Basic Indian Curry Sauce, also known as Bhuna Masala, made with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices. This is the base for many Indian dishes such as lentils and curries. This onion tomato masala is very versatile and freezes well. Perfect to have for those busy days when you want to make a curry in a hurry!

Indian curry sauce made with onions and tomatoes in a black bowl with spices and tomatoes in the back
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Let me start by saying this basic curry sauce (or gravy) will simplify your indian cooking A LOT!

You are already aware, I am all about easy one-pot cooking. With 2 kids now, school and extra-curricular activities keeping us busy, I need quick and easy cooking. However I don’t want to compromise on healthy food or on giving the experience of true indian food to my family. So this easy curry sauce is my secret weapon on those busy days (which is now everyday!).

Once I have this onion tomato masala ready, it saves a ton of time when cooking indian food. Having this stored, means we can enjoy healthy, authentic indian food everyday!

This is not a new innovative idea to make onion tomato masala. My mom used to always have a stash in the freezer when I was growing up. Has it become more efficient to make it? Yes, absolutely. I will share some of my tricks to make it easier to make and use this everyday masala. I will share the recipe to make this masala in the instant pot and in a saucepan on stovetop. My preferred way now is the instant pot as it needs less of my active time!

This everyday curry sauce is also great if you are planning a party or cooking for a large family. You can make this masala a few days in advance, which will make it so much easier to manage a large spread on the day of the party.

What is basic Indian Curry Sauce aka Onion Tomato Bhuna Masala?

  • Basic Indian Curry Sauce is an aromatic, flavorful and versatile base for many Indian curries, lentils and rice dishes.
  • It is made from onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices, which are the base for more Indian dishes.
  • Having this everyday curry sauce ready, means a big time saving with not having to sauté the basic ingredients every time.
  • This everyday onion tomato masala can be prepared in a big batch in advance (like meal prepping) and even freezed. Another advantage, if you are pressure cooking, then you can even skip thawing the masala for most recipes.
  • With this bhuna masala ready, many Indian dishes become a dump-and-go recipe.

This onion tomato masala that I am sharing is a punjabi style curry sauce. With slight variations, this masala can be used in both north and South Indian cooking.

Why use this curry sauce over cooking with basic ingredients everyday?

The main reason – Saves Time Everyday!

I totally understand that Indian cooking can sometimes be exhausting with having to peel, chop or grind and sauté basic ingredients everyday. I feel the same if I have to chop onions multiple times in a day!

This curry sauce can make indian cooking manageable and approachable for many. With this sauce, you can enjoy home cooked fresh Indian meals every day!

For example, if you are making a curry such as Aloo Matar, just add this bhuna masala, some spices, throw in the potatoes, green peas and some water to pressure cook. This just makes many indian curries dump-and-go. Another example is lentils such as Green Moong Dal, add the lentils, this masala and water to pressure cook.

What are the Ingredients to make basic Indian Curry Sauce?

I use 5 main ingredients to make this curry sauce:

  1. Onions – I use yellow onions for cooking.
  2. Tomatoes – I used fresh Roma tomatoes as they have less water content, which we anyway want to cook down in this curry sauce. You can use canned diced tomatoes too.
  3. Ginger
  4. Garlic
  5. Spices – I use very basic spices in this recipe such as ground coriander, turmeric and red chili powder. The idea is to add some spices, but we want to add more spices when using this sauce to make a curry.

I also used green chili pepper, but they are completely optional.

Ingredients such as onions, tomatoes, green chili pepper, ginger and garlic

I like to use a chopper to chop the onions and tomatoes. I recently got this onion chopper and fell in love with it. I feel that there is some cleaning involved, so I will not use it to dice half a onion, but for such recipes where I need multiple onions, it is a savior.

Chopping onions using a manual chopper

I even chopped the tomatoes and green chilis with the chopper.

Using a chopper, made the prep for this curry sauce so much easier.

Chipped onions in a chopper
Chopped tomatoes in a chopper

How to make Indian Curry Sauce in the Instant Pot?

Once you have the chopping done, let’s start with cooking the curry sauce.

