The versatility of Indian Cooking

One of the things I love about cooking Indian food is that the process is quite versatile. If you don’t have one ingredient, you can always substitute it for another, resulting in a slightly different flavour. When I’ve run out of jeera (cumin) seeds, I have used mustard; when I’ve wanted a slightly different taste to a tried and tested chicken curry recipe, I have added a little whipped yoghurt or coconut milk. Almost every single time, the result has been great! I encourage anyone who wants to cook Indian food to keep experimenting, till you arrive at a flavour that you like. (Of course, there are some finely tuned recipes that I would never tamper with, such as a good Butter Chicken or the perfect Biriyani!)

I very rarely follow a recipe exactly. I find that at the very least I end up adjusting the proportions of the ingredients, to suit my taste. For example, in the recipe I am about to talk about, the original says to use 2 teaspoons of chilli powder, but that sounded like an awful lot for my taste buds, so I reduced it to 1, and since I like the flavour of coriander powder, I adjusted the recommended 1 teaspoon to 2. Also, with Indian spices I find that different brands have a different intensity, especially when it comes to chilli powder. I try to use spice powders that I have ground and not the store bought ones, but this isn’t always possible.

Anyway, now on to that recipe!

Family Secrets by Zarine Khan is one of my favourite Indian cookbooks. I’ll write a separate post on the book itself, but today I am going to focus on one recipe that I have tried with three different main ingredients.

The original recipe is for Aloo Mattar or Potatoes & Peas, but I have used the same recipe and substituted the potatoes and peas for paneer (cottage cheese) and peas and recently I also tried it with chicken. All three have turned out brilliantly!

I am writing the recipe below, but have modified the ingredient proportions from Mrs. Khan’s original recipe in the book.


– 1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)

– 2 large potatoes

(the above can be substituted with either 200 gms cottage cheese and 1 cup green peas or 1 kg chicken (with bones), cleaned and cut into pieces)

– 1 onion, chopped (for the chicken I used 2 onions)

– 1 tsp cumin seeds

– 1 heaped tsp ginger-garlic paste

– 8-10 curry leaves

– ¾ tsp turmeric powder

– 2 tsp coriander power

– 1 tsp chilli powder

– 5 large tomatoes (pureed)

– Oil and salt.


  1. Heat oil, add cumin seeds and when they splutter, add onions and curry leaves. Sauté till onions are light brown.
  2. Add the ginger-garlic paste and fry well. Then add turmeric, coriander and red chilli powders and fry all well.
  3. Next, introduce the main ingredient and fry on a high flame for a few minutes; a little longer for the chicken.
  4. Now add the pureed tomatoes and continue to mix on a high flame. Then add a cup of water and salt and simmer till the main ingredient is cooked.

I like to let the water dry out a fair bit, towards the end, so you are left with a nice thick flavourful tomato paste like gravy, but if you prefer a milder watered down gravy, don’t dry it out too much.

All three dishes go well with rotis, chappaties or mildly flavoured rice dishes.

I have a feeling the recipe will also work well with the combinations of cauliflower and potato, cauliflower and peas or green capsicum and potato.

Since I haven’t been able to write too many posts under my blog’s Food category I haven’t developed the habit of photographing what I cook. I must remember to do that in future!

Do let me know what the result is if you experiment with this recipe.

Related posts:

Three tips for successful Indian cooking




4 thoughts on “The versatility of Indian Cooking

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