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North Indian Vegetable Curry: The Basics

Updated on August 30, 2013

Masala: A Collection of Spices

In India, most dishes begin with masala. Masala is a term for a collection of spices unique (or thereabouts) to each family. Most Indian kitchens will have mixed masala on hand at all times, and that mix is made by the family itself. No pre-packaged masala for the vast majority of cooks in India. Although I did not get my in-law's recipe, specifically, I have made a good approximation. Our masala includes:

  • Two parts cumin powder
  • One part tumeric
  • One part chili powder (spicy or smoky, depending on your preference)
  • One part black pepper
  • One pinch cinnamon

Mix your own masala in advance or add each spice individually when the recipe calls for masala. No difference except time.

The Backstory

When I married my Indian husband in 2010, my culinary arsenal did not include Indian recipes. When I made my first attempts, they were entirely hit-or-miss. Sometimes the tumeric was overpowering and bitter. Sometimes the chicken was dry. Sometimes the sauce was too... saucy. So when we finally visited his family in northern India, I was excited to learn the basics of the food my husband grew up eating.

Close up: subje
Close up: subje


  • Three Cups Vegetables of Choice (we love eggplant, zucchini, carrot, potato, cauliflower, and tomato), Chopped
  • One Large Onion, Diced
  • 3-4 Tablespoons Water
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Ginger, Grated or Powder
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Garlic, Chopped or Powder

The Technique

  1. First, heat 3-4 tablespoons of oil in a large chicken fryer (or Dutch oven).
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of masala spices and salt to taste.
  3. When the aroma of the spices has blossomed (smelling strong), add one large chopped onion.
  4. Cook onion until slightly translucent. Add ginger and garlic.
  5. Add chopped hard vegetables (such as carrots). Let soften slightly.
  6. Add remaining vegetables. Toss to coat in spices.
  7. Cook for five minutes to allow the vegetables to take the spice.
  8. Add 1/4 cup of water and cover for 10-15 minutes (until vegetables are soft).
  9. If mixture is too wet, let cook uncovered until it reaches the desired consistency.


In northern India, this vegetarian curry dish is called "subje". Subje is a catch-all term for vegetables. Curry, interestingly, is a catch-all term for sauces or gravies.

Subje that has very little sauce is delicious eaten with roti (flatbread). Subje that has a bit more curry is great over rice.

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