A basic Tomato Onion Masala Sauce that you can store and use to make quick and flavorful curries, like Methi Malai Paneer Tofu, Chana Masala, Palak Aloo or Palak Paneer. Recipe includes Instant Pot, pressure cooker and stovetop cooking options.
Here's a Basic Tomato Onion Masala Sauce that you can make ahead and keep in your refrigerator for quick and flavorful weeknight meals that take no more than 10-15 minutes to make.
A number of Indian curries start out with a base of tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic cooked with a few spices. While this is easy enough to make, as a working mom I understand that it is not always easy to find those extra 15-20 minutes to chop and saute the ingredients.
This tomato onion sauce takes away all of that time, and you can actually get a very delicious curry like a Methi Malai Paneer Tofu Curry (Fenugreek Cream Curry with Tofu "Paneer") or a Palak Aloo (Spinach with Potatoes) or a Chana Masala and any number of dishes ready to go within 10-15 minutes tops. I've shared those recipes with you too, but first here's the recipe for the sauce so you can get cooking.
I make this sauce in the Instant Pot. You can use a pressure cooker, or do it on a stovetop, in a saucepan. I'll include all of the instructions below. Made in the Instant Pot, it takes 30 minutes from start to finish, with your hands-on time being what you need to actually chop a pound and a half of onions and a pound and a half of tomatoes. If you do this on a weekend, you'll be thanking yourself the rest of the week.
One tip on chopping the onions. If you're anything like me, you'll likely be crying your way through it. So what I do is, I chop the onions in half, put them in a bowl, and leave them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before I chop them. This reduces any tearing to a minimum.
You also need to mash up a good amount of garlic and ginger -- about a fourth of a cup. I sometimes take a shortcut here and use store bought ginger-garlic paste. Whole Foods, if you have one near you, has some brands with no added preservatives.
You need a few basic spices for this recipe: turmeric, paprika (optional, but gives a nice color), cayenne, and coriander and cumin powders. All of these build on the flavors and give you the perfect base for a mouthwatering curry.
You can store this sauce in the refrigerator for about a week, or you can put it in smaller containers and freeze it. If you freeze, thaw before using it. I need about a cup and a half each time I use it in a recipe, and this batch will make enough to last you through at least 8 to 10 meals.
I've shared with you in the past recipes for other curry pastes like my Tikka Masala Curry Paste and my Balti Sauce. If you love cooking Indian food, having one or a couple of these on hand can be a lifesaver on busy days or weeks, and you'll have everything you need on hand for a delicious, from-scratch meal.
You can even make this ahead when you're entertaining, and -- on the day of your event -- use it to prep a few dishes quickly. They won't taste the same, I promise, and I'll be showing you in coming days how you can create completely different dishes using small variations and different veggies with this tomato onion base.
Let's get cooking with this basic Tomato and Onion Sauce for quick curries. I'll add the recipes I make using this sauce below, and And stay tuned for more recipes over the coming days.
Eight ingredients for the Basic Tomato Onion Masala Sauce:
- Onions. Red onions or shallots are preferable, but if you absolutely can't, a yellow onion is fine too.
- Ginger-garlic paste
- Coriander powder
- Cumin powder
- Paprika (nice for color, but you can leave it out)
- Cayenne (or any red pepper powder you prefer)
- Vegetable oil. I use avocado oil because it's flavorless. Coconut is not okay because we are using this to mainly make north Indian recipes and the flavor would be a bit odd with coconut oil. Any flavorless oil like peanut or sunflower oil is okay.
How to make the sauce:
- Start by heating 2 tbsp vegetable oil in the Instant Pot set to low saute function. Add 1 ½ pounds of the diced onions and ¼th cup of ginger garlic paste and saute for a few minutes until the onions start to soften. Add all of the remaining ingredients -- 1 ½ pounds diced tomatoes, ¼th cup coriander powder, 2 tsp cumin powder, 2 tsp cayenne and 2 tbsp paprika (if using) -- and give it all a good stir. I don't add salt to this sauce because you will add in salt later when you make your recipes using it.
Put the lid on the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook for 10 minutes. You don't need to add any water-- the moisture in the tomatoes will be enough.
If you are cooking this in a pressure cooker that goes on a stovetop, follow instructions above and then let the tomatoes and onions cook for six "whistles" or for 10 minutes after maximum pressure has been reached (set heat to medium-low at this point).
If making this on a stovetop, again follow steps one and two, and then cover and cook over medium-low, stirring every 10 minutes or so, for 30-45 minutes until the sauce has darkened and is very thick.
You can store the sauce in mason jars or any containers with airtight lids for up to a week in the refrigerator, or for several months in the freezer.
- The onions and tomatoes in this sauce are cooked thoroughly, so you don't need to blend it for smooth gravies -- they just melt into it. But if you absolutely want to, you can run an immersion blender through the sauce to break down the tomatoes and onions into a paste.
Looking for more recipes with the basic tomato onion sauce?
- Instant Chana Masala
- Vegan Methi Malai Paneer Tofu
- Easy Aloo Palak (Spinach Potato Curry)
- 10-minute Vegan Dal
- Easy Aloo Matar
- Easy Vegan Chick'n Curry with Potatoes and Coconut Milk
- Sarson ka Saag, a North Indian Mustard Greens Curry
- Instant Pot Masoor Dal
- Bhindi Masala
Basic tomato onion masala sauce recipe:
Basic Tomato Onion Masala Sauce for Quick Curries
- 1 ½ pounds (about seven or eight medium) red onions (very finely diced)
- 1 ½ pounds (about eight) ripe tomatoes (very finely diced)
- ¼ cup ginger garlic paste
- ¼ cup coriander powder
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tbsp paprika (optional but adds nice color)
- 2 tsp cayenne
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Add the oil in the Instant Pot set to low saute function. Add the onions and ginger garlic paste and saute for a few minutes until the onions start to soften. Add the remaining ingredients and give it all a good stir.
- Put the lid on the Instant Pot and set to pressure cook for 10 minutes. You don't need to add any water-- the moisture in the tomatoes will be enough.
- If you are cooking this in a pressure cooker that goes on a stovetop, follow instructions above and then let the tomatoes and onions cook for six "whistles" or for 10 minutes after maximum pressure has been reached (set heat to medium-low at this point).
- If making this on a stovetop, again follow steps one and two, and then cover and cook over medium-low, stirring every 10 minutes or so, for 30-45 minutes until the sauce has darkened and is very thick.
- You can store the sauce in mason jars or any containers with airtight lids for up to a week in the refrigerator, or for several months in the freezer.