can use whatever you like. I prefer my food slightly spicy, but my husband prefers his food ridiculously spicy, so he adds fresh green chilies or extra cayenne directly to his bowl.

You can also adjust the consistency of a dish. If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can always boil off some liquid (press the sauté button on your instant pot) when your dish is done to reduce the gravy. Likewise, you can add water to create a thinner curry.

6. Use Fresh Ingredients

Old beans take longer to cook. Fresh spices have a lot more flavor. I try to buy whole spices when I can and grind them in a spice grinder for maximum flavor.

7. Use the Correct Type of Oil

I typically use avocado oil in most of my recipes because it’s a very neutral oil, but you can use any neutral oil you like. That said, if I specify a certain type of fat such as coconut oil or ghee or mustard oil, then please try to use it because the flavor will affect the outcome of a dish. For example, if I’m sharing a dish from the south Indian state of Kerala, chances are that my recipe will call for coconut oil and you will not get the correct flavor if you substitute it.

8. Size Doesn’t Really Matter

When it comes to cooking Indian food, the size of the tomato or the onion you use isn’t going to make or break a recipe, so don’t sweat it. I intentionally do not write “medium” or “large” before most ingredients because I know the majority of people don’t care to measure the diameter of a tomato.

When I was new to cooking, I used to really worry about this so I’m sure there are some of you who might be in that position too. What I’ve learned after years of cooking Indian food is that it honestly does not matter. If you like onions, use a large onion.

9. Don’t Get Hung Up on “Authenticity”

Most of the recipes that I share here on my blog are my interpretation of dishes that I either grew up eating in my North Indian family or learned how to make when I married into my South Indian family. They are all authentic to my experience.

I’ll sometimes get comments from readers saying that one of my recipes isn’t like another Indian dish they remember eating elsewhere. Or saying that I must not know what I’m doing because paprika and cayenne are not authentic ingredients to Indian cuisine. Well, you know what? Indian food varies so much by region, even by household. As for paprika, you can use Kashmiri chili powder (it’s not spicy) if you’d like – I use them interchangeably. And just so you know, chilis were brought to India by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Black pepper is the only pepper believed to be native to India (and even that is often up for debate). Indian cuisine is constantly evolving.

So what is authenticity? How about this… if I’m sharing a family recipe, I’ll let you know. If I’m making something up that happens to be Indian inspired, I’ll let you know that too. And if you have any questions, please ask! 🙂

10. If you’re new to cooking Indian food, start simple!

If Indian food seems intimidating to you, I suggest trying one of my really simple pour and cook recipes. These will help you build confidence and show you how easy Indian cooking can be.

If you’d like recommendations for where to start, these are the two easiest dal recipes on my blog: coconut milk dal and everyday dal.

Have Questions About a Recipe? I want to help you. My goal with this blog is to make Indian cooking more approachable. I’d love to hear from you 🙂

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Find out more about my cookbooks Indian Food Under Pressure and South Asian Persuasion.

About Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley. Thanks for being here! I truly believe that food brings us closer together. Gather around a table with good food and good people, and you’ll have the ingredients you need to create some happy memories. My hope is that you find recipes here that you can’t wait to share with family and friends.


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  1. Alan R Gingrich says

    Ashley, thank you for your quick response. Yes, I am partially new to cooking Indian food, however I have enjoyed it for many years. Especially in India. Do you have a quick and easy paleo/keto version of naan? I find most versions are not all that tasty.
    I see by your name that you are a Sikh. Although I am a Daoist priest, and a China scholar I am also a follower of Sihki. Especially through Sitpal Singh and his organization.
    Gratefully, Alan R. Gingrich

  2. Margaret Silver says

    Hi there, I’m super excited having gone through some of your recipes. We’ve just bought a Ninja 15 in 1 and have tried most of the recipes that is in the cook book we got with it. Now that I’ve “mastered” the settings I’m very eager to try your Biriyani as I just love Indian meals…the first on many I’m sure. Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipes.

  3. Gouri Ghosh says

    Please tell about multiple cooking dish, in same Instance pot! This is 2nd request .. such as mix vegetables and fish in one instapot but two different bowl or Dal and Rice !!!!!!!

  4. Laura says

    Thank you for your wonderful tips, When my Mom got married her “mean” and abusive mother would not let her in the kitchen. So Mom made sure we all knew how to cook.
    My Dad invited people over for their first Thanksgiving, she’d left the giblet bag inside the chicken (she did not wash it) and the chicken looked like it had knee pants on and they made fun of her.
    Some people are so mean.
    But she watched TV, got recipes from the weekly food section of the newspaper, and from magazines. She became a wonderful cook. Thanks for letting me vent. Take care…

  5. Sugandha kataria says

    Thank you, Ashley, for your amazing tips! I’ve followed you on Facebook for several years, but just now subscribed to your newsletter. Thanks again

  6. Mona says

    So glad that I found your site. I have almost made all of your vegetarian recipes except moong dal halva. Planning to make it soon though.
    I was wondering if possible for you to come up with quick vegetarian recipes for college students. My daughters are always looking for quick, healthy, protein recipes. Because of school and clinical they don’t get much time to cook and if you cook dal or curry you need paratha with that. So they’re always into one pot meal with few ingredients.
    Thank you in advance. Stay bless!

  7. Sam says

    Great Forum by the way! Congratulations! Have cooked both professionally and currently at home for a long time. I believe, the barrier to Indian cooking has been that most that have written about it are mostly inclined to go the complicated and ultra authentic route (with the same results as yours). Your introduction is simple straight forward. This will hopefully encourage a lot many Foodies to try cooking Indian food successfully. Cooking should be fun without the fuss, we have enough in our lives. Experimenting & practice are the key folks!
    Good luck

  8. Shari says

    Thank you, Ashley, for you good sense and down-to-earth tips! I’ve followed you on Facebook for several years, but just now subscribed to your newsletter.

  9. Kimberley says

    Wonderful tips! I’ve been cooking Indian food for a few months now and make plenty of mistakes still by over experimenting with adding spices not in the recipe! Ha! But I’ve just started intuitively started using most of these tips out of desperation since I’m ill and have VERY little energy, even with the instant pot!

    I need to start commenting on the recipes I’ve made and will soon. Preserving energy most often. Thank you so much for the work you put into this wonderful place! The saag paneer is probably my favorite, next to the Chana Dahl. YUMMY!

    • My Heart Beets says

      Kimberley, I love that you’re experimenting! That’s my favorite part of recipe testing – trying new things 🙂 I’m sorry to hear that you are ill – preserving energy comes first! I hope you feel better soon!

  10. Heather Wheat says

    Good advice! Thanks. I really look fwd to more.
    We’re traveling in a caravan at the moment so cooking is often just that much more challenging but one thing I never leave home without is my cache of spices (whole if I can get them).
    One of our most favourite dishes is your slow cooked goat curry. It now the fave of many of our family Yummo.
    Thanks again for the inspiration Ashley.

  11. Linda Sybrandt says

    FYI, we LOVE your recipes!!! My husband and I both cook, have 2 of your books, and after getting your instant pot cookbook, we bought a second instant pot so we could do two recipes at once. We love Indian food!

    We live in Steamboat a Springs, Colorado where there is no serious Indian food to be found, other than our kitchen. Even our friend who is a restaurant owner and chef says that we do the best Indian food in town, all based on your recipes of course.

    Thank you

paneer lababdar

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