During the time I’ve spent in online Indian cooking communities, one question comes up time and time again – which pan is best for cooking Indian curries?
The answer I give people most often is that you can cook Indian food with whatever pots and pans you have in your house. You don’t need any special equipment to make delicious food – even I learnt how to make curries and chapatis on an old election stovetop with non-stick pans. However, do good specialist pans make a difference to your cooking? Absolutely.
If you cook Indian food regularly and have just a little money to invest, then good cookware will make it much easier for you to get consistently great results with much less effort.
These are the essentials I can’t live without:
- Kadai – a metal pan with high, slopping sides.
- Tawa – for cooking Indian breads like Chapati, Paratha and Naan.
- Masala Dabba – for storing & easy access to your most used spices.
- Pressure Cooker – for saving time and cooking Dal.
- Mixer Grinder – for making chutneys, pastes, and spice mixes.
In the list below I have included all the Indian cookware you can imagine with helpful information and links to buy. I’ve included not just pots and pans but utensils, storage pots, everyday items and ones for special occasions.
Pots & Pans
A concave pan without sides for bread.
A good tawa is essential for making Indian breads. The most popular Indian breads – chapati/roti, paratha and naan – are all cooked using a tawa. Ideally you want a variety which is not non-stick as it will enable you to cook all these breads. Iron, carbon steel, or aluminium are all good choices.
It is different from an ordinary frying pan as the lack of sides makes it much easier to flip the breads, and the size (usually around 28cm) is tailor made to be perfect.
Most tawa have concave (curved) bases. This is because traditionally food was cooked over an outdoor fire, and the base needed to be as close as possible to flames. However, this design has still prevailed today!
This type of tawa should have a handle- wood is best. Larger tawa are used for cooking curries and may come without handles, but for bread making this type is ideal.
A large pan used for cooking curries.
A Kadai is quite possibly the most-used pan in an Indian household. They can typically be described as a large, deep bottomed saucepan. Traditional Kadai have slopping sides and completely rounded bottoms, but modern-day designs include flat-bottomed versions and straight sides which are more accessible for a modern kitchen.
Kadai can have no handles at all, straight handles on both sides (like the ones pictured), upright handles, side handles, and even just one handle (like a frying pan).
They can also be made of various materials. Traditionally they are made from Aluminium, Iron, Steel or a mixed Metal. But nowadays many Indian households opt for non-stick varieties too. Find one that suits you!
They can be used for anything from deep frying to cooking curries and stir fries.
A small curved pot with a flat lid.
Patela are small metal saucepans which can be used for making food, cooking food, and even serving food. They usually come in sets of various sizes which easily stack inside each other for practical storage. Patela have a distinctive shape with a lipped rim and flat lids (which can double as plates).
They can have various bottoms, from steel to copper and induction friendly too. The bottom is always flat (unlike the kadai). One thing to note however is that it’s easy to ‘catch’ food on the bottom and burn it – so be careful.
These pots can be used for cooking curries, boiling vegetables, cooking dal, boiling milk for chai, and even as lovely serving dishes.
Because they have no handles by design, you will need sanshi to pick them up.
A pot which decerases cooking time.
Pressure cookers, although you may not think so, are a vital tool for an Indian kitchen. They are extremely popular in India for a few reasons – fuel is expensive, so for the average family pressure cookers save money; traditional Indian meals can be very complicated and therefore time consuming; and, lentil & bean dishes make up a large proportion of the Indian diet and are cooked daily.
By using a pressure cooker, you can significantly decrease the time it takes to make Dal, along with several other dishes. I also use my pressure cooker to make rice (so easy!), and it also doubles up as a steamer.
Did you know you can even use a pressure cooker to make Naan or Tandoori Roti? The sides can mimic a tandoor!
Very small pot for cooking tempering.
This is such a handy little pan to have! Tempering (Or Tadka, in Hindi) is the backbone of so many Indian dishes and really infuses them with a burst of flavour.
These little pans are designed for heating a small amount of oil to bloom spices (tempering) before pouring over a dish such as Dal Takda or Sambar. They have a practical handle which usually has some sort of dent in the middle so the pan will stay upright despite its curved shape.
You can also use these little pans for dry-roasting small batches of whole spices before grinding them into a powder later.
A STEAMER WITH IDLI MOULDS.
Idli steamers are a must have if you enjoy cooking South Indian food! Although primarily used for cooking Idli (Savoury fluffy steamed rice & lentil ‘cakes’), they can be used in more ways than one.
