Explore efficient meal planning fundamentals for Indian-style cooking in our comprehensive guide. Learn the basics of Indian cuisine and pick up useful tips and tricks along the way.
Indian cuisine is famous for its rich and diverse flavors, which have been developed over centuries, with a mix of cultural influences and regional specialties. The aroma of Indian spices can instantly transport us back to our childhood and bring back memories of home-cooked meals. However, in today's fast-paced lifestyle, meal-planning for Indian-style cooking can seem like a daunting task. With busy schedules and limited time, it's easy to turn to unhealthy takeout options instead of cooking nutritious and delicious meals at home. But with some simple planning and preparation, you can enjoy the authentic taste of Indian cuisine without sacrificing your health or convenience.
But first, it's important to understand why a significant number of Indians residing in the US struggle with preparing traditional Indian meals:
Indians in the US lead busy lives, with work, school, and other commitments taking up much of their time. As a result, they may not have the time to cook Indian meals from scratch, which often require a lot of preparation.
They may also experience cultural assimilation, whereby they adopt aspects of the dominant culture they are surrounded by, which can include changes to their diet. This can lead to a loss of interest in traditional Indian foods and cooking techniques.
Depending on where they live, they may have difficulty finding certain Indian ingredients, which can make it challenging to cook authentic Indian dishes. This can be especially true for those living in areas with limited access to Indian grocery stores or restaurants.
Indians living abroad often face these common obstacles that limit their ability to explore the Indian cuisine. This can lead to a disconnection from their ethnic foods. Moreover, second-generation Indians in the US may not have had the institutional knowledge about traditional Indian cooking.
However, this shouldn't discourage you from indulging in some of best dishes India has to offer, right?
Through our article, we intend to offer you extensive guidance that will assist you in creating the Indian meals that you've cherished since childhood or have been eager to try.
When it comes to Indian-style meal planning, it's essential to start by creating a well-designed meal plan that includes a diverse range of dishes. Begin by brainstorming a list of dishes you want to make, searching for inspiration in recipe books, articles, and food pages. Look for easy-to-prepare Indian meal prep recipes that encompass various options such as salads, curries, breads, desserts and more.
Once you have your list, divide the dishes into two categories: those that you can make regularly and those that are best saved for less busy days. For example, if you have an early morning office commute on Wednesdays, it may be more practical to prepare poha or rather than making a stuffed paratha.
Setting a schedule involves deciding when to cook each dish. Try accounting for as many meals as possible making your Indian meal plan a healthy blend of staples, curries, accompaniments and leftovers. This will help you avoid decision fatigue during busy weekdays and make eating at home more convenient and enjoyable.
Tailor your Indian meal plan to suit your needs. Meal prepping can be executed in broadly two ways:
Prepping ingredients involves preparing and portioning them ahead of time so that they can be quickly tossed together during mealtimes. This process includes cutting vegetables, mixing spices, making curry sauces, marinating proteins, and soaking lentils and beans.
Cooking meals in batches involves making large quantities of food in one day and storing it for future use. This method is great for big families. However, if you prioritize taste and variety, batch cooking may not be your best bet.
So, research about both these techniques well before starting with meal prep.
See how both of them compare - Meal Prep vs Batch Cooking
Meal prep requires cooking in bulk. So, before starting with it, you must purchase prep tools, sturdier utensils and storage vessels. These include –
List down all the necessary ingredients you need for this week’s meal plan, regardless of whether you already have them or not. Next, check your pantry to see what all you got and separate them from the items that you need to purchase. Now that you have your grocery list ready, note the quantity of each ingredient to be purchased.
Related: The Ultimate Shopping Guide for Plant-Based Foods
Buying in bulk is economical and saves you from repeated trips to the store. So, you must decide which ingredients to stock up on based on their shelf life and frequency of usage. This will help you buy the right quantity and ensure that you always have the necessary ingredients on hand.
Indian cuisine utilizes large quantities of seasonal vegetables so cutting them is time-consuming. You can save yourself some time and energy by buying pre-cut vegetables from the store. You can subscribe to a service that sends small portions of pre-cut vegetables daily or purchase them for the entire week and freeze them.
