What my mother thought essential for her household of three was most of the above, especially the tava, the masala stone, the mortar and pestle, and the rolling pin. In addition to the old tinned copper vessels, there were aluminum and stainless steel pots made in traditional Parsi shapes. The big change came in the 1950s with the pressure cooker, which was supposed to change life completely by saving time and fuel. I don’t know a single Indian urban household now that doesn’t have a pressure cooker put to constant use. About thirty years ago, the demand for natural gas outstripped the supply, so the city stopped piping it in. Everyone now cooks with propane, the procuring and changing of cylinders a constant bother. Under these circumstances, a pressure cooker makes great sense.
My mother’s generation ushered in an era of electrical appliances—refrigerators were a must, as were toasters, mixers, and blenders, most of which were kept off-limits to the kitchen staff and as a result often rusted from disuse. In the sixties, a new kitchen essential came to the fore, the mixer-grinder, which could do the job of a masala stone, something the Western blender failed to do. The first and best of these was invented by a devoted engineering genius so that his wife could continue making first-rate Indian food in Germany, where they happened to be posted. Known as mixies, these grinders have now become standard equipment in urban Indian kitchens, where the roar of electric motors is now replacing the music of the masala stone.
For the recipes that require the prepared pastes known as masalas, it helps to have a food processor or, even better, an electric wet-dry grinder such as the Sumeet Multigrinder (see Sources). Before the Sumeet I used a food processor, but the results were not the same. Blenders and food processors cut food up into ever-smaller pieces suspended in liquid, and hard ingredients like coconut can never be ground to a fine paste. The Sumeet and its equivalents have blades designed to grind wet and dry ingredients together as would happen on a stone. This was its test: I made a coconut-based green chutney (lili chatni) in the newly unpacked Sumeet and presented it to my mother in a perfect ball on a plate. She looked admiringly at it, tasted it, and asked when I’d become so handy with a masala stone. A food-processor coconut chutney can’t be formed into a ball because too much water needs to be added to keep the mixture moving.
I love my Parsi utensils, the tinned vessels, the trays, tongs, slabs, and rollers, most of them from my grandmother’s kitchen, and I enjoy their beauty and the sense of continuity; but cast-iron skillets and heavy stainless steel-lined pans such as All-Clad are my kitchen mainstays. For frying, I have a range of karhais, the round-bottomed Indian frying pans, but I also use a wok. I use an electric coffee mill to grind dry whole spices and nothing else, and I have many more devices for grating coconut than I need.
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