Mrs. Prabhu is worried. Her daughter Jyoti is going to study abroad, and although Jyothi likes continental food, she prefers good old desi khana. The problem is she has never entered the kitchen.
She will be renting an apartment with three other girls going to the same University and neither of them has ever cooked before. Cooking is essential for students as they have limited time and money to eat at Indian restaurants.
What are the first steps towards learning the fundamentals of cooking? These are recommendations for Jyoti and thousands like her that will be thrown into the kitchen in a foreign land:
1. First learn how to give tadkas. Take a spoon of oil and put the seasoning of choice. For example for many Maharashtrian dishes the tadka would be mustard seeds, geera, and then hing. A standard North Indian tadka consists of onion, garlic-ginger paste, and powdered dhania and geera.
2. Cooking Toor Dal – Learn how to cook toor dal in the pressure cooker. One cup dal needs 2 cups water and 3-4 whistles. Experiment with different tadkas so you can have a variety of tastes. Toor dal can be interchanged with other dals and lentils.
3. Cooking Rice – For one cup of rice add one and half cups water and place in pressure cooker for 2-3 whistles..
4. Cooking omelets – Sometimes dal and subzi are not possible to make. Eggs make a healthy meal. To make an omelet beat the eggs until almost frothy. Add any vegetables, salt and chillie powder. Add oil or butter to the pan and heat. Ensure the pan is hot before you add the egg batter. Lower flame and flip when cooked on one side.
5. Stir-frys and pasta – Add an Indian twist to jars of pasta sauce with lots of onion, garlic and chillie powder. Add lots of vegetables and garam masala and green chillies to Maggie noodles.
Student kitchen tips that should come in handy:
1. Cook for 2-3 meals at once. You can freeze one or two portions so they are ready for you on the days it is not possible to get in the kitchen or eat leftovers for a few days (very common with students and actually most food never makes it to the freezer).
2. Get canned chick peas (chole) and other lentils that are available off the shelf in most supermarkets abroad. Stock up on these and frozen vegetables for quick and easy cooking. Frozen vegetables are as healthy or healthier than fresh because they are packaged as soon as the vegetables are harvested so do not shy away from them and they are usually the same price as fresh. Curds are available in plenty.
3. There is a large variety of bread available abroad. Pita bread, tortillas and wraps all substitute well for rotis. Make one or two subzis and your meal is set.
4. Cooking on the largest flame possible will not make the food cook much faster. You will save a miniscule amount of time and there is a high chance that you will burn the food.
5. Learn the shelf and fridge life of foods. You do not want anything rotting in the fridge.
6. When you are cooking try not to use every dish and vessel in the kitchen, this will minimize your cleaning later. Keep the kitchen clean.
The first attempt at cooking cannot be learned from a book, and learning by doing is the best way to learn the craft. Learn a few tips from your mom, she will be thrilled to teach you.
You mom will give you practical tips such as how to know when meat is cooked, and how to improvise when all the ingredients are not on hand when making a recipe. It is also a great way to spend time together.
Box 1–List of items to take
Mid size Pressure cooker.
Tawa – will double up as toaster, bread warmer and dosa maker
Multipurpose Frying Pan
1-2 kadais of different sizes, friends love to get together and cook in bulk
Ladles, cooking spoons
At least 3 months supply of the basic spices such as turmeric, red chillie powder, hing, garam masala, mustard seeds, dhania, geera, etc. Depends on what type of food you will be eating more, eg. South Indians will need more tamarind.
Boxes of readymade masalas such as chicken, sambhar, pav bhaji, etc. Masalas are expensive abroad.
A few sachets of readymade garlic-ginger paste. This will not last long but will be convenient when you start.
One month supply of dal and some legumes
A knife, peeler and small chopping board.
Box 2 – Food terms used abroad
Cilantro/coriander – Cothimbir/Dhania leaves
Orka – Bhindi Squash – somewhat similar to Lauki Shallots –small onions Eggplant, Aubergine – Brinjal Bell pepper – Capsicum Fennel –Saunf Orange – Sweet lime Yogurt – Dahi/Curds Pepperoni – pork meat…this is not bell pepper so veggies beware.
Published in Pune Mirror, July 18, 2011