These idli steamers have detachable Idli moulds which fit perfectly inside it. You can also buy these idli moulds separately. Some sets provide both idli moulds and steamer plates, which is so versatile and an excellent option for any kitchen! You can use these steamer plates to make various small steamed dishes such as Momos, Modak, Dhokla, and even other East-Asian dishes like Bao, as well as healthy preparation of various vegetables.
Paniyarakkal (Appe Pan)
A pan to make Fried & steamed dumplings.
This is a special pan used in India for making the breakfast delicacy known as Appe, Paniyaram, and Paddu in various languages.
However, like many different Indian cookware items this pan has more uses than just one. As well as it’s intended purpose of making Appe, you can also use this pan to make healthy and guilt free variations of all your favourite Indian snacks.
Things like Batata Vada, Dahi Vada, Kofta, Vegetable Manchurian, Tikki, Bread Rolls and Nargisi Kofta can all be made without deep frying in this Appe pan.
You can even use it to make non-Indian dishes like falafels and sweet doughnuts.
Mitti ki Handi
A traditional clay cooking pot.
An extremely traditional piece of Cookware, these clay pots both look beautiful and impart a delicious flavour into your food. Used in rural India for centuries, clay pots are used to cook Biryani as well as various Handi dishes. Clay has been hailed as healthy cookware option as it requires you to use less oil in your cooking.
Although the benefits are astounding, clay pots require a lot of upkeep and even ‘seasoning’ before use if the pot is unglazed. To season, wash the pot thoroughly with plain water, soak it in water overnight, and then soak in starch water for 3 days before drying. Finally rub all over with oil and dry once more before cooking. Keep the heat to low at first while cooking to further prevent cracking. This is essential as without these steps the pot can break.
Wash with plain water (not soapy water), as clay is absorbent.
Flat Cast iron pan for making dosa.
A good Dosa Tawa is vitial to making the best, crispiest Dosa. So many people find Dosa hard to cook, but may not realise that a huge part of the problem is not having the right cookware.
You should be using a separate tawa to cook Dosa than you do for Chapati, Paratha and Naan. A Dosa Tawa should be thick-based and cast iron. Cast iron is what gives a beautiful golden crust to the Dosa, and the flat based (as opposed to the concave base of a Chapati tawa) makes it easy to spread the batter.
You can also use a Dosa Tawa for Uttapam.
Cast Iron is a great investment, doesn’t have to break the bank and will make a huge difference to your Dosa. Just note that cast iron tawa need to be seasoned with oil before and inbetween use.
Tongs for lifting handleless pots.
These little tongs are incredibly useful for all manner of things. Although we don’t use them much in the West, they are extremely important for traditional Indian cookware, as a lot of the pans used don’t have handles – such as Kadai and Patela. Therefore, these tongs are used everyday for picking up hot pans and pouring from them.
They have a permanent place in my utensils draw – where they take up such little space – and I find myself reaching for them every-time I cook a meal. If you are using traditional Indian cookware, these are a must to save from spillage accidents or burns.
Tongs for turning chapatis.
These lightweight tongs are used for cooking chapatis and parathas. Instead of risking burning your hand on the hot tawa, simply use these tongs to easily flip your bread. They really come into their own though when you roast your chapatis directly on the gas flame – which I love to do for the charred spots and flavour it gives.
As well as flipping and puffing chapatis, chimta can also be used for Papad. Traditionally, instead of being deep fried papad (poppadom) are actually roasted for the direct flame until cooked and slightly charred. These tongs enable you to have a firm grip and move the papad around to roast different areas equally, an option you don’t have with anything else.
Ghotni (Dal Ravi)
Wooden whisk for softening dal.
This is my secret to creamy dal. A traditional wooden ‘whisk’, a ghotni has a flower shaped head which will help to whisk lentils in a way which the lighter metal wired whisk could never achieve.
Instead of using it like a wire whisk and simply drawing quick circles, take the ghotni handle between your palms and vigorously move them in opposite directions, backwards and forwards. This movement will rotate the ghotni and the lentils will slowly break down into a deliciously creamy consistency – but with some texture left, which just can’t be achieved by a blender.
To help the chapatis puff.
Chapati Pressers are ideal for those who struggle to get their chapatis puffing or don’t have access to a gas hob. When I cook chapatis, I usually puff them directly on the flame on a gas hob. However, lots of people don’t have that luxury and have to puff their chapatis directly on their tawa (see above for tawa). Instead of using a small cotton cloth bundled up to help press your chapati into puffing and risking heat-burns or accidental contact with the hot tawa, this little tool is purpose built for that process.