  • Start the instant pot in Saute(more) setting and let it heat until it displays HOT.  We want to use the high sauté setting, as we are going to saute a lot of onions, so this will help to speed up the process.
  • Add oil, then diced onions and stir them. Saute the onions for about 15 minutes. You dont need to stir for the first 8-10 minutes, as the onions release water and do not stick to the pot. After 10 minutes, stir at regular intervals.
  • Add ginger, garlic and green chili pepper and mix well. Saute for 5 mins, while stirring frequently. Green chili pepper is completely optional, so feel free to skip if you want to keep this masala non-spicy.
Onions with minced ginger , garlic and green chili pepper in the pressure cooker
Spices on sautéed onions in pressure cooker
  • Add the spices. Then add tomatoes and stir well. Saute for about 3 minutes.
    • We don’t want to cook down the tomatoes completely, as we need the tomato liquid for pressure cooking. Scrape the bottom to make sure nothing is stuck. If needed, add 1-2 tablespoons of water and deglaze the pot.
    • We are also adding very less spices as we want to add more spices when using this masala to make a dish. Spices can also vary based on the Indian dish you are cooking, so this helps to tailor based on the actual dish.
  • Press Cancel and close lid with vent in sealing position. Set the instant pot to manual or pressure cook mode for 5 minutes at high pressure.
  • When the instant pot beeps, let the pressure release naturally. Open the pot and give it a good stir.
Sautéed browned onions in the instant pot
Tomatoes and onions in a pressure cooker
  • You can leave the masala as is or blend using an immersion blender or in a standalone blender. Keep it chunky or smooth depending on your taste. I like to blend it, but not make it completely smooth.
  • This recipe makes about 6 cups of curry sauce. This can easily be used to make 10 or more Indian dishes when cooking for 2-4 people.
Curry Sauce in the instant pot

Let the masala cool completely before you store it in the refrigerator or freeze it.

Use the masala as needed to make curries, dal, stews, pulao, etc.

Indian curry sauce made with onions and tomatoes in a glass jar with spices and tomatoes in the back

How to make Bhuna Masala in a saucepan on stovetop?

You can also make this easy curry sauce in a saucepan on the stovetop.

  • Use a heavy bottom deep saucepan. Add the oil and onions, and saute for about 15 minutes. Stir at regular intervals from the start on stovetop.
  • Add the tomatoes and spices, and stir well. Cover and let it cook for 5 minutes, so the tomatoes soften. Then cook the masala uncovered so all the liquid dries and the masala thickens.Keep stirring at regular intervals.
  • The Bhuna Masala is ready when it starts to leave oil on the sides of the pan.
  • You can keep it as it or blend in a blender, depending on your preference.

I would say making onion tomato masala on stovetop or instant pot takes the same amount of time, but there is less active time or stirring needed with the instant pot method.

How to store Indian Curry Sauce?

This Indian curry sauce stores well in the refrigerator for up to a week.

If you want to store it for longer, which I always like to do, store it in the freezer. I save half in the refrigerator for the week, and freeze the rest.

You can use large ice cube trays or silicone molds  to store the Bhuna Masala. I used these silicone molds which store about 1/4 cup in each compartment. If you are making a large batch, you might need multiple trays. Also, make sure to cool the masala completely, before freezing it.

indian Onion tomato paste in silicone molds for storage

I also remove the freezed masala from the silicone tray and put in ziploc bags. That way the tray is available for me to use for other recipes.

Freezed onion tomato masala curry sauce in a ziploc bag

The advantage of freezing in individual portions is that it is easier to use. Depending on the recipe, I use 1 or 2 cubes of the masala, so it is 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup of the masala.

How to Use Indian Onion Masala in Recipes?

Now comes the fun part – using this onion tomato masala. You can use this masala in pretty much everything- dal, pulao, curries – so much more! You can use this masala wherever the recipe calls for using onion and tomatoes and basic Indian spices.

Here are some examples of recipes where you can use this masala. Skip adding onion, tomato, ginger and garlic in the recipes and adjust the spices to your taste.

Lentils (use 1/4 cup masala for 1 cup of dry lentils)

Curry

Beans (use 1/2 cup masala for 1 cup of dry beans/chickpeas)

Rice

For lentils and rice, I would start with using just 1/4 cup of the masala when cooking 3-4 servings. For curries, start with 1/2 cup. It is totally fine if you don’t get the quantity of masala right at first try. As this masala is already cooked well, you can also add it later.

Enjoy the convenience of this easy curry sauce to simplify your life. Happy cooking!

4.87 from 53 votes

Indian Curry Sauce Recipe (Onion Tomato Bhuna Masala)

Basic Indian Curry Sauce, also known as Bhuna Masala, made with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices. This is the base for many Indian dishes such as lentils and curries. This onion tomato masala is very versatile and freezes well. Perfect to have for those busy days when you want to make a curry in a hurry!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup Oil
  • 5 Onions, yellow medium diced, about 2 lbs
  • 10 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 inch Ginger, grated
  • 4 Green Chili Pepper, I used Thai chili, optional
  • 6 Tomatoes, medium chopped, I used Roma tomatoes, about 2 lbs

Spices

Instructions 

Instant Pot Method:

  • Start the instant pot in Saute(more) setting and let it heat until it displays HOT.
  • Add oil, then diced onions and stir them.
  • Saute the onions for about 15 minutes. You dont need to stir for the first 8-10 minutes, as the onions release water and do not stick to the pot. After 10 minutes, stir at regular intervals.
  • Add ginger, garlic and green chili pepper and mix well. Saute for 5 mins, while stirring frequently.
  • Add the spices. Then add tomatoes and stir well.
  • Saute for about 3 minutes. We don't want to cook down the tomatoes completely, as we need the tomato liquid for pressure cooking. Scrape the bottom to make sure nothing is stuck. If needed, add 1-2 tablespoons of water and deglaze the pot.
  • Press Cancel and close lid with vent in sealing position. Set the instant pot to manual or pressure cook mode for 5 minutes at high pressure.
  • When the instant pot beeps, let the pressure release naturally. Open the pot and give it a good stir.
  • You can leave the masala as is or blend using an immersion blender or in a standalone blender. Keep it chunky or smooth depending on your taste.
  • This recipe makes about 6 cups of curry sauce.

Stovetop Method:

  • Use a heavy bottom deep saucepan. Add the oil and onions, and saute for about 15 minutes. Stir at regular intervals from the start on stovetop.
  • Add the tomatoes and spices, and stir well. Cover and let it cook for 5 minutes, so the tomatoes soften. Then cook the masala uncovered so all the liquid dries and the masala thickens.Keep stirring at regular intervals. 
  • The Bhuna Masala is ready when it starts to leave oil on the sides of the pan. You can keep it as it or blend in a blender, depending on your preference.

Notes

Nutrition value: It is for 1/2 cup of curry sauce. 
Preferred Method: I would say making onion tomato masala on stovetop or instant pot takes the same amount of time, but there is less active time or stirring needed with the instant pot method. 
Storing: This Indian curry sauce stores well in the refrigerator for up to a week. To store for longer, freeze in small portions. You can use large ice cube trays or silicone molds  to store the Bhuna Masala. The silicone molds store about 1/4 cup in each compartment. You can remove the cubes once they are freezed and store in ziploc bags. The masala stays good for 3-4 months in the freezer. 
Using the masala: If using freezed masala in a dish that will be pressure cooked, you dont necessarily have to thaw the masala. Freezed masala can be added along with other ingredients to pressure cook a curry. 

Nutrition

Calories: 120kcalCarbohydrates: 9gProtein: 1gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 449mgPotassium: 238mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 611IUVitamin C: 15mgCalcium: 22mgIron: 1mg

Additional Info

Course: Spice Blend
Cuisine: Indian
Diet: Gluten-free, Vegan
Tried this recipe?Mention @pipingpotcurry or tag #pipingpotcurry!

About Meeta

I strongly believe that each one of us has a chef inside us, we just need to explore the ingredients and create great food. My passion is to share easy, healthy, and wholesome recipes made using Instant Pot & Air Fryer, that are well tested, so you can cook with confidence.

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4.87 from 53 votes (34 ratings without comment)

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53 Comments

  1. hello, I have just made this and wow, it’s turned out really rich.
    I quadrupled the amount of Tom’s as I had a lot to use and also managed the amount of spices.
    many thanks p

    1. Hi Rachel – If you plan to store this curry sauce, I would suggest to not add yogurt as it can reduce the storage life, and yogurt won’t freeze as well. Add yogurt or cream at the final stages when using this curry sauce to make a curry. Hope that helps!

    1. Hi Elane – you can use canned tomatoes, however I would suggest to not pressure cook in that case, and just make the curry sauce on saute mode. Canned tomatoes can often give a burn when pressure cooking.

  2. I’ve now used this with your moong dal, dal tadka, sambar and bhindi recipes.
    I will soon use with your chole masala.

    This is a game changer.

    I am your biggest 55 year old white guy fan in Walnut Creek, CA. My wife calls me her “little Indian wife.” She does set my Instant Pot lid in the garage, though, as the silicone becomes quite aromatic. Time and/or sunshine solves this issue.

    I have several of your recipes in the Anylist app to make buying at Trader Joes and my local Indian market (India Bazar) very easy. Thank you. I’m sure I’ll be cooking your recipes for the rest of my life.

    1. Thank you Jeff for your heartfelt message. I am so glad that you have been enjoying the recipes! Please don’t hesitate to share any feedback for the recipes you try. Best, Meeta.

    2. Hi Jeff. I grew up very close to your area. What’s your favorite recipe to use this in? I’m new to Indian cooking.

      1. Hi Cynthia – I have included a number of recipes where I use this onion tomato masala towards the end of the post. Hope you try it!

  3. Hey there! Apologies if my question appears idiotic. What would be 1 cup of curry sauce in grams according to you? Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Gundeep – Not a silly question at all. But sorry, I did not measure in grams. Do check if you need for any diet purposes.

  4. as I expected, my curry paste turned out a combination of sautéed tomatoes and onions. also not very healthy, because the amount of oil causes it to fry during the non-stirring time. sadly it doesn’t resonate with any of the curry sauces I tried over time. the tumerical taste was barely perceivable. i would recommend adding more water but it wouldn’t change the overall result.

    1. Hi Andrea – Typically a curry is like a sauce or gravy, sometimes they are thicker and sometimes thinner, depending on the dish. This recipe is the base which can be used to make many different Indian curries. This base is to be used while cooking curries, and it simplifies the process of not having to chop/cook onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic multiple times. After this base is ready, it is like a thick paste of the ingredients. In the details of this post, I have included how I use it in recipes.