It is a common misconception about Indian food it that it takes forever to cook. While Indian cooking does utilize mostly fresh ingredients and dishes are made from scratch (so you are avoiding over-processed, preservative-loaded ingredients), how long it takes usually depends on what you are cooking. Just like any other cuisine, there are some dishes that are quick and easy to cook and others that are elaborate and need more time.
There are some ingredients though, that are common in most Indian dishes though and preparing them ahead of time can further cut down on cooking time.
Chopped fine, sliced thin, or ground to a paste, onions form the base of gravies, a complement to veggies or an important ingredient in salads. Chop, slice, and grind them and freeze in labeled freezer bags. That way when a recipe calls for onions you have them quickly at hand.
Ginger and Garlic Pastes
Ginger and garlic are also vital ingredients in Indian cooking. A recipe may require them chopped fine or ground to a paste. Have a large glass bottle each of ginger and garlic pastes in the refrigerator. You can just as easily buy them from the grocery store (Asian or Indian groceries will definitely have them) but if you make yours at home, you can be sure they're free from preservatives. Here's a handy tip for keeping ginger and garlic pastes fresh for longer: store peeled garlic in a date-labeled box or Ziploc bag for when a recipe requires it to be chopped fine.
Again this is an ingredient you can quite easily buy, but it always seems to taste better when you make it at home. Make tomato pureé ahead of time and pour into ice-cube trays (use a tablespoon to measure how much fits in a single cube so that its easier to measure out as the recipe requires later) and freeze. When they are frozen, pop them out and store in date- and measurement-labeled freezer bags for when you need them.
Coriander and mint are used to make chutneys, added to gravies and as garnishes on dishes and salads. With Asian and Indian food being so popular these days, these herbs can even be found at your local grocery store. They're not always in season though.
A majority of the time when onions are used in Indian cooking, the recipe calls for them to be browned. Make up a batch ahead of time and store in your fridge. Make both chopped and sliced browned onions. Here's a quick tip for browning onions quickly.
Most gravied dishes have certain ingredients in common, so preparing and freezing one when you have some spare time is a great idea. Here's the recipe for a Basic Indian Gravy. When you're ready to cook, use it as is or add any extra ingredients as required.
Breads like chapati, paratha, and poori are the perfect accompaniment to most Indian dishes. They're also great by themselves or with your favorite spread or filling. Fill them (freshly made) with leftover cooked veggies or meats and make a roll! Here are more ideas on how to use leftovers to create a whole new meal.
Dough made from whole wheat flour will keep really well in the fridge for three to four days, so make it in advance. Here's the recipe for the dough (chapati). You can also pre-cook and store chapati in the freezer so that they are almost cooked when you need them.
For more handy, time-saving hints for Indian cooking, see these additional tips!