When your chapatis have changed colour and begun to get small spots on them, simply use this small chapati datta to press the sides of the chapati. Work your way around, prompting the air to inflate the chapati until you get a full puff.
For storing your most essential spices.
One of the most important items in any kitchen regularly cooking Indian food, a masala dabba is a beautiful and practical way to keep your spices. 7 Small Metal tin help to keep the spices separate and they each fit inside a large tin which comes with a lid.
There seems to be a misconception about the use of a Masala Dabba. It’s not meant to store all of your spices – only the ones you use regulary. The tins are not entirely airtight and as a result are not suitable for long time storage. Thus you should only store the spices you use on a regular basis and will get depleted fast inside your Masala Dabba. It’s used for easy, quick access without having to rifle through hundreds of spice tins or bags!
Masala Dabba usually come with additional small spoon which can be used for adding the spices to your dishes.
Mixer grinder for pastes and batters.
Traditionally in India all pastes, batters and spices were ground by hand. In rural India they are still made this way, but in a modern kitchen a good mixer-grinder as an essential tool.
You can use a mixer-grinder to make Masala pastes for curries, Ginger-Garlic Paste, Chutneys, Dosa & Idli batters, Lassi, and more. Most grinders nowadays also come with a spice grinder attachment to grind whole spices into fresh powders.
The grinder linked is designed specifically to make Indian food, and is extremely popular in the expat Indian community. It does everything you can imagine and more!
Chakla Belan (Laatna Polpat)
Rolling board and pin for breads.
This rolling board and pin is designed a little differently to the ones that we use in the West. The rolling board is made in exactly the right size and shape for rolling Indian breads – from chapatis, parathas, naan, bhatura and puris as well as doughs for samosa and other snacks. Likewise the rolling pin is designed to make it as easy as possible to roll out bread both fast and evenly.
There are a range of designs, with wooden being the possible popular choice but marble and other stone ones available too.
The ‘belan’ (rolling pin), also comes in various shapes and sizes. The one pictured is the most common, whereas Punjabi style ones are thicker and Gujarati style are slimmer. It’s a good idea to start in-between as pictured and then find out what works best for you.
Roti / Papad Jari
Wire mesh for cooking papad, chapati and aubergine.
This wire mesh is designed to sit on top of a gas hob so you can roast items directly on the flame. Although it’s possible to cook without this tool, it’s extremely useful.
You can use it for puffing chapatis – simply place over your desired gas ring and place the chapati on top to puff. The chapati will still be direct contact with the flame but won’t risk getting punctured by the large rack on your stovetop.
It’s also wonderful for cooking Baingan Bharta – instead of having to awkwardly balance your eggplant/aubergine on the stovetop you can use this fuss-free and mess free way.
Finally, you can use it for roasting papad (poppadom) over the gas flame too!
Hamam Dasta (Khal Batta)
Mortar & Pestle for spices & pastes.
A beautiful and useful addition to any kitchen. Mortar and Pestle are used across almost every culture, and India is no exception.
Traditionally made with brass, nowadays a variety of different materials are available including wood, marble and other stone. They are also available in various sizes, from grinding small batches of spices (like this one) to larger varieties.
Hamam Dasta are most often used for grinding whole spices (after roasting). The softer, most commonly used spices such as a coriander and cumin are a breeze to crush into a fine powder, and it’s ideal for making any kind of Masala mixes such as Garam Masala or Goda Masala.
You can even use your Mortar and Pestle to make curry pastes or dishes from other cuisines like pesto!
A flat bottomed dough mixing bowl.
A flat bottomed mixing bowl, this item is extremely useless and a must-have if you regularly make Indian breads or dough. Until I had my own Parat, I didn’t realise what I was missing out on! The flat surface mimics a countertop so you can easily knead dough without having to clean or worry about hygiene. It is much easier to work the dough well on that flat surface.
I have found that a Parat is also practical because you can arrange your dough-balls in a circle and add flour to the middle of the Parat, dipping each ball in the flour before rolling out. There’s no need for multiple bowls!
You can find various designs – from plain, stainless steel Parat to ones with various designs hammered into the metal and more elaborate brass versions too.
Multi purpose tool for making snacks.
This Sev Sancha has many uses depending on what ‘disk’ you insert. You select the disk which fits your recipe, add dough inside and then turn the handle to press the dough through the disk and into your desired shape.
It’s with this device that many Indian snacks are made, including Sev, Chakli, Ghatiya, Murukku, Fafda, Kurdai, Idiyappam and more.
It can even be used to make Pasta!
They are traditionally made from brass, although stainless steel versions are also available. They must be greased with oil before use to stop the dough from sticking.