Indian Onion Masala (Instant Pot)

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I am on a mission to help you simplify Indian cooking! Grab your onions and tomatoes and get ready to make some Indian onion masala!

Indian Onion Masala

What is Indian Onion Masala?

Indian onion masala is a flavorful sauce made up of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, and spices. It’s the base of many Indian dishes, and by preparing it in advance, you can significantly reduce the cook time for many Indian recipes.

(If you can’t eat tomatoes, I have a nomato onion masala you can use instead!)

I have been watching my parents make onion masala, also known as onion tomato gravy, for as long as I can remember. In the past, making this masala was a painstaking process, but it doesn’t have to be anymore – especially if you have an Instant Pot. Having this onion tomato masala handy is an incredible time-saver and makes it possible to eat authentic, healthy, and delicious Indian meals every day.

Onions, tomatoes, and ginger/garlic are what I like to consider the “trifecta” of Indian cooking (…er quadfecta?). But who has time to brown onions and cook down tomatoes every single day? No one.  That’s why many Indian people spend one day a week or a month preparing Indian onion masala. It can take several hours to fry onions and cook down tomatoes, but I have a faster way: use the Instant Pot. You prepare a big batch, freeze it, then take it out whenever you need to make a quick meal.

I know everyone is all about “meal prep” these days. Well, this is how a lot of Indians meal prep. Once you’ve got this masala ready, you can literally prepare “dump and go” Indian recipes, and they’ll end up having a lot of flavor.

Indian Onion Masala

As magical as an Instant Pot is, it’ll still take time to make this masala – just not as much. Plus, you won’t have to babysit a pot on the stove for as long. It’s really up to you as to how brown you’d like to have your onions. I sometimes skip fully browning the onions, and the masala still turns out just fine. The browner the onions, the sweeter the masala, so if you can, be patient.

This is how brown your onions should look if you sauté them for 15-20 minutes first:

This masala lasts for months. When I first gave birth to Tony, my mom packed my freezer to the brim with this masala, and literally, one year later, I found some of it hiding in the back of the freezer… not gonna lie, I used it, and it was still perfect. I’d probably suggest using it up within six months though (it normally doesn’t last us that long).

So forget peeling, chopping, and cooking these basic ingredients every single day. That is exhausting, and what makes Indian cooking seem unapproachable. Instead, make this onion masala and see how easy it really is to cook fresh Indian food every day.

Fresh Tomatoes or Canned Tomatoes?

You can use either fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes to make this onion masala, and I’ll explain how to do that in the directions below.

When it comes to fresh tomatoes, I suggest using Roma tomatoes because they have less water content and so the masala will be thicker. If you use different tomatoes, then you may need to boil off some of the water at the end.

If ripe tomatoes are not in season where you live or you prefer convenience, then go for canned (or jarred) diced tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are picked at the peak of ripeness, and ripe tomatoes are what will make your masala tasty. Sometimes canned tomato masala turns out to taste a bit better for this reason.

(Just an FYI: the photos in this blog post are of tomato masala made using fresh tomatoes. Canned tomatoes will give the masala a darker color).

Indian Onion Masala

How to use Indian Onion Masala in Recipes:

Want to know how to use this onion masala in recipes? Check out my Indian Onion Masala Headquarters page, where you’ll learn all about onion masala: how to store it, how to use it in recipes, and recipes that call for exact amounts of this masala!

Here’s how this series works:

  1. Make the recipe below for Indian onion masala.
  2. Read this post about how to store onion masala.
  3. Check out this page for recipes. No need to guess how much masala to use – I’ll tell you the exact amount of masala needed.
  4. Take all of your onion masala knowledge and apply it to any Indian recipe calling for onions and tomatoes! Hooray!

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Indian Onion Masala

Having this masala ready to go is the best way to meal prep for Indian Cuisine. In fact, I’d say it’s basically essential if you want to enjoy Indian food every day. So go on and make this masala!

How to Store Onion Masala:

Here is a detailed post that you can read to learn how I freeze onion masala: How to Store and Use Indian Onion Masala

The short version: I store it in these silicone molds – each mold holds ¼ cup of onion masala.

Indian Onion Masala
Basic Indian Onion Masala

Recipes to Make Using Onion Masala:

And that’s just a short list! For even more ideas, visit my Onion Masala Recipes page.

Suggested

I recommend using this silicone mold to store the onion masala. Each well holds ¼ cup of onion masala. So if a recipe calls for 1 cup of masala, you’ll know to use 4 cubes of masala.

