Indian Slow Cooker Cuisine

As an Indian RD, I field many questions about recommendations for Indian recipes. To the typical American client, traditional Indian food can appear difficult and time-consuming to cook and involve long lists of unfamiliar spices and other ingredients. This isn’t surprising, as Indian cuisine comprises the traditions of nearly 30 regions, each with their own cooking styles and ingredients. Luckily, with gadgets like slow cookers and the Instant Pot, Indian cooking is easier today than ever before. The New York Times cites the growing trend of Indian slow cooker techniques, noting that almost 200,000 people belong to the six Indian Instant Pot Facebook groups.

The traditional Indian diet is mostly plant based (usually lacto-ovo vegetarian, meaning meat, poultry, and fish are excluded but eggs and dairy are eaten) and, therefore, comes with a plethora of health benefits from vegetables, pulses, and herbs and spices. For example, Daal, usually made from rice, potatoes, and lentils, is a staple of the Indian diet. Indian slow cooker recipes are great to share with clients who are trying to lower cholesterol, reduce weight, and fight chronic disease.

A sauté of tomato, onions, and spices form the base of many Indian dishes; in fact, the diverse use of spices is one of the most defining features. One single Indian spice mix can consist of five to 10 (or more) different spices. The most common are turmeric, black mustard seed, chili pepper, cumin, garlic, ginger, coriander, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and curry leaf, to name just a few. The spices in Indian cuisine also help to preserve food longer, so I find Indian slow cooker dishes great options for meal prep.

Cooking Indian dishes in slow cookers or the Instant Pot doesn’t require clients to worry about the cooking order of ingredients to create complex flavors; instead, they can combine all of the ingredients at once.

The following are two slow cooker/Instant Pot recipes, for Rajma and Chicken Tikka Masala. My family is Punjabi (from North India) so I wanted to share two staples found in all Punjabi kitchens. North Indian food is the most commonly found culinary style in US Indian restaurants. Food from this region uses more dairy, yogurt, and ghee (clarified butter) than in South India, and curry sauces tend to have a base of tomatoes, onions, and garam masala. Rajma is an Indian version of comforting chili, and Chicken Tikka Masala is a popular dish found in all Indian restaurants.

Remind clients that, although Indian cooking can be intimidating, they can let the slow cooker do the work for them. These simple, practical, balanced, and flavorful Indian dishes can be made in any kitchen.

Slow Cooker Rajma

Yield: 15 cups

3 cups dried kidney beans (cleaned, washed, and soaked in water overnight)
1 medium yellow or red onion, roughly chopped
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic
Fresh green chiles, to taste (starting with 1 or 2)
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 black cardamom pods
1 T cumin seeds
1 T red chile powder (less if you don’t like too much heat)
2 T salt, or to taste (if you want to cut the salt, start with half)
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 T tomato paste
8 cups water
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Drain kidney beans and rinse again with clean water. Add to a 5-qt slow cooker.
2. Using a food processor, grind onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles until smooth. Add this to the slow cooker. (I usually make about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of this mixture.)
3. Add all remaining ingredients, except cilantro, and mix well.
4. Cook on low for 10 hours or on high for 5 hours, adding cilantro about 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Serve over delicious white or brown basmati rice.

Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 4

2 cups skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-in pieces
1 T flour
2 tsp salt (can use less if desired)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 green chiles, chopped (can skip for a mild version)
1/2 cup canned chopped tomato, with juice
2 1/2 T tomato purée
1 T paprika
1 T garam masala
1 T ground turmeric
3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Coat the chicken breast with flour and salt, and place pieces in the slow cooker.
2. Add to slow cooker onions, garlic, green chiles, chopped tomato, tomato purée, paprika, garam masala, and turmeric, and mix together.
3. Set the slow cooker on high and cook for 3 hours.
4. Once cooked, add in yogurt and top with cilantro. Serve with a side of rice and enjoy.

— Sharon Priya Banta, MS, RD, CDN, is a clinical RD working at an outpatient medical center and the owner of the private practice Simple Practical Balanced Nutrition providing consultations, advice, and nutrition tips for busy people on the go. Her father opened the first Indian restaurant in Connecticut in 1988, Meera Indian Cuisine, named after her mother. This is what initiated her love for food and nutrition. Her previous work experience includes serving as a state registered dietitian for the New York State Department of Health conducting nutrition research for the USDA. You can find her at or follow her on Instagram @simple_practical_balanced.

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