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Hi There,


I came across this term, Bunooing, which I'd never heard before. I had a look around to try and understand the method behind it, but came across a number of inferences on what bhunooing is and how it works, some of which were conflicting and a little confusing. I would be very grateful if someone could clear this up for me and perhaps answer a few questions. This is my understanding of bhunooing so far:-


Essentially, this is a method of releasing essential oils that are cooped up in your dry spices and leaves too. The types of spices used are the hard spices such as cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon, mustard seeds etc. As I understand it powdered spice can be added, but nearer the end of the bhunooing process.


The thinking behind this method is that spices take on moisture over time which dilutes the essential oils in the spices. By slow frying the spices you are gently evaporating the water and releasing the concentrated essential oils from the spice which enhances the power of spice, giving it more punch.


The bhunooing process can be used to make a vibrant base for your gravy. To do this, heat a good amount of oil on high and then bring it down to a medium heat. Add your spices and onion and slowly fry until the onion turns a light brown. At this point add your liquid/ gravy.

Some questions that I have are:-

  • Why heat the oil to hot and bring to medium? Why not just heat to medium?
  • Does bhunooing always have to include onions?
  • The first time I tried this, the onions absorbed all of the oil after a while - is this okay? Or does it mean that I used too much oil?
  • Is this the same, or does it have any relation to the bhuna?
  • I have come across articles and recipes that refer to bhunooing and suggest that it's (perhaps) just the process of slow cooking ingredients on a flame/ hob - is this correct?
  • How long should I be frying the spices for?

I would be very grateful for any help you can provide.


Thank you in advance


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Thank you cdh, your response is much appreciated.


I had already read this post which actually made things a little more frustrating for me. BBhasin and Suvir Saran are not talking about Bhunooing, they are refering to it in a discussion about oil separation. Their references suggest that knowledge of the process is common knowledge among Indian chef's which is perhaps why it's so hard to find a succinct definition - perhaps everyone understands bhunooing apart from me!


A re-read of the article did, however, answer one of my points:-


1. The first time I tried this, the onions absorbed all of the oil.

Answer:- I didn't wait long enough for the oil separation to occur (thanks BBhasin), I will try again today with more patience  :smile:


I also notice that the spelling is slightly different here and that googling "the Bhunao method" brings far more results than my original spelling. I will research further and for those, like me, who are uninitiated I will share my findings.


Thanks again cdh :-)

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I have the book Prashad:  Cooking with Indian Masters by J. Inder Singh Kalra. He also taps into the expertise of many of India's well known chefs.  It is a fabulous book with quite involved recipes.  There is no index just a listing of recipes in their Indian names so difficult to find stuff but I am working on indexing it for myself.  I hope I am not breaking any posting rules regarding copy right, here goes:


In the Preface he states:  "It is unfortunate that the excessive use of desi ghee or vegetable fat and masala by a handful of half-baked Chefs made ours an unsaleable food. It was 'rich'--read that as 'fatty- and 'spicy'- to be read 'chilli hot'.  Our food is 'rich' but not 'fatty'.  It is true that we sometimes cook in excess fat, but the amazing thing about our cuisine is that the cooking is deemed complete when the fat leaves the sides (of the utensil in which the food is being cooked) or comes to the surface.  In other words, the ingredient 'expels' all fat when fully cooked.  The excess fat merely eases the cooking process and is supposed to be drained off before service.  In fact, the drained fat or 'rogan' can be re-used and inevitably makes a better fat medium because of the flavour and aroma of spices it has acquired during the cooking of the first delicacy."


In the Culinary Terms section of the book he states:  "The heart and soul of India's culinary art is to be able to combine the two with the nitty-gritty of Indian cooking:  "dum, bhunao, talna, baghar, dhuanaar and bhunnana".  Each one of these 'methods' or a combination of two or three or even all may be necessary to prepare a delicacy."  He goes on to describe each one of these methods in detail. Here is what he says about "Bhunao"


"Bhunao is a combination of light stewing, sautéing and stir frying.  It is the process of cooking over medium to high heat, adding small quantities of liquid - water or yoghurt - to prevent the ingredients from sticking, which also makes it necessary to stir constantly.  Almost every recipe needs bhunao at some stage, very often at more than one stage. 


At the outset it may be the spices and/or ingredients like onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, etc., which require bhunao.  The process would not only extract the flavour of each of the spices and/or ingredients, but also ensure that they do not get burnt or remain raw.  In fact, the masala must be fully cooked.


Subsequently, the main ingredient may also require bhunao.  This ensures that the initial cooking is done in the ingredients' own juices.  The process is complete only when the fat leaves the masala or the sides. 


Bhunao is not a complete process in itself but a part of the process that helps to prepare a dish.  It usually requires the addition of substantial quantities of liquid to complete the cooking process."


In his recipes when he wants you to use this method he uses the term "bhunno"  for example here is an excerpt from a recipe: "Heat ghee in a handi, add whole garam masala and salute over medium heat until it begins to crackle.  Add boiled onion paste, bhunno for 2 minutes, add the ginger and garlic pastes dissolved in 1/4 cup of water then stir for a minutes......."

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typo: "Heat ghee in a handi, add whole garam masala and salute over medium heat until it begins to crackle."  Should be ...."and saute over medium heat...."  

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Okananogancook - Does he specify a particular quantity/type of liquid (water or yogourt) to be added during the bhunno-ing process ... for instance in the above recipe excerpt?

Per his definition, it seems that one must add one of those while bhunno-ing and yet that 'recipe' seems not to discuss that but adds liquid seemingly after that bhunno part is done (when the garlic and ginger pastes dissolved in water are added)? (Or am I misunderstanding something?)

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In his definition of bhunoa he does not specify how much water or yogurt.


 I guess I should have included the whole method for the recipe which illustrates the liquid additions.  I was just trying to show the use of the word "bhunno".  


The boiled onion paste quantity is 2/3 cup which would contain some moisture which would add in the bhunoa process (the paste is made by frying onions with some water until they are cooked and most of the water is evaporated then it is blended....it would still need to be quite moist in order to blend it, I would think.).


The rest of the recipe states:  After the water and pastes are added then chopped ginger and green chillies are added and stirred for 30 seconds.  Then red chillies and coriander powder are added and stirred for 30 seconds.  Then 1 1/2 cups of yoghurt and salt are added along with 3/4 c water.  It is brought to a boil and simmered until the fat leaves the masala (the second bhunoa in the recipe as he described in this definition).  After that fresh coriander is added along with 1 1/3 lb of mushrooms and simmered for 2 minutes then cashew nut paste is stirred in and brought to a boil before serving.


Looking at a few of the other recipes they usually have you add to spices either onion paste or garlic paste and 4 to 6 tablespoons of water to bhunno or just onions with the spices which would provide the moisture to help prevent burning.

  The onion pastes are onions blended with water then reduced until most of the liquid has evaporated or onions fried then blended with some yoghurt to make a paste.  Quite often the second bhunoa involves tomatoes, nut pastes, yoghurt.


Hope that answers your questions, if not ask again.




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Phill Bernier

Is this a topic you are still interested in? Of course I am a member who is just seeing this. Forgive me if you are done with the topic. 


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