A Single Girl’s Take on the Big Unknown: The Kitchen Chronicles

I know this isn’t going to bode well with the Indian community at large but you know what they say, a little honesty goes a long way. (Or in my case, generates new content for blog). So here it is,

I don’t (read cannot) cook.

When I say I cannot cook, I do not refer simply to my crippled knowledge of basic Indian culinary skills. My handicap encompasses anything and everything (eating aside) that occurs in a kitchen: from cutting vegetables to being able to accurately differentiate between kothamali, curry leaves and karuvepillai. (They’re all GREEN LEAVES for crying out loud!)

Now I’ve always likened myself to a strong, independent woman and nothing says strong and independent like running to my mother every time the pressure cooker spurts out a miniature nuclear explosion. Right?

WRONG.

*sigh*

Seeing as how I didn’t have anything else of dire consequence looming over me (possible permanent unemployment aside), I figured now was as good a time as any to equip myself with some basic survival skills. While the overachiever in me was hoping I’d morph into Nigella Lawson overnight, a few culinary disasters later, I was forced to resign to rational thinking. Like all good things in life, mastering the art of cooking requires two basic ingredients- practice and patience. (Dammit, does procrastination achieve nothing!)

I’m not particularly well versed with commitment. I run at the first sign of hard work and from years of previous experience (read: countless failed attempts at art, karate and piano lessons- to name a few), perseverance doesn’t sit too well with me either. To account for my limited attention span, I gave myself a total of seven days to master the basic recipes I would need to know in the event of an apocalypse.

In the unlikely event that you’re as much of a culinary pariah as I am, I’ve rounded up seven basic dishes that should equip us with enough to avoid otherwise dropping dead from a lack of proper nourishment/ cardiovascular problems induced by jaw-dropping credit card statements courtesy the one too many trips to the nearest take  away.

NOTE: Before you proceed any further, a word of caution. If you intend to attempt any of the proceeding dishes and if you are as inexperienced as I am, you will be required to fight with the appropriate battle-wear. I personally recommend the following so as to protect both yourself as well as others (mostly others) around you from bodily harm:

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Nothing says war cry like Hello Kitty.

(disclaimer: I’m not a trained professional. I’m not even an amateur to be completely honest. So if you find any of the proceeding dishes unpalatable, it most probably is. Not like it stopped me from forcing my family to eat it anyway. heh.)

DAY