Curry On: How to Use Indian Curry Sauce in 5 Dinners

August 24, 2015

In Halfway to Dinner, we show you how to stretch your staples—or your seasonal produce—every which way.

Today: Mallika Basu, blogger and cookbook author, gives us a make-ahead curry sauce that has dinners covered.

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An Indian meal really hits the spot after a long day, but making a classic tomato curry base for meals involves a motley of steps: softening and caramelizing onions and cooking ginger, garlic, and spices until they go from raw and pungent to something altogether more aromatic and irresistible. It can be a tall order during the week! The good news is that Indian Tomato Curry Sauce is simple to make ahead over the weekend and turn into versatile weekday meals later.

The trick is to keep the sauce relatively light on spices, providing opportunity for tweaking the recipes later. Add a touch of whole spices here, a touch of tamarind there, and you’ll never know the same sauce provided a starting point! 

Here are five recipes to get your curries going:

Chicken Jalfrezi
This is the Indian equivalent of a wok stir-fry and a go-to quick meal after a hard day’s work. I love making this on days when I fancy a spice kick without over-indulgence. To make it, stir-fry strips of chicken thigh fillet with green peppers, add 1/2 cup of the curry sauce, finish with a dash of garam masala, and serve topped with fresh cilantro over a bed of lettuce or rice.


Prawn and Pea Pulao 
I always keep some raw king prawns in my freezer to make this dish when guests show up at the last minute—it's a fantastic one-pot meal that is delicious and impressive at the same time. Normally, you would sauté the rice with the prawns, but my cheat’s method ensures that you end up with fluffy grains of perfect rice every time: Sauté raw king prawns in two tablespoons of the curry sauce and a tablespoon of yogurt. Cook a cup of basmati rice and stir it through the prawn curry with a large handful of peas.


Baked Fish with a Tomato-Tamarind Glaze
It’s always a struggle to convince the non-fish lovers in my household to embrace fish, but this curry sauce often makes them compromise. I’ve tried this recipe on salmon fillets but here, it is resplendent on sea bass.

To make it, you’ll need to convert the sauce into something with a more South Indian vibe: Sizzle 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds and the same amount of mustard seeds in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil with 20 fresh curry leaves. Add a cup of the sauce and 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste. Make two slits on the sea bass and generously slather the sauce over them. Bake for 20 minutes in a hot oven for a dish that's delicious with a side of spinach and brown rice.


Palak Channa (Chana Saag) or Chickpeas with Spinach
I chanced upon Palak Channa when there was literally nothing left in my kitchen apart from two tomatoes. It’s a wonderfully satisfying meal that you can make from ingredients in your pantry and freezer. I’ve also served this at dinner parties as a vegetarian side dish to great aplomb.

To make it, sizzle a bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds, and a small stick of cinnamon in 1 teaspoon of oil. Mix 2 tablespoons of the sauce into the spices, then add a drained and rinsed tin of chickpeas and 2 cups of chopped spinach. (I often use 3 to 4 cubes of freshly frozen spinach.) Finish with 1/2 a teaspoon of garam masala and mango powder. Serve this with yogurt spiked with black salt and warm pita breads for an effortless weekday meal. 

More: Make your pita bread at home.


Quick Punjabi Dal Fry
Punjabi Dal is a thick, wholesome version of the ever-popular lentil curry that bursts with flavor. Popular in North India, this is best with a dollop of ghee, scooped into roti parcels and eaten with with your fingers. On my holidays in Delhi as a child, the rotis would be laced with white butter, which we kids would promptly smear all over our mouths as lip-gloss! In case you’re wondering, I don’t roll out the rotis on battle-ravaged days—I’ll always have a pack of ready-made ones in the freezer for those meals!  


Indian Tomato Curry Sauce Once you make this curry, cool it and store in 1/2-cup portions. It should last 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and up to 2 months in the freezer. 

Makes 2 1/2 cups 

teaspoon sugar
pound onions
1/2 cup sunflower or vegetable oil
teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
15 pieces garlic
tablespoons ginger
pounds ripe tomatoes
2 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder
2 1/2 teaspoons chile powder

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photos by Mallika Basu 

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Navya
  • Elizabeth
  • AntoniaJames
  • Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles
    Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles
  • Rhonda35
Food blogger and author of Miss Masala


Navya February 1, 2024
I am a foodie and had covered most of the Best Indian Restaurants in San Diego and now I wanted to cook at home. While searching I came to this website and after reading two blog posts I am a subscriber :). I made Paneer with this Indian Curry Sauce and it was delicious. Thanks for this recipe.
Elizabeth November 12, 2017
Elizabeth 2017
I had been looking for an Indian style tomato sauce that for some time and this is the perfect recipe for me as it can be kept ready and modified easily to go with all sorts of dishes. I love the way the sugar is used - nothing like the heavily sweetened industrial ketchups but just enough to bring out the taste and colour of ripe tomatoes. I did not try all the varieties yet but I will, and I bet I'll produce some more, improvising with kitchen herbs - let's see what comes my way. Thanks a lot!
AntoniaJames April 12, 2016
I just posted this comment to a Hotline question looking for ideas for weeknight meals from the freezer:

A new best friend for weeknight cooking: this tomato curry sauce, which essentially preps your aromatics and basic spices in tomato sauce (I used canned tomatoes!): https://food52.com/recipes/35952-tomato-curry-sauce

You can't find a better kitchen helper than a scalable, freezable sauce that kickstarts weeknight meals.

I made a double batch last week, have already used it twice, and froze the rest in small containers. You only need 1/2 to 1 cup in your curry or dal, it is so intensely flavored. I'll be re-stocking my freezer with this on a regular basis.

I made the Quick Punjabi Dal Fry, which is terrific. I also made Chickpeas with Spinach on a weekday evening using chickpeas from the freezer, and baby spinach from the farmers' market (the recipe says you can use frozen, which I'll no doubt do in future), served over brown rice, also from the freezer. Total active time: 5 or 6 minutes at most.

This one's a keeper! ;o)
Rinku B. August 24, 2015
What great ideas, nothing like a great homemade curry sauce!
Mallika August 31, 2015
Thank you Rinku x
Rhonda35 August 24, 2015
I'm looking forward to adding this to my pantry arsenal. Thanks!
Mallika August 31, 2015
And I'm looking forward to hearing what your guests think :-) M x