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!
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 to a lot of Indian dishes and by preparing it in advance, you can significantly reduce the cook time for many Indian recipes.
Indian Onion Masala, also known as onion tomato gravy, is nothing new to those of us who cook Indian food on a daily basis. I have been watching my parents make onion masala 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 everyday.
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 a lot of 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.
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 will likely need to boil off some of the water at the end.
If tomatoes are not in season where you live, then go for canned (or jarred). Yes, I realize fresh tomatoes are always preferable BUT canned tomatoes are packed 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).
How to Use Indian Onion Masala in Recipes:
Want to know how to use this onion masala in recipes? Then check out my Indian Onion Masala Blog Series 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!
I’ll be sharing plenty of recipes during the month of February so get your masala ready!
By clicking on this graphic below, you’ll get to what I’m calling the
Indian Onion Masala Headquarters:
Here’s how this series works:
- Make the recipe below for Indian onion masala.
- Read this post about how to store onion masala.
- 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.
- Take all of your onion masala knowledge and apply it to any Indian recipe calling for onions and tomatoes! Hooray!
Having this masala ready to go is the best way to meal prep when it comes to Indian Cuisine. In fact, I’d say it’s basically essential if you want to enjoy Indian food everyday. So go on and make this masala!
Then be sure to read this post to learn how I freeze it: How to Store and Use Indian Onion Masala
- 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
Spices (adjust to taste):
- 3 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 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 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.
- Read this blog post to learn how to store and use this masala then go check out all of my onion masala recipes!
- There is no need to add additional water to this recipe as the onions and tomatoes release enough water.
- Getting a burn error? Some of you have mentioned having this issue and my suggestion is to make sure you are using enough oil so that the onions don’t stick to the bottom of the pot! Also, if there is anything stuck to the bottom, you can add a bit of 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. I have made this masala many times and have never had this happen but 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 compared to other tomatoes. This results in a thicker masala. If using different tomatoes, you will likely need to boil off 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, 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!