The 8 Indian Simmer Sauces That Belong in Every American Kitchen
Just add fluffy rice, your favorite protein, or pickle and papad.
Summer means many things: melty scoops of ice cream, lazy days by the pool, fresh florals, and, if certain internet trends are to be believed, then it means eating tinned fish and calling it “hot girl summer.” For me, summer means finding ways to minimize kitchen time, so that I can do all of the above. And the best way to get to a speedy meal is to stock up on simmer sauces that promise an Indian meal without much ado. When make-from-scratch is not an option and you only have a quick 20, these sauces—along with your favorite toppings, fluffy rice, or pickle and papad—promise a good meal.
Also known as rogan josh, this Kashmiri-style gravy is ideally cooked with cubed pieces of lamb and a side of rice and salad. Or, since the base is vegan, you can even eat it with raw jackfruit, chickpeas, and vegetables. (Just don’t let a Kashmiri know.) The sauce has deep notes of mace and nutmeg, two spices that Kashmiri cuisine uses generously, and reflects the Persian influence on North Indian food.
Vindaloo is Portuguese’s gift to India and this sauce, complete with pork meat, can be eaten with rice or rotis. Vindaloo is essentially a garbled pronunciation of the dish carne de vinha d’alhos, which translates to meat marinated in wine-vinegar and garlic. Over time, local ingredients like tamarind, cinnamon, and cardamom got added to this Portuguese dish and India got an iconic curry. The best part about Masala Mama’s vindaloo is that it is free of additives and lets you make a quick curry without going through the whole make-from-scratch drama.
In India, no two tomato gravies are the same. Each home will have its own levels of spice usage—some will use tomato concasse, some will load up on tomatoes with skin on, some like to thicken the texture with a nut paste, and some with coconut milk. This jar is one example of how curry bases vary from one home to another. Founder Chitra Agarwal’s recipe is inspired by her dad, and while she used to eat it with chickpeas, you can experiment with tofu, chicken, and paneer.
Made with grass-fed organic ghee, this sauce has rich notes of Southern Indian flavors. Turmeric, fennel, mustard, coriander, fenugreek, and a bunch of other spices go into making this tomato-free base. While the jar recommends you cook this sauce with yogurt or coconut milk, we urge you to go for the latter. Add drumsticks, pumpkin, or carrots and French beans for best results.
Tomato, yogurt, and hints of cilantro make this creamy curry base that is ideal for braising meats. Though it doesn’t capture the flavors of a particular region of India, it’s a generic curry base that can be poured into a dutch oven, a slow cooker or a pan and simmered along with your favorite ingredients on a busy night.
This curry base transports you to the fiery meals that can be found in the Western side of India, the region of Kolhapur. This sauce uses ingredients like pepper, paprika, turmeric, chili powder, ginger-garlic, and a solid base of sesame seeds that make it stand apart from other Indian sauces. Add some meat and serve with hot, ghee-smeared rice.
Made with paneer, mushrooms, baby corn, chicken, tofu, tempeh, peas and potatoes, this sauce is incredibly versatile. A lot of Indian homes will stock and keep a homely butter masala gravy in the deep freezer and take it out on a day when you want to eat a tangy, silken gravy with hot butter garlic naan. Though Indian Life recommends that you can also eat it with pasta, I would stick to veggies and protein.
All of the UK’s curry houses are obsessed with the korma curry. It’s an aromatic blend of ginger-garlic, onion, and tomato—basic ingredients that form the base of a regular Indian curry. Though this brand recommends that you eat it with either cauliflower or chicken, I think tempeh and veggies like carrots and french beans would work great, too.