Indian Onion Masala (Instant Pot)

Indian Onion Masala

Indian Onion Masala (Instant Pot)

4.92 from 112 reviews
Pin Recipe Print Recipe
Servings 5.25 cups
Cuisine Indian

Ingredients
 

  • ½ cup oil neutral oil like avocado oil is great
  • 2 pounds yellow onions approx. 6, diced
  • 1 head of garlic approx. 12 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2- inch ginger chopped
  • 2 pounds roma tomatoes approx. 9 tomatoes, chopped OR 2 (14.5 ounce) cans of diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup water

Spices (adjust to taste):

Instructions
 

  • Press the sauté button on the Instant Pot, adjust the heat to the highest setting, then add the oil to the pot. Wait for the oil to get hot, then add the onions.
  • Cook the onions for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned (keep the stirring to a minimum in the beginning to brown the onions faster. As the onions brown, stir more frequently).
  • Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the tomatoes cook down a bit. Stir the bottom of the pot to scrape off any brown bits. Add the water and mix well.
  • Add the spices, give everything a good stir, then secure the lid, close the pressure valve and cook for 5 minutes at high pressure.
  • Naturally release pressure.
  • Blend the masala using a blender or an immersion blender (it can be smooth or slightly chunky – up to you!). The sauce will continue to thicken a bit as it cools.
  • Once the masala is cool, I store it using this silicone mold which holds ¼ cup of onion masala per mold. Then go check out all of my onion masala recipes!

Video

Notes

  • Getting a burn error? Make sure you are using enough oil so that the onions don’t stick to the bottom of the pot! If there is anything stuck to the bottom, you can add ¼ cup water to help deglaze the pot. Make sure to remove any burnt bits before securing the lid! If there’s something stuck to the bottom, then you may get the burn error, but the chances are that if it comes to pressure, it’ll be fine once you open the pot. Some appliances/models may be more sensitive.
  • If it’s not tomato season, use canned diced tomatoes (the whole contents of the can) for the best flavor.
  • If using fresh tomatoes, I suggest using Roma tomatoes because they have less water content than other tomatoes. This results in a thicker masala. If using different fresh tomatoes, you will likely need to boil off the water at the end.
  • Make sure to adjust the temperature to sauté at the highest setting when sautéing the onions. It is up to you as to how brown you would like the onions. I have skipped fully browning them before, and the masala still turns out well. The more caramelized the onions, the sweeter the masala will be.
  • You can also make this masala without the ginger, garlic, and spices if you prefer. Just be sure to keep that in mind when preparing meals.
  • Learn how to store this masala by reading this blog post. You will want to make sure the onion masala is cold before putting it in the freezer. I store it in the fridge first, and then once it’s cold, I put it in the freezer. This helps to reduce freezer burn.
  • Check out my onion masala series to learn how to use this magical sauce!
Did you make this recipe?Tag @myheartbeets on Instagram and hashtag it #myheartbeets!

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Indian Onion Masala

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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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Comments

  1. Lani says

    5 stars
    Made this in a smaller batch, about 1/3, and ran out of ground coriander so substituted cumin (or garam masala? Forget which now). Turned out super delicious. Used a small amount for a potato recipe and the rest is chilling in my fridge in a jar to be used for an easy weeknight meal.

    In general, I am kind of in love with the recipes on this site even if I gave away my instant pot!

  2. Robyn says

    I cannot rate this recipe yet, since I have not made it. First, I am curious:

    How much giner paste can I use instead of whole ginger?

  3. kristin says

    5 stars
    Wow, a total gamechanger!!! I feel like I can finally cook several recipes at once in not as much time. This is such a huge help for me and my family!!!

  4. Annike says

    How much time do you naturally pressure release for?
    Most IP recipes will indicate either 1) manually pressure release or 2) naturally pressure release after X minutes.
    Otherwise I don’t know when to open it…
    Thanks!

  5. Noha says

    Hi Ashley. Just made a batch and looking forward to using them. Complete eye-opener idea to make these beforehand.

    Wanted to ask you the reason for not including salt in the recipe? Does including salt affect the frozen or after-freezing cooking result somehow?

    Thanks again!

    • Linda says

      Hij Noha, I just noticed this too, and wonderd about it. And just thought to myself; I’ll just add it, for I always add it at this step if I cook it ‘normally’

    • Linda says

      Ah, way down here I found Ashleys answer
      Ashley – My Heart Beets
      January 28, 2022 at 8:53 am

      Hi Kavitha, I don’t add salt to the onion masala – I add it to the recipes directly. This way I know exactly how much salt is going into a dish. Hope that helps!

  6. Sarika says

    I make this 2-3 times per year and freeze in 1/4 cup blocks. This weekend I made a double batch. I’ve been doing this for years. Thanks a billion!

  7. Leah says

    5 stars
    I love this masala so much! It’s literally been life changing for me . I can now whip up a Punjabi feast in short time and none of my Punjabi in-laws are any the wiser. Thank you so much Ashley!

      • Virginia says

        5 stars
        My instant pot (I have the 8quart) always gives me a burn message unless I add like four times the amount of water the recipe calls for. Can I just cook this on the stove? How long would you cook it for? Thanks I love this onion Masala and all your recipes I’ve tried with it, just it always ends up too watery and I’m trying to figure out a way to get around that.

        • Ben says

          I just made a batch of this on the stove top in a stainless saute pan. It took longer for the onions to caramelize but it worked just as well.

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