Browned onion-tomato gravy — let’s get this over with

Browned onion tomato gravy

Browned onion tomato gravy

Sindhi food has a ton of recipes that start with first making a browned onion-tomato gravy, then putting in whatever edible goodies you find in the fridge that day.

Browned onion gravy can make anything taste good. Those left over hard-boiled eggs from a week ago? Throw them in. The unidentifiable pulpy vegetable with the brown spots? Cut out the brown spots, throw it in, heat it through, and gloat. Lentils, beans of all descriptions, chicken, dumplings that are fried, dumplings that are boiled, in they go. Call them meatballs or call them koftas, throw them in. You could make a giant batch of the gravy, freeze it in meal-sized portions, thaw and add stuff to it — there you go, your main meal for dinner.

In fact this gravy is such a magician that it is a bit of a cop-out for an aspiring master chef, and makes me reluctant to use it too often. Think about it — if you are a doctor, how respected would you be if your advice for every ailment is — ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning’? It might work but it is too easy. But this is still an indispensable skill to have in your Indian cooking repertoire, so let us take our two aspirin and learn to do this right.

Browned Onion-tomato gravy

Start with reading this recipe — how to caramelize onions. That is going to be our first step. This recipe makes enough for a base for the main meal for 2 – 4 people.


  • One medium-large onion, chopped fine, or sliced thin.
  • One large or two small tomatoes, roughly chopped.
  • 3 – 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Half inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 1 – 4 serrano chilies to your heat tolerance, sliced
  • Half a teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • Half a teaspoon coriander powder
  • Quarter teaspoon turmeric
  • Half a teaspoon salt
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons oil


Heat oil in a wide thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers put in the cumin seed; when that sizzles, the onion and caramelize it.

Onions, garlic, IMG_0622 IMG_0623 IMG_0624

At this point add the ginger, garlic, chili, and let them cook on medium heat for a couple minutes. Now put in the tomato. Sprinkle some salt over. The thing about the tomato is that is has to liquefy, then mostly dry up. First, the combination of the heat and the salt will make it release its liquid. Then, cook some more on that wide-open pan of yours, and the liquid will evaporate. The remains of the tomato will combine with the caramelized onion to create a rough paste.

IMG_0627 IMG_0628

Browned onion tomato gravy

Browned onion tomato gravy

At this point the dry powders can go in. Give them a stir, and then put in some water; the amount depends on what you are trying to use the gravy for, anywhere from half a cup to a cup.

Bring the water to a boil, and let it simmer for about 5 – 7 minutes.

The gravy is basically done. But you can take it into multiple directions from here:

  • run it through a blender to get a smoother sauce
  • add some cream or milk to make it creamy
  • or add a cashew puree to make it creamy that way
  • add garam masala, extra chili in the form of red chili powder, cumin powder, or other spice mixture of your choice
  • or use it as is.

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