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What Is a Karahi?

Having the right equipment for the job always makes life easier. This is as true for cooking as it is for any other project. It’s hard to make an omelette without a frying pan or to bake a cake without a cake tin. And, for Chinese food a wok is almost a must. But have you ever heard of a Karahi?

Lovers of Indian cooking will probably know that a Karahi is the Indian equivalent of the Chinese wok. The classic Karahi is a deep circular cooking pot with moderately steep sides that is used for shallow or deep frying. But it is best known for simmering stews.

Across India there are many languages, so the Karahi is known by several different names. Apart from Karahi, among other names it is also called a kadhai, kadai and even cheena chatti, depending on the location.

Traditionally, the Karahi was a round-bottomed pot made from cast iron. This gave it strength and good heat distribution properties. It also had a loop-shaped handle on each side to make it easy to manipulate.

These days, though the basic design remains essentially unchanged, it is more likely to have a flat bottom to give it greater stability. It may also be made of more modern materials like stainless steel or aluminium, which may be enamelled or coated to give it a non-stick surface, with some even being made out of copper.

Often it comes with a removable lid that serves to retain the heat and to prevent splatter during cooking. Frequently, the modern Karahi has a lid to retain the heat and stop splatter. And, to suit the modern world, most are dishwasher safe. Although it usually services as a cooking utensil, a Karahi can also be used for serving – something you often see in Indian restaurants.

Cooking with a Karahi is fairly simple. It is the ideal utensil for the shallow or deep frying of meat, fish and potatoes and delightful Indian snacks like samosas. It is also used for the cooking of papadums, the crispy dough-based snack that often accompanies Indian meals.

But it is for the tasty stews and posola dishes, many of which bear the name Karahi, that the Karahi is most well known. Meat, such as lamb or chicken, is stewed in a base of reduced tomato and green chilli and mixed with spices to produce a culinary experience that is not to be missed.

A typical Karahi dish is prepared by heating oil in the Karahi and then adding the meat. This is followed by the other ingredients such as tomato and spices like ginger, chilli and mint. Some recipes may also call for yoghurt. This mixture is allowed to simmer until the meat is tender when it is ready to serve. Eaten with naan, it makes a delicious and wholesome meal.

The vastness of the Indian sub-continent means that there are a huge variety of Karahi dishes, many unique to particular locations. The Karahi can be used to cook them all. The hardwearing and versatile Karahi is an essential utensil for anyone who is serious about cooking great tasting Indian food in the traditional way. And, with the growing worldwide popularity of Indian cuisine, the Karahi is becoming ever more easily available to Western cooks.

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