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)

4.89 from 62 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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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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Comments

  1. Stephen Dunn says

    Hi Ashley, I notice you use Cayenne spice in A lot of your recipe’s, Can I use Indian red chilli powder instead

    • Ashley - My Heart Beets says

      Hi Stephen, yes, you can definitely use chili powder instead of cayenne. I use cayenne in my recipes because it is more consistent in terms of spiciness. Indian chilli powder can vary quite a bit. You can always use red chilli to taste.

  2. TRacy says

    5 stars
    This recipe is absolutely life-changing! During quarantine, I have missed going to a local Indian buffet so I decided to learn to cook Indian Food. I freeze this Masala in her recommended containers and the recipes she gives to go with it are awesome! I whip up food so quickly with it – even with a chronic illness that often makes cooking pasta difficult. My husband is the happiest he has ever been with dinners! Delicious and healthy! Thank you so much for this!

    One question – does your published cookbook have recipes (or modifications) to use with this Masala?

  3. Jayesh says

    4 stars
    Ashley,

    Have you tried this recipe in slow cook mode?

    I think some of the IP models are more sensitive to burn notices, and they don’t like the thick tomato sauce. I struggled with burn notice 3 times tonight. It’s been 45 minutes. Every time, it spends 15 minutes getting to pressure, and then gives a burn notice. I’ve tried adding water. I’ve tried scraping the bottom. Last time, there was nothing in the bottom. It still gave me burn notice.

    Finally, I’m giving up, and imma slow cook this for 5 hours.

    • Ashley - My Heart Beets says

      Hi Jayesh, I’m sorry for the trouble! You’re right, newer IPs are more sensitive – I’ve now listed adding water as part of the recipe rather than having it in the notes. It should help to do it up front vs. after the burn sign. I’ve noticed that sometimes, even if a burn sign comes up – if you give it a few minutes the sign will go away on its own and go back to counting. If this happens again, you can try waiting to see if it will go away. Please let me know if that helps in the future. For now, I’m sure it’ll be fine if you slow cook it.

    • Meghan says

      I’m having the same problem! I tried 3 times and I’m giving up. I guess I’ll try slow cooking.

      • Breeanna Charlesworth says

        Yes I also gave up on the pressure cooking, and went to slow cook. I added a whole cup of water, but still it burnt to the bottom of the pan. It wasn’t a false alarm, the bottom was really burned. I had used canned tomatoes, so I think the sugars may be a factor. I have a IP Duo Nova for the record, a fairly recent model.

        But, the masala is really nice, so I just know for next time to slow cook instead. I have had no other issues with any of the pressure cook recipes from this site.

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