Make-ahead Masala sauce base

Make this sauce ahead of time and freeze, then use later to make Indian-inspired dishes for a quick weeknight meal.


To use this sauce, simply brown about 1 lb cubed chicken and a few cups of your favorite chopped vegetables (we suggest carrots and large chunks of onion) in butter, ghee, or vegetable oil (in a 5qt pot), then add this sauce to the pot straight from the freezer. Stir while heating on med-high until sauce is melted and begins to simmer, then reduce heat to medium and cook until meat is cooked and vegetables are tender, around 20 min (or less). Add frozen peas towards the end so they don’t over-cook. To use shrimp, tofu or paneer instead of chicken, cook vegetable/sauce mixture until vegetables are almost tender, then add shrimp and cook until shrimp is cooked, or tofu/paneer until warmed through. You can also add a can of coconut milk to make it more of a stew. Serve over rice.


1 large onion, chopped

2 heads of garlic, finely chopped

2-3 tbsp butter or ghee for good flavor, but vegetable oil works too

3-5 of your favorite hot pepper, fresh (Bhut jolokia is ideal here, but serrano and habanero work well too if you want less heat)

5 large tomatoes (any type is fine, but if using a slicing tomato variety with a lot of juice, you may spend more time simmering to get a good consistency)

1 tbsp cumin (ground or seeds)

½ tbsp coriander (ground or seeds)

½ tbsp black cardamom seeds

½ tbsp pepper (ground or peppercorns)

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cloves (ground or whole)

½ tsp ground nutmeg

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp turmeric

Juice of one lemon (about 2 tbsp if using bottled)


1) Gather all your spices into a bowl. If using seeds instead of ground spices, roughly grind them with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. I don’t normally prep my spices all cooking-show like, I normally just shake and dump directly into the pot, but there are so many spices in this recipe and the amounts matter, so it’s one of the few times I actually measure them out ahead of time.

2) In a 5qt pot, sauté the garlic and onion in the butter to lightly brown them (preferably a stainless steel pot, not non-stick. Browning adds flavor and you get better browning in a stainless pot).

3) Meanwhile, de-core and roughly chop the tomatoes, de-stem the peppers. Add to a blender and blend until smooth

4) Add all your spices to the pot and coat the garlic and onions to mix everything together. Take a moment to enjoy that glorious smell! Cook the spices for just a bit to open up the flavors (about a minute or so)

4) Pour the tomato-pepper puree into the pot. Only a little at first, and use a flat-bottomed wooden spatula to de-glaze the brown bits from the pot. Then add the rest of the puree.

5) Simmer on medium, uncovered. A splash guard is useful here unless you like deep cleaning your stovetop. Cooking time will vary depending on which type of tomatoes you used and how thick you want the sauce. Basically, you’re looking to reduce away some of the liquid.

6) Once cooked to your desired consistency, let cool a bit and pour into freezer-safe containers. I like to re-use 2 cup takeout containers here. Fill to about a half-inch from the top. If you plan on storing a long time, you can add a piece of cling-wrap if you want to help prevent freezer-burn; lay a piece over the top and press it down in the container until it touches the sauce. This eliminates air from touching the food which helps reduce the chance of freezer burn. You could also measure out 2 cups and pour into zip bags – after filling almost zip the bag shut leaving about an inch open. Carefully let the bag lay flat so the sauce pushes the air out of the bag as it moves, then finish closing. You can freeze the bag flat, then when you need to use it, just tear the bag off of the frozen sauce ‘block’. A 2 cup portion of sauce is about enough to make a dinner with 4 servings. I usually divide what I’ve made into 3 portions, two to freeze, and one to use right away! Each third should be roughly about 2 cups.