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How to Make 5 Easy One-Pot Indian Stews

You’re only a slow cooker (or Instant Pot) away from a flavorful dinner
These One-Pot Indian Stews Are Weeknight Dinner Heroes
Photo: Tasting Table

Growing up in Dallas, my family’s weeknight dinner diet lived and died by our Crock-Pot. (We used to have a pressure cooker, but we abandoned it after one too many explosions.) This is because with Indian food, the key is the gradual layering of different spices and aromatics—so the slow cooker, which concentrates and integrates flavors over time, is the ideal gadget.

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When I graduated from college and moved into a tiny apartment in New York, my mom gifted me a mini Crock-Pot and a list of recipes for the legume-based stews I ate growing up. They were straightforward and uncomplicated—beans, water, a few spices, salt—but they tasted complex and comforting. They filled my apartment with familiar scents of earthy turmeric and buttery cumin seeds. And, most importantly, they were easy. I’d set the slow cooker before I left for work and—you know the drill—by the time I came home, my stew was ready.

I recently acquired an Instant Pot, which means these stews can now come together in (literal) minutes. But no matter what kind of gizmo you have, knowing how to make an Indian stew is a great back-pocket skill for a flavorful dinner with minimal fuss. Before you get started, take a look at some of my mom’s basic tips for stew success. 

 

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Wash your legumes
. If you don’t have time to soak them for a few hours—who does, honestly?—at least make sure you wash your lentils/beans/chickpeas before cooking them. This will cut down on cooking time and make them easier to digest (read: You’ll get less of that signature gas associated with beans).

Use plenty of salt. Like with most cooking, but especially with these stews, you’re probably not adding enough salt. Salting your pot generously at the beginning will bring out the flavors of all your spices. Salting at the end will most likely leave you with an overwhelming taste of just salt.  

Don’t throw everything in all at once. The difference between an OK Indian stew and a holy-shit-I-can’t-believe-I-made-this Indian stew in the end lies in knowing when to add your ingredients—especially your spices. As a general rule, powdered spices, like turmeric, go in at the beginning, whereas whole spices, like cumin seeds and coriander, go in right at the end, just before you eat. There are exceptions, of course, but this a good guiding principle.  

It’s OK if you don’t have everything. Sometimes I run out of coriander, or cloves, or cardamom. And that’s OK. Even if you’re missing a spice (or two), your stew will still most likely taste great. And if you have to stock up on something, make it cumin!

Here are a few of my favorites among my mom’s Indian stew recipes. Most draw on similar techniques and ingredients, but they all have their own distinct flavors. Pick your favorite legume and get started.

  Make it with Yellow Lentils (Tadka Daal) 

1 c yellow lentils + 4 c water + 1 tsp turmeric + salt, to taste + 2 tbsp butter + 2 tsp cumin seeds + 2 red chiles + ¼ tsp red chile powder +  juice of 1 lime + 5 coriander sprigs, chopped

Combine the lentils, water, turmeric and salt, in a slow cooker, and cook on medium or high heat for 4 hours. When the lentils are ready, heat the butter in a small pan and add the cumin, red chiles and red chile powder. Sauté for a few seconds, then add to the lentils. Mix in the lime juice and top with chopped coriander.

 

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 Make it with Kidney Beans (Rajma)

1 c red kidney beans + 6 c water + + salt, to taste + 1 bay leaf + 4 cloves + 1 tsp black pepper + 1 whole cardamom pod + 1 tsp cumin + 1 tsp turmeric + 2 tbsp oil + 1 small onion, diced + 1 tbsp ginger, chopped + 1 green chile, minced + juice of 1 lime

Combine the beans, water, salt and spices in a slow cooker, and cook on medium or high heat overnight until they’re tender. In a separate pan, heat the oil and sauté the onions; when they’re translucent, add ginger and green chile. Mix the onions into the cooked bean mixture and top with lime juice. 

 

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 Make it with Red Lentils (Masoor Daal)

1 c red lentils + 6 c water + + salt, to taste + 1 bay leaf + 1 tsp turmeric + 2 tbsp butter + 2 tsp cumin seeds + 2 red chiles + ¼ tsp red chile powder + juice of 1 lime

Combine the lentils, water, salt, bay leaf and turmeric in a slow cooker, and cook on medium to high heat overnight. When the lentils are ready, heat the butter in a small pan and add the cumin, red chiles and red chile powder. Sauté for a few seconds, then add to the lentils. Mix well with the lime juice. 

 

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 Make it with Rice (Khichdi)

½ c rice + ½ c split peas + 5 c water + 1 bay leaf + 1 tsp black peppercorns + 1 tsp turmeric + salt, to taste + 4 tbsp butter + 2 tsp cumin seeds + 2 dried red chiles + ¼ tsp red chile powder

Combine the rice, split peas, water, bay leaf, black peppercorns, turmeric and salt in a slow cooker, and cook on medium or high heat for 4 hours. When the cooking is done, heat the butter in a small pan and add the cumin, red chiles and red chile powder. Sauté for a few seconds, then add to the rice. Mix well.

 

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 Make it with Chickpeas (Chhole)

1 c dry chickpeas + 4 c water + salt, to taste + 1 bay leaf + 4 cloves + 1 tsp black peppercorns + 1 cardamom pod + 1 tsp cumin + 1 tsp turmeric + 2 tsp amchur (dry mango powder) + 4 tbsp oil  + 1 small onion, diced + 4 medium tomatoes, diced + 1 tbsp ginger, minced + 1 green chile, minced + 2 tsp garam masala

Combine the chickpeas, water, salt and all the spices (except for the amchur) in a slow cooker, and cook on medium or high heat overnight. When it’s done, add the amchur. In a separate pan, heat the oil and sauté the onions until they’re translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are soft and begin to disintegrate. Add the ginger and green chile, and sauté for 1 minute. Add the contents of the pan to the cooked chickpeas. Finally, stir in the garam masala and mix well. Garnish with more sliced onions and chopped green chilies (if you like it spicy). 

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