Generic Indian Sabzi
My friends and colleagues have often asked me to teach them how to make
"Indian food". After remonstrating with them that that's too wide and
generic a topic, I relented and wrote this "framework" of a recipe that can
produce many different Indian-tasting dishes. The framework produces a
sabzi which, in North India, stands for sauteed vegetables and
spices with no gravy.
Well, not really mandatory, but if you want Indian flavours, you should use
as many of these as you can lay your hands on.
- Oil (olive oil or vegetable oil) - 1 tbsp
- Black mustard seeds - 1 tsp
- Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
- Garlic - 2 cloves
- Ginger - 1/2 a finger's worth
- Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
- Red chilli powder (or cayenne or paprika) - 1 tsp
- Salt - to taste
Obviously, you need vegetables or meat substitutes in the dish. I like to
pick 2-3 from the list below to get colour, texture and flavour contrasts.
A lone vegetable by itself can be boring. A dish with nine vegetables is
confusing. For the most part, you can cook vegetables as long or as little
as you want. Some commonsense tips:
Forthwith, here are some "classic" veggies you can use, roughly in the
order you'd throw them into the pot. Use about 2 cups, all put.
- Raw onions are not for everyone. If you want your onions cookied well,
they should go in either as the first ingredient after the mandatory ones,
or right after "hard" veggies like green pepppers.
- Eating raw potatoes will hurt your stomach.
- If you cook vegetables too lightly, you'll get the taste of spices on
the outside, but not the inside.
- If your vegetables are too chunky, they won't cook evenly and are hard
to eat with fingers. Cut them too small and the delicate ones will turn to
- Different vegetables have different cooking times. "Hard" veggies like
green peppers, cauliflower and carrots will take longer to cook. Water
veggies like squash or zucchini will cook rapidly.
- Potatoes (raw, diced)
- Green peppers (diced)
- Onions or shallots (diced medium)
- Green beans (cut inch-long, blanch first)
- Cauliflower (florets)
- Sweet potatoes or yams (cubed)
- Tomatoes (cubed)
- Tempeh or seitan (cubed)
- Cabbage (shredded)
- Red bell peppers (diced)
- Baby corn
- Potatoes (boiled, diced)
- Green peas (separated neatly)
- Zucchini (cubed)
- Tofu (cubed)
Every one of these will add depth of flavour, but if they're too esoteric
for your kitchen, don't bother.
- Cinnamon - 1 stick broken
- Cloves - 5-6
- Fennel seeds - 1 tsp
- Bay leaves - dried, 2-3
- Cardamom - 2-3 pods lightly crushed
- Curry leaves - 4-5
- Green chillies - 2
- Coriander powder - 2 tsp
- Curry powder - 2 tsp
- Garam masala - 2 tsp
- Cinnamon - 1 tsp powder
- Cloves - 1 tsp powder
- Coconut flakes - 2 tbsp
- Crushed dried fenugreek leaves - 1 tbsp
- Cilantro leaves - 4-5 stalks
- Lemon juice - 1 tsp
All of the spices and proportions can be modified to suit your taste.
Experiment as you go along and increase or decrease this or that spice
depending on your liking and what's available. You're welcome!
- Prep is everything. Have everything cut, cubed, diced and ready to go.
Indian food is not forgiving of mistakes at the start.
- Start with mandatory list.
- Heat oil at medium high. Heat until it's hot but not smoky.
- Add mustard. Wait for few seeds to pop. Messy.
- Add cumene. Wait for it to brown lightly.
- Add garlic, ginger, saute for 10 seconds.
- Add turmeric.
- Immediately move on to necessary list.
- Add veggies. Remember, maybe 2-3 of that list, preferably in that
order, giving time for hard veggies to cook a bit before you move on to
- Let the veggies caramelise a bit.
- Add chilli powder.
- Add salt to taste.
- If the bottom is browning, or you don't have enough water in your
veggies (e.g., you used carrots and cauliflower), sprinkle a fistful of
- Cover the pan, bring heat to medium-low.
- Cook this way for about 15-20 mins. Occasionally, turn the veggies
over for a more even caramel.
- Serve when ready.
- Whoa, what happened to the optional ingredients?! Save them for the
next time you cook, ha ha.
- If using cinnamon and cloves, add them before mustard seeds.
- If using fennel, bay leaves and cardamom, add them after cumene seeds.
- If using curry leaves and green chillies, add them along with
garlic and ginger.
- If using any powders, add them after the veggies. If you want to
be contrarian and add before the veggies (to get a smokier flavour),
don't burn them! Lower the heat, add the powders and add the veggies
- Garnish with lemon juice, cilantro just before serving.