Yes, it’s lovely to spend a lazy afternoon in a spice-scented kitchen, surrounded by pots and pans all a’hubble and a’bubble – but slow, involved cooking is a lot of trouble you simply don’t need when you’re in need of a speedy feed.
In spite of popular opinion, cooking authentic Indian food at home doesn’t always require the patience of a saint, a command of esoteric techniques, and an ingredients list as long as your arm – although sometimes it both does and should. But the hungry and time poor will be relieved to know that the subcontinent does’quick and easy’ with absolutely no compromise on flavour and satisfaction.
My own favourite fast food is poha – grains of beaten rice that need nothing more than a quick soak before they’re tossed up into a heavenly hash with various other low-maintenance flavourings. Appearing in various incarnations across India, it’s most closely associated with the state of Maharashtra, where it’s relished as a morning meal and includes boiled potatoes and chopped Bombay onions, the latter lending it the prefix ‘kanda’.
Bengal‘s chirer pulao is the East coast’s own incarnation, whilst down South, ‘poha’ is known as ‘aval’ and often served sweet or made tangy with tamarind. My own version, meanwhile, has only personal provenance. Urad dal, mustard seeds, dried red chilli, curry leaves and asafoetida are sizzled in hot coconut oil, mixed with the soaked, drained grains, and the dish further flavoured with ground turmeric, chopped red onion and coriander, and a good squidge of lemon juice.
Over time, optional and excellent extras have included cubed ripe avocado, coconut meat, green peas, grated coconut, fried raisins, peanuts and sweet potatoes. Not all at once, of course, but poha is almost always accommodating. The beauty of this dish is its flexibility.
And it’s by no means the only quick fix foodstuff that desi domestic goddesses and gods keep up their sleeves. So take five minutes out of your busy schedule and discover the dishes my fine Indian food friends suggest you add to your own arsenal – all almost instant and entirely mouth-watering.
Kanthi Thamma, Head Chef & Co-Owner, Curry Leaf Cafe
Don’t neglect leftovers! My mom used to rustle up so many lovely rice dishes like tamarind or coconut rice (just a couple of the dishes known as ‘variety rice’ in South India) in minutes from uneaten cooked rice – we’d eat it at breakfast and I’d also find it in my school lunch box. Most of the time, because I loved it, she’d make tamarind rice – ‘chintapandu pulihora’.
If you want to make it, just heat some oil in a frying pan set over medium heat and add mustard seeds, dried red chilies, sliced green chillies, chana dal, chopped ginger, curry leaves and turmeric. Once the mustard seeds crackle, add some peanuts and cook for a couple more minutes. A pinch of pungent asafoetida – ‘hing’ – at the stage is optional; my mom used to avoid it as I felt it was too strong when I was a kid. Add in some tamarind pulp once the peanuts are roasted, and cook for a few minutes to get rid of the tamarind’s raw flavour. Pour the mix into the cooked rice and give it a good stir – that’s pretty much it, all within about ten minutes.
To add a nutty flavour, my aunt used to add toasted, powdered sesame seeds – but I say, just add a spoonful of tahini if you want to go this route.
Tamarind rice is a must at home on every festive occasion, including my and my brother’s birthdays, so, I have a lot of fond memories of this dish. It also has a lot of religious and spiritual importance in South India; a must as a divine offering in temples, and a very important component of meals served there.
To read more about Kanthi’s approach to cooking and thoughts on Indo-French ‘fine dining’, click here
Mallika Basu, aka ‘Miss Masala‘, food writer, cookbook author & pop-up chef
When asked about quick Indian dishes, I immediately think of upma, a spiced porridge or hash which you can make not only from coarse semolina (probably the best-known form), but also oats, cubes of bread or even shredded rotis! Bread upma is a fantastic way to use leftover bread that’s lost its pillowy texture and is great snack or breakfast to boot.
To make it, roughly chop and onion and a tomato and slice the bread into large bite-sized pieces. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan set over a high heat, then sizzle half a teaspoon each of mustard and cumin seeds and ten curry leaves. Mix in the onions, then reduce the heat to medium and saute for five minutes until the onions soften and start to colour. Toss in the tomatoes, half a teaspoon each of turmeric and chilli powder, and salt. Stir well for two minutes and as the tomatoes start to disintegrate, gently mix in the bread cubes. When the bread is hot and well coated in the masala, sprinkle with fresh coriander and serve.
And then there’s bhurji, an Indian home cooking classic that’s made from scrambled beaten eggs or, as here, paneer. For this quick, wholesome and delectable treat, chop an onion, two small tomatoes, and 250g paneer into little pieces. Heat a tablespoon of oil on high in a small wok or frying pan. When hot, add a teaspoon of cumin seeds and a bay leaf. As they sizzle up, stir in the onions and tomatoes and saute for about five minutes. By this time the onions will be soft and the tomatoes disintegrated. Now mix in a little turmeric and chilli powder and fry for another two minutes until the raw smell of the spices disappears. Finally, stir in the paneer and mix thoroughly, smashing it up with your spoon as you do to get a crumbly mixture. Add salt to taste, sprinkle with fresh coriander and eat hot, while the paneer is soft and full of flavour.
For all Mallika’s culinary gyaan and quick Indian recipes galore, click here
Cyrus Todiwala, Chef-Patron, Cafe Spice Namaste, Mr. Todiwala’s Kitchen, The Park Cafe & Assado Goan Canteen
There is so much to talk about in this vein; like the super masala omelette – beaten eggs enriched with chopped onion, tomato, green chilli and fresh coriander before frying. Eaten with hot toast and butter, it’s NIRVANA. Another great dish is upma, aka ‘the South Indian polenta’.
The preparation of this semolina dish is not too far removed from poha – mustard seeds are fried in hot oil until they crackle, then split white lentils or yellow peas are added along with green chilli, curry leaves, chopped onions and cashew or peanuts. Once the onions soften, the semolina (‘sooji’ or ‘rawa’) goes in and is sauteed for a minute or two, followed by enough water to achieve a porridge-like consistency. Sprinkle with some fresh coriander if you have it (though it’s not compulsory), season well, and enjoy!
To read a review of Cyrus’s cookbook, ‘Mr Todiwala’s Bombay’, click here
Pratap Chahal aka That Hungry Chef, pop-up chef and artisan producer
Chaat generally refers to any kind of street food that frequently involves yoghurt, tamarind, sev (gram flour noodles), coriander and chilli. One of my favourite and quick snacks is potato-based aloo chaat. All it involves is dicing and boiling a couple of potatoes, draining them and sauteeing in hot oil or ghee until golden brown. Then the chunks are sprinkled with the piquant spice blend chaat masala, plated, and drizzled with of both yoghurt and tamarind chutney (my favourite is Maggi brand).
Top generously with sev – or even Bombay mix – chopped coriander, chopped red onion, and peanuts, and voila! You have a delicious and very satisfying snack ready in ten to fifteen minutes without barely any effort. Add a little chilli if you like things hot…
To read more about Pratap’s favourite food, click here
Palash Mitra, Head Chef, Scarfes Bar at The Rosewood Hotel
We eat a lot of poha at home as a family, but a lot of times we do it the Bengali way – crisping the thick variety in a hot, dry kadai then adding soaked channa dal, dry-roasted peanuts, fresh grated coconut and salt and sugar along with the typical chopped green chillies and onion, finishing it all with a squeeze of lemon.
We also get through a lot of spiced up masala ‘French’ toast which is a bit unusual, soaking basic banana bread in last night’s leftover curry, coating it in eggs beaten with red chilli powder, turmeric and crushed black pepper, and pan-frying it. We eat this with straberry and champagne marmalade and it tastes just awesome.
Another really easy dish is sweet-savoury fruit chaat. I’m mainly making it with berries these days; tossing together the fruit and hot, crushed falafel and topping the mix with tamarind chutney and yogurt that’s been seasoned with salt, red chilli powder and roasted cumin.
Then there’s leftover chicken curry and rice which we roll up in tortillas with kachumbar salad; a sort of Indian version of Tex Mex burritos. Sometimes I break an egg over each tortilla when it heats up on a hot pan – this gives it a taste like an authentic Kolkata mughlai paratha!
To read more about Palash’s food at Scarfes bar, click here
- To read more about masala omelettes and all sorts of other Indian brunch recipes, click here
- For Indian afternoon tea inspiration and a recipe from Devnaa’s cookbook, click here
- To read more about poha and more deliciously unusual Indian rice dishes, click here
- For a foodie interview with ‘That Hungry Chef’ Pratap Chahal, click here
- To read about Alfred Prasad’s tale on South Indian street food, click here