This list doesn’t include some of the most basic cooking appliances and tools that you simply wouldn’t be able to cook without, like ladles, stovetops and ovens. And I do share the brand names of some of the appliances I own, but please keep in mind that the companies are not paying me for this and this is by no means an advertisement or even an endorsement. I list the good and bad points of each. And the only reason they are named is because, by choice or accident, I ended up with them in my kitchen and I know enough about them to discuss them.
1. Blender: This is the workhorse of my kitchen. I use it everyday to make smoothies, grind masalas for dinner, whip up dosa batter, and dry-grind everything from spice mixes to flax seeds. Because of all the use my blender gets, it has also always been the gadget that breaks down most often in my home. My first blender in the frugal days of studentship in the U.S. was a $15 Hamilton Beach. It put up a brave effort to handle my “not just smoothie” blending before sputtering out and dying in a year or two (yes, it did actually last that long). Next came a sturdy, more expensive Cuisinart and although it stuck with me for several years, it finally gave up and died (or maybe it was so fed-up, it just committed suicide). A couple of years back I paid a small fortune to buy a Vitamix from Costco. It came with a very tall jar perfect for smoothies, a regular sized one great for masalas, and a third jar fitted with a dry-grinding blade. I must say it’s lived up to expectations so far but with one rider: the dry-grinder doesn’t work as wonderfully as it claims to. I’ve never managed to get better than a coarse grind. For finer spice mixes, I still use my trusty coffee grinder.
2. Pressure Cooker: Every Indian kitchen has one and no kitchen should be without one. Pressure cooking has tremendous health benefits because it preserves the nutrients in food better than cooking in a pan over a stovetop would. And cherry on the icing, it cuts down cooking time to a fraction. I use my pressure cooker to cook beans, lentils, stocks, soups, stews…the list goes on. I had a pressure cooker from India which gave out within months, after which I bought a Fagor pressure cooker that was great and kept going for years. But I found it too much of a hassle to replace the gaskets which usually have to be ordered from the dealer and by the time you’re done paying shipping and handling you might as well have bought a new pressure cooker. Last year I bought a Fagor electric cooker that I absolutely love and use everyday, sometimes twice a day. It takes the guesswork out of pressure cooking, is silent unlike stovetop pressure cookers (a big bonus when you have a scaredy-cat dog in the house), and turns off on its own once the food is cooked.
3. Stand Mixer: A stand mixer might not seem an obvious “can’t-almost-live-without” kitchen gadget, but to someone who enjoys baking as much as I do, it is. My stand mixer, surprisingly, is not one of those great-looking KitchenAid ones or even a Cuisinart. It’s a plain old Hamilton Beach that I bought on sale at Target for about 70 bucks, more than a decade ago. It still works fine and although the bowl has a tendency to jump out of the base when I subject it to stiff, heavy bread doughs (what are your hands for?), it gets the job done most of the time. Bravo!
4. Knives: A good knife is really the only gadget a cook absolutely needs. Desi bought me a great set of Henckels’ knives for Christmas several years ago and I don’t know what I’d do if they weren’t around to chop, dice, julienne, and slice for me. Remember to always keep your knives sharpened so they can give you their best. When mine started to lose their edge, I picked up a Chef’s Choice knife sharpener (the manual kind) and it’s done a great job bringing them back to shape.
5. Cast-iron skillets and carbon steel wok: I’ve said this before: I don’t do nonstick because I don’t trust my food in surfaces made up of myriad chemicals. Most of my cooking happens in steel pots and pans but for the times I need something with a nonstick surface I turn to my cheap, hardy and well-seasoned cast-iron skillets and my carbon-steel wok. Cast-iron gives foods a great crust and it adds some iron into your food which is always great for a vegan (or non-vegan) tummy. It is also great for baking: I’ve made breads and cakes in mine.
A wok stir-fries anything at high temperatures without causing it to stick and burn and since I don’t have a kadhai (a smaller Indian wok), I use this instead for subzis I want to roast and not steam. Be sure to follow instructions on seasoning your cast-iron pans and wok before use. Also, when buying cast-iron cookware, it’s important to ensure that the entire pan, handle and body, are forged in a single cast. Apparently some brands don’t do that and imagine what would happen if your handle snapped as you picked up your hot cast-iron skillet.
So what’s the kitchen gadget you almost can’t live without?