Friday, January 4, 2013

Food and Emotions


Long back in Delhi, while I used to relish the daal, rajma and mutton curry that mother made, I used to wonder if I would ever be able to cook like that. The daal with that special fragrance of onions; the rajma with its sweet sour hot taste; the mutton curry for which I could fight a world war 3…

Years have passed and I have cooked most of my meals for the last 6 years. I have been able to recreate the rajma but the mutton and the daal; I still am perplexed.

In the years of living by myself, necessity has caused me to become a so called good cook. I churn up wonderful recipes and cook up hearty meals for me and my friends. There have been days when I have not been able to get that perfect taste, that perfect aroma out of the ingredients and there have been days when even the ones who eat less, end up finishing off everything in the pot.

So, what made mother’s meal so pleasing and my meals sometimes good and sometimes horrible? The answer to that is a bit abstract. What I have observed is that, the food that I prepare reflects my mood. A bad day at office and a horrible headache would make the worst chicken tikka and a good day and a relaxed body would make the shrimp taste five star even when the vital ingredients are missing. So, does that say that good cooks are always happy people? Well, most chefs that I’ve met are so, but the rest don’t invent, they just go on following a fixed algorithms (bringing out boring but edible food).

Mothers and sisters and wives and girlfriends derive a great joy from cooking food for their children and brothers and husbands and boyfriends. They are wired up like that. No good office day or healthy body can replicate that. Hence men can’t ever cook as good and as wholesome dinners as women. 

So, what can we possibly do to survive and to get some wah-wahi from friends?
It’s simple; keep it simple. 

Cook only when you really want to. Never attempt to cook when you are fighting with someone or just after a lost war of words. The shrimp would be cooked like biscuits and the potato would be a bit softer than bricks; the oil would be floating around and the cumin would give you a heartache.

Know what you want to cook. You are not an alchemist or a chef. Looking up a recipe on YouTube is not at all demeaning. 

Get the ingredients neatly placed in-front of you before you start cooking that Afghani. Don’t jump around the kitchen, looking for nutmeg while the masala burns off in the pot.

Try using as little self prepared spices as you can; don’t risk it. There’s chhole masala, mutton masala and garam masala ready to be used, up for sale; use them.

Always use fresh vegetables and boil/fry the potatoes before putting them in the curry. 

Make sure the onions are well fried and caramelized before you add anything else.

Use cumin as little as possible and add that to the oil and not at the end of frying vegetables.

Don’t wander off to watch TV while the masala is sizzling in the pot. Finish it and go on with whatever you want to.

Ask your mother how to cook a specific thing. Follow it like your life depends on it; and you’d never disappoint anyone.

Maybe that would not make you a master chef, but would keep you in the foodie circle. The privilege? You cook once and make others happy and others would cook for you the next time.

Having said all that, if you really want to create, as opposed to recreate, you’d need to imagine what you want and read about the ingredients and practice a lot.
The most important thing, be happy about what you’re going to cook.

Happy Cooking!!!!