Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cooking - A fashionable, edible art.

Cooking is simple. If you can dress yourself every day you can cook too.  Ever read those articles, where a fashion expert takes 15 basic pieces to give you 30 or maybe even more different looks.  Cooking is the same way. There are few basics and then it’s an art of mix and match. Sometimes the combinations are brilliant, and sometimes they are okay, but every time they are YOUR originals and that’s what makes the dish great. It is YOU and your touch.  How you cut the vegetables? How you stir fry them, at what temperature, do you add the spices before the tomatoes are softened or after? It is these little nuances that change a dish. The greatest chefs of the world don’t have any special ingredients. In fact the best chefs use the most commonly available ingredients and spices.

What are the basics cooking? Let's see, some of your basic pieces of clothing like the good pair of jeans, and a tan jacket with a little accessories can go from casual to WOW, similarly there are a few building blocks to the ""Sans Recipe" route.

Aaloo - Tikki
Kofta - 
"Sans Recipe" was not something I aspired to learn; I grew up with the style. The variety of colors and textures my mom laid out on the table for the simplest luncheon to a formal gathering was nothing less than a feast both to the eyes and palate. It was from her I learnt the skill of menu planning. It is because of my Mom that I never serve Aaloo-Tikki as an appetizer and then have Malai kofta as an entre'e - why you ask? The answer is quite simple, they both are made from potatoes and are fried. The only difference, one is flat and dry, the other is a pot bellied ball and submerged in a gravy.

To go the “Sans Recipes” route and create some sexy food, you need to know the basic rules of cooking and a well stocked pantry. 

They are: 
  • A well stocked pantry
  • Techniques
  • Your tools - Your spices and the pots n pans of course
  • The gut to experiment 
That's really all you need to create some sexy fashionable and edible art. 

From the above, stocking your pantry is the easiest one. All you got to do is go on a shopping trip :)

Pots n pans are an interesting one. Go back the memory lane, your comfort food most likely came from a humble kitchen with very basic pots filled with lots of love and honest ingredients. Pots n pans are a personal preference. There are some who only cook in cast iron, some who never use non-stick, some who revere the aroma in a clay cooked pot, personally, for me it depends on how much time I have. If I have the whole day to myself and nothing else going on, yes I love my tagine, on the contrary if I have thirty minutes to whip up a meal, I need my heavy bottom pan so I can crank up the heat and be done just in time to pick up the kids from school. 

What technique did you use, this dish is amazing? Did you fry it or bake it? Again, another confusing question. I always wonder at it, because when you bite a dish, isn't the technique obvious. Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to be an expert here, but I think its pretty easy to tell if a dish was steamed, baked or fried.  In my mind there are five main techniques to cook; we bake a dish, roast a dish, steam it, stir fry (sauté’) it or deep-fry it.  Ok, we can get technical and say there is braising, poaching, browning etc. But if you look closely, they are all a variations of the basics.

Experimentation, the fun starts now: It’s cauliflower, cut it into medium size florets, sautéed with some chopped potatoes, a pinch of salt, a hint of turmeric, a double hint of ginger, a dash of coriander powder, a spoonful of garam-masala, a pinch of cinnamon and amchur, cooked till tender on medium high heat gives you a delectable “aaloo-gobi sabzi” from the North Indian kitchen. Now take the same medium sized florets, add some oregano, thyme, salt and sauté. Add a hint of garlic, some cayenne pepper, maybe even a squirt of ketchup mix in some  al-dente penne pasta, throw the mix in a casserole dish, top with cheese and bake till the cauliflower is tender, you just created an original - Cauliflower Penne.  

The point is in less than 30 minutes, you made two scrumptious dishes using the same main ingredient.  So next time your daughter wants pasta and your in-laws prefer Indian food, you know what to do.

No industry today follows the same laws as it did centuries ago, then why do cookbooks or rather, why do we follow recipes and every time we see a delectable dish, we instantly ask for the recipe, only to realize that no matter how accurately we follow the direction the dish continues to taste different than what we originally ate.

Ever wondered why?

It’s simple; the original dish tasted heavenly, because it was an original.    

Next week, together we cook up a vegetarian thanksgiving feast that would make the carnivores green with envy. But first, let us stock that pantry!

Gone are the days when eating out was a luxury. Today a home cooked meal is a luxury and totally in-style. Stay true to yourself, to your pantry and in no time, you’re going to hear the shy spinach demanding some of that bold cinnamon flavor!

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