However, if you prefer cutting vegetables at home, you should do it straightaway after purchasing. Cut and refrigerated vegetables stay fresh longer and you have them ready for use during mealtimes.
Legumes like beans and peas are the main ingredients of several main course dishes like curries, cooked veggies or dal (lentil curry). Additionally, you can toss them in salads or use them in rolls and sandwich fillings any day.
While you can stock on raw legumes for months, they last for only about a week in the refrigerator when soaked. So, soak or cook a week’s worth of beans and peas for your protein-rich lunches.
Making roti or paratha dough requires a great deal of energy irrespective of their quantity. So, rather than kneading the dough every day, do it in bulk for the whole week. Cover it with a cling film before refrigerating and it will stay fresh and ready to use.
Similarly, you can make and store batter for dosa, cheela or vada. They stay crisp for well over a week.
Having stuffing for sandwiches and parathas ready can be an efficient way to save time and effort during busy weekdays. So, choose 2-3 varieties from among cooked vegetables, potatoes, meat or tofu, cheese, and herbs. Prepare the stuffings at the start of the week. Next, store them in airtight containers or resealable bags. Don’t forget to label and date to ensure that you have them before they go bad.
Meal prepping can be made easier by using different cooking methods. Here are some Indian cooking techniques that you can use to meal prep:
Pressure cookers are a great investment for Indian kitchens. With a pressure cooker, you can cook rice, pulses, beans, lentils and vegetables in a fraction of the time it would take to cook them on a stove.
Learn how to cook with a pressure cooker.
Grilling is a great method for meal prepping chicken, fish and vegetables; especially when you want to add a smoky flavor to your food and it can be done quickly.
Learn different Indian grilling methods.
Vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots can be roasted in the oven. Roasting can bring out the sweetness in vegetables and create a crispy texture.
Learn how to be a pro at oven roasting.
Slow cookers can be used to cook curries, stews and soups. Slow cooking allows the flavors to develop and can create a more intense and rich flavor profile. It is also a great way to cook tough cuts of meat that take a long time to cook. So, you can start slow cooking once almost finished with meal prep and engage in other chores or relax while food cooks.
Find Out: Best Slow Cookers of 2023
Aromatic condiment balance is the distinguishing feature of traditional Indian cooking. To attain the right flavors, it is better to prepare condiments in advance. This method can save you a lot of time and help you stick to your Indian meal plan. There are three main types of condiments that you can prepare ahead of time: spice mixes, chutneys, and ginger-garlic type condiments.
Spice mixes are an essential part of Indian cuisine, especially for some delicate curries and snacks. So, make large batches of spice mixes like garam masala, chaat masala, and sambar powder and store them in airtight containers. These spice mixes can be used to add flavor to a variety of dishes and last you for months.
Chutneys are another important component of Indian cuisine and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. Chutneys made of mint, coriander, and coconut can not only serve as great accompaniments but work well as spreads. Besides, you can also make condiments like hummus and cheesy dips in large batches and store them in small jars or containers, ready to be used as needed.
This includes vegetables and herbs that serve as condiments; such as ginger, garlic, green chillies and coriander. You can store peeled garlic, grated ginger, shredded herbs and cut green chillies in an airtight box for over 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Besides, you can also wrap herbs (like coriander) in a damp towel and keep safely inside a zip-lock bag.
Find out more here: The Essential Guide to Indian Condiments
The basic onion-tomato sauce is highly versatile and will go well with several meal prep recipe ideas. It complements protein dishes, makhani gravies and even regular desi curries. However, it takes over half an hour to make from scratch so it is convenient to prepare a jar full of curry paste to be consumed over a month.
Besides onion-tomato sauce, you can also make other varieties of curry pastes. You may also prepare spice pastes like those made of ginger-garlic, green chili and herbs. These condiments can be used to add flavor to curries, marinades, and even rice dishes. Just make sure that they have about twice or thrice the consistency of what would have been required if you were utilizing the pastes straightaway.
Preparing snack jars in advance can be a convenient and inclusive meal planning solution. These jars can hold pre-portioned snacks that include ingredients commonly used in Indian cuisine, such as fruits like mangoes, bananas, and papayas. Oat jars can be made by mixing rolled oats with yogurt or milk, and adding honey, cardamom, and nuts like almonds, pistachios, or cashews.
Salad jars can be created by layering leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and lettuce, along with vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers, and topped with protein sources like boiled eggs, grilled chicken, or paneer. Indian-style smoothies or milkshakes can also be made by blending ingredients like mango, banana, or coconut milk with spices like saffron or turmeric.
Indian cuisine has a wide range of delicious dishes that can be made in large quantities for leftovers, which can then be repurposed into new dishes.
Repurpose leftover rice to make dishes like coconut rice, fried rice or jeera rice by adding some spices, veggies and protein. Use roasted or grilled leftover chicken in sandwiches, salads or wraps for a quick and easy snack. Make a vegetable stock with leftover vegetable scraps to use as a base for soups, stews, and gravies. Leftover dal can be turned into delicious dishes like dal makhani or dal fry by adding some cream, spices, and aromatics.
Check out more recipe ideas with leftovers.
Proper storage of meal-prepped ingredients and batch-cooked meals is essential to keep them fresh and safe for consumption. Here are some tips on how to do that right.
Store meal prepped ingredients like chopped vegetables, mixed spices, or marinated proteins in airtight containers to prevent spoilage and retain freshness. It is safer to use glass or BPA-free plastic containers.
When freezing prepped ingredients or batch-cooked meals, use freezer-safe containers that can withstand low temperatures without cracking. Ziplock bags or glass containers with tight-fitting lids are good options.
Cooked meals can also be stored in the refrigerator or freezer depending on how soon you plan to consume them. Store ingredients that will be used within a few days in the refrigerator and those that won't be used soon in the freezer.
When thawing frozen meals, do it safely in the refrigerator overnight or using the defrost function in the microwave.
Label your containers with the contents and date of preparation to ensure that you use them within the recommended time frame.
When starting with meal prep, it is important to have a fallback plan in case something goes wrong. This can be something as simple as having frozen meals or ordering takeout on days you don’t have the time and energy to cook at all. You can also have a few snacks on hand or quick easy recipes for when you run out of prepped meals.
We recommend that rather than opting for unplanned take-outs, you make something at home to keep the habit going; be it frozen lentils or packaged flat-breads. In any case, having a fallback plan ensures that you don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed with the meal prep process.
Meal prepping can be a daunting task, so it's best to start with small steps. First, select one meal, like breakfast or lunch, and choose one or two easy-to-make meal prep recipes that can be scaled up for multiple servings. Create a list of required ingredients, select a specific day or time for meal prep, and set a reminder. On the prep day, purchase the necessary ingredients and prepare 4-6 meals for the upcoming week. This approach provides ample time to experiment with different ingredients and develop a personalized Indian meal plan. Gradually, as you gain confidence in meal prep, you can start exploring with more complex Indian dishes.
To make Chicken Korma, exactly like Kishwar Chowdhury, read our step-by-step recipe guide. And to learn more about Nymble, do read on!
Planning an Indian meal can be overwhelming, and while these helpful tips can assist with the process, maintaining a regular cooking routine can still be tiring. Although kitchen technology has introduced various kinds of smart cookers and smart ovens over the years, they have mostly been designed to replicate western cooking techniques. They are usually not well-suited for the Indian cuisine. The complex blend of spices and herbs, along with various cooking techniques like roasting, sautéing, and frying, make Indian style of cooking very distinctive. The stirring consistency while cooking an Indian dish is also crucial to achieve a desirable result.
The Rotimatic was a unique invention that could autonomously make traditional Indian-style flatbreads known as Rotis. It changed the way may of its users started making Rotis on a regular basis at home. While Rotimatic has been a game-changer, a significant number of Indians in the US have stressed the need for an automated curry-maker (the “Currymatic”, if you will), to complete the seamless Indian dining experience at home.
This is where we wanted to make a difference.
We built a fully automated kitchen robot specializing in (but not limited to) Indian cuisine. Engineered to replicate the dexterity of Indian cooking, this robot can cook up to 500+ recipes and lets you have complete control over your food. It lets you filter recipes based on preferences, diet, calories, and ingredients of choice. You can also schedule meals ahead of time, or track recipe progress in real time from your phone.
To learn more about our product, visit our early-access page.