The Magic of an Iron Kadai – 1

With the advent of modern lifestyles, the convenience of modular kitchens, and the widespread use of non-stick, stainless steel and aluminium cooking utensils, we have put aside much of the wisdom of our grandparents. This has also affected our health. Most of us can remember the presence of an iron kadai or pan in our mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens.

As I had said in my earlier post on Anaemia, very little of the iron in the food we eat is actually absorbed by the body. There is plenty of evidence that proves cooking in an iron utensil increases the bioavailability of iron from your food. That means that the body is able to absorb more of the iron in your food if cooked in an iron utensil. Even a single dish cooked at every meal in an iron kadai will improve your hemoglobin levels. It is very simple to test this yourself. Have a blood test. Cook one dish at every meal in an iron kadai or pot. Test your hemoglobin level after 3-4 months. Your need this time period as our red blood cells have a life cycle of 90-120 days, and for any affect to be seen properly, we need to complete at least 1 cycle. If it has improved, continue to do this.

Since many of us will be unable to find an iron kadai in our home and would need to buy one, please consult your mother or grandmother on how to season it before you use it. If you cannot find an iron kadai in a shop near you, they are now available today in almost every large online store.

There are 2 types of iron utensils – cast iron, and rolled or wrought iron. Cast iron is when the iron is smelted and poured into a mould. Wrought iron is when it is shaped from a sheet of rolled iron. The use of wrought iron is more widespread in India. The only disadvantage with iron cookware, is that food cannot be kept in it after cooking, but needs to be transferred and the kadai cleaned immediately.

After you purchase the kadai, it is imperative that you season it before cooking with it. This helps it stay rust free, and stops your vegetables turning black. There are many ways to season the kadai. If your parents and grandparents are able to help, please ask them. If not, the simplest method is this:

Clockwise from top left: Scrub kadai; scrub with liquid soap; dry with kitchen towel; heat over low flame.

Rinse and scrub the pan with a brush or soft cleaning pad. Do not use a steel pad. Next add cleaning liquid to the cleaning pad and scrub thoroughly. Check with your finger if clean. If not, scrub again with liquid soap. Keep cleaning until a swipe with your fingers comes out clean. This is the last time you will use soap on the pan. With a clean kitchen towel, wipe the pan completely dry.

From left: Oil kadai inside and outside; heat on low flame till smokey.

Place on the stove and heat with a low flame. After the pan is completely heated and giving out heat, turn off the flame. With a small cloth pad, coat the pan surface with a vegetable oil. First coat the inside and then the outside of the pan. I used a sunflower oil. Please be very careful not to burn yourself while doing this, as the pan will be extremely hot. After coating the pan with oil, place it back on the stove and heat under a low flame. Let it cool and repeat the process twice. Do dot worry if the pan discolours. It is the ‘polymer’ coating forming. If the pan gets sticky, scrub with warm water and remove the sticky residues.

Next, heat the pan, add 2 tbs. of vegetable oil and fry a chopped onion, making sure you stir the onion over all the inner surface of the pan. Remove from pan. Wipe clean. Your pan is ready to use.

Remember to empty the pan of what has been cooked in it immediately and clean the pan before you do anything else. Do not use soap. Liberally sprinkle salt and a little room temperature water into the pan and scrub with a soft pad until all the stains and grit have been cleaned from the pan. Scrape away the gunge. Add more salt if necessary. Ensure that you have cleaned all surfaces of the pan in this way.

Once you have scrubbed it thoroughly, rinse the pan under running tap water till clean. Dry with a cloth. After it is completely dry, heat the pan on a low flame. This helps completely dry the pan. Oil it and then store. The more you use the pan, the more it will season and the blackening of your vegetables will stop.

Keep re-seasoning your new pan every time you use it until the vegetables you cook stop blackening, to help develop its polymer ‘non-stick’ coating.

If you have an oven, the easier way to season the pan is to oil it completely with a soft cloth after you have cleaned it and bake it at 200 degrees centigrade in a pre-heated oven for 1 hour, placing the pan upside down on the rack. Allow the pan to cool in the oven before removing. Your pan is seasoned!

If any of you have a better method of seasoning iron pots and pans, please share them here in the comments.

In my next blog; some vegetables that have high iron content and how to cook them in your iron kadai.

– Vasant

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