Instant Pot: Gila Masala, Wet Curry Base

October 18, 2021 2 Comments

Instant Pot: Gila Masala, Wet Curry Base

Shhhh...don't tell anyone. It's is a secret. 

Friends ask me all the time if I cook Indian food for my family every night. When I say, 'yes' they are taken aback. 'How?' Well, let me let you in on a little secret that Indian mothers and grandmothers have kept to themselves all these years. They make the recipe below (or some variation of it) and keep it in the fridge or freezer, and then just pull out a small portion to whip up dinner. I still remember my wedding in 1999, when my mother had to feed relatives flying in from all over the world. She actually hired a cook to make this masala and store it in huge containers with handles in an extra fridge in the garage. This is liquid gold when it comes to getting Indian food on the table without completely losing your mind.

Just like a soup stock, a Gila Masala is your key ingredients cooked down and kept on hand so that you can add it to any protein or vegetables and make Indian food in mere minutes where it would normally take up to an hour if not more. I believe in this masala so much that I actually took my recipe and found a co-packer to put it in a jar for me. Called Punjabi Masala, we sell it on this website and in many stores in the Midwest. Order yourself a jar or two or make it from the recipe below. It will change your life and soon you may just be making Indian food for dinner every night, too! 

I've seen other recipes for this base out there. Where mine is slightly different is that it does not contain a lot of spices. This way, you can turn it into whatever you want later by adding Garam Masala, coriander, or whatever you like. I also like to use tomato paste, which truly makes this recipe richer and heartier. It's also a perfect combination for Punjabi dishes that go heavy on the ginger and garlic. 

Gila Masala, Wet Curry Base
Pressure Cooker Size: 3 quart or larger
Warm Up: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Cool Down: Natural release
TOTAL: 12 minutes saute time + 15 minutes + natural release time
Makes: 2 cups

4 cups roughly chopped yellow onion (4 medium)
1/2 cup peeled and roughly chopped ginger (4 inches)
12 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons turmeric powder
1 1/4 cups water, divided
¼ cup unsalted tomato paste

1. In a food processor, grind the onion until smooth and transfer to a bowl. As the onion sits, moisture will collect to the sides. Before cooking, drain this moisture and use a slotted spoon to transfer the onion puree to the inner pot.

2. In the same food processor (no need to rinse), grind the ginger and garlic together until smooth and transfer to a different bowl.

3. Place the inner cooking pot in your Instant Pot. Select the SAUTE setting and adjust to MORE. When the indicator flashes HOT, add the onion from Step 1 and the salt. The salt helps pull out extra moisture and first cooking without oil helps  dry up extra water. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally but not too often to allow the onion to brown a bit. It won’t brown very much, but it will cook.

4. Add the oil. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.

5. Add the ginger-garlic mixture from Step 2 and the turmeric. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.

6. Press CANCEL. Carefully move the pot to a heat-resistant surface and transfer the mixture to an oven-safe glass or metal bowl. Pour ¼ cup of water into the inner pot and scrape the bottom to loosen anything stuck. Pour this into the bowl with the onion mixture. You can use the metal inner pot of a smaller Instant Pot as your oven-safe vessel.

7. Add the tomato paste to the onion mixture and stir.

8. Return the empty inner pot to the base, pour in a 1 cup of water, position a trivet into the pot, and place the bowl from Step 6 on the trivet. Watch the video below for a tutorial on pot-in-pot cooking for the Instant Pot. 

9. Lock the lid into place. Make sure the pressure release valve is set to the sealing position (upwards). Press the PRESSURE COOK button and then press the PRESSURE LEVEL button until the panel reads HIGH. Adjust the cook time to 10 minutes.

10. Once the cooking is complete, release the pressure naturally. Very carefully remove the bowl and stir the contents. This mixture will last 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge. In the freezer, it will last up to 3 months. Use about 1 cup of masala in any wet dish on the stovetop, from matar paneer (peas and cheese) to meat curries. You can even make other dishes in the Instant Pot and use this masala and some spices for the extra base curry.

Note: If you would like to use fresh tomatoes, substitute 2 medium tomatoes for every ¼ cup of tomato paste. Puree them in the food processor after the ginger and garlic. No need to peel. The consistency and color will be slightly different, but it will still be delicious. Also, I prefer making this base without spices so that I can add them later and change them around to suit the specific dish I am making.

Our jarred Punjabi Masala rocks and will get you an Indian curry in 15 minute flat. Try it out for yourself. 

If you're not familiar with Pot-in-Pot cooking, watch below as I walk you through the process. It's an incredibly simple technique you can use to cook anything that requires little to no extra water. Remember, you must have water to pressure cook successfully. So, instead of putting water in the actual dish, I put in below and then the contents of my dish into a container that can withstand the heat. In this case, I use the insert from my 3-quart Instant Pot. If you want more of my tips and instructional videos, click here and head to my YouTube channel. Please subscribe once you're there! 

2 Responses


October 20, 2021

Hi Jackie, I can’t wait for you to try this. It’s the ‘aha’ moment, right? Every cuisine has one!


October 20, 2021

Can’t wait to make this! I’ve been looking for a base recipe just like this!

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