A while ago, I shared the first part of my ultimate list of The ultimate list of kitchen essentials: Part 2 (cookware) your kitchen and keep it running smoothly.
But then you also need tools to turn those ingredients into edible, delicious, satisfying food.
So, what do you need for your kitchen to cook?
With just a few cookware pieces, you can cook a whole variety of foods and dishes. Most of the utensils are versatile and multi-purpose, ideal for small kitchens and compact homes.
Luckily, most utensils are available in a variety of sizes, so if you’re cooking for just one or two people, you can go for the smallest sizes or just a size above the smallest. It’s always good to have a larger cooking utensil or two for when you want to cook in bulk for the next few days or next couple of meals, or have guests coming over.
It’s tempting to go for the smallest utensil size when you’re cooking for just one, but if you plan to cook for at least a couple of meals together, you will need a larger vessel.
Every Indian kitchen needs at least one pressure cooker. Why? Because a pressure cooker can be used for many, many things. Need to boil potatoes in a jiffy? Pressure cooker. Want to cook brown rice quickly? Pressure cooker. Prepare dal? The pressure cooker, of course.
Of course, you need a bit of umm… “special skills” to use a pressure cooker, because they need to be opened and closed in a very specific way. But once you get the hang of it, it will be super easy. (The first time I used a big pressure cooker, I had to Google “how to open pressure cooker from X brand” and I was lucky enough that they had posted a YouTube video demonstrating this).
The most popular brands in India for pressure cookers are Vinod Steel, Prestige and Hawkins, though there are many more that are also very good.
Small frying pan or skillet
Again, a versatile piece of cookware for the Indian kitchen.
A small-sized frying pan is useful for cooking for eggs and omelettes, making a quick tadka (tempering) for your dal, pan-frying something, and even making pancakes and small uttapams. Another great use- spread some butter, use it to toast your favourite grilled cheese sandwich on medium flame to get the right bit of melted cheese. Yum!!!
I use the skillet to sauté something quickly (in very small amounts) , for roasting makhana (fox nuts) and whole spices, and for cooking something lightly like pieces of paneer.
Kadhai or wok
You need at least two kadhais or woks in your kitchen, even if you’re a small household. After all, Indian subzis are best made in kadhais.
Saucepan or pateela
You will need the humble pateela every morning to make chai. These are available with a single long handle or with two or none, and both serve your purpose. I also use a medium-sized saucepan to make instant noodles, to boil some sprouts or small quantities of pasta, and even to toss up a salad (off the flame).
Large pot for dals and curries aka tope
Most Indian kitchens have large steel pots they use for a variety of reasons, for cooking rice or curries. You can invest in one such pot if you are going to cook in larger quantities. It is most helpful to have such pots with handles so they are easier to move about. But many of the larger steel pots come without handles.
Other cookware (optional, but useful):
Griddle with “lines”: This is like a stove-top grill on which you can toast your sandwiches, grill chicken, fish or even veggies and paneer.
Flat tawa with handle for dosa: This can be a non-stick tawa, because they’re generally easier to handle.
Tawa for chapatis and parathas
Other cookware essentials
Sometimes the most useful things are overlooked, because they are small, and you realise how important they are only when they are missing, like a button on your shirt.
These cooking tools are as useful as the pots and pans and griddles, and you definitely need to budget for them when you go shopping.
Wooden spoons and spatulas: For cooking, stirring, stir-frying
Ladles or karchhis: For cooking, stirring, serving dals and curries
Spatula for frying (this is the one with holes): They are also called skimmers, but not many people use that word!
Flat steel spatula for eggs, pancakes and dosas
Colander: This is a large steel strainer with a mesh for washing vegetables and draining cooked spaghetti.
Tongs aka chimta: For chapattis and parathas
Kitchen pincers aka pakkad: For lifting pots and pans that don’t have handles
Rolling board and rolling pin aka chakla and belan: For chapattis and parathas
Large steel plate aka paraat: For making dough for chapattis and parathas
Small strainer: For tea and milk
Chopping board: If you cook meat, best to have a separate board to use only for meat.
Knives: Knives are of different shapes and sizes, and each knife serves a different purpose. The small ones are inexpensive and easy to manage. The fancier ones that are similar to chef’s knives may need regular sharpening.
Peeler: For potatoes, carrots and other vegetables
A word on kitchen storage
If you love cooking, especially different cuisines, you will have a gazillion ingredients and you will need containers for them all. Your counter will fill up and your kitchen cabinets will be overflowing. Even your fridge will always be full.
Yet, we all need to make the best of what we have. Look for ways to optimize your storage space, and don’t go all crazy buying too many ingredients. You will also need to be very organized and keep everything back in its place, if you don’t want things to get lost!
Kitchen storage essentials
Steel containers for storage: Keep several containers in several sizes, to store everything from atta to biscuits.
Plastic or glass containers for storage: If you are saying NO to plastic (good thing!), opt for neat-looking glass containers with airlocked lids. This ensures your snacks stays fresh.
Oil pot: These are usually of steel, and make it easy to pour oil when you cooking.
Ghee pot: Again, made of steel and they have an easy open lid to get out the ghee quickly.
Masala box: The focal point of an Indian kitchen, my steel masala box has travelled with me from India to Myanmar and back. Six years plus, and still going strong. With the right quality steel, you will quickly get attached to your spice box.
Useful tips on buying cookware
Sizes: If you are a small household, then buy the smallest or the medium sized utensil. You don’t need big ones, unless you are cooking for a larger family.
Maintenance: Ask the retailer about the correct way to wash and use the utensils. This is especially true for pressure cookers. Each brand has its own special technique, so if you’re not used to it, you could be struggling for hours!
Comfort: Try to buy kadhais and other cooking utensils with heat-resistant lids and handles.
Non-stick or not: There is a general belief that non-stick cookware is harmful and can make your food toxic. But they are easy to wash and you can cook with less oil or butter. So should you use them or not? While most experts say non-stick is safe as long as you don’t cook it in very high temperatures, choosing to use non-stick (or not) is a very personal choice. Read this article by Nutrition Diva and another one by Good Housekeeping to get a better understanding on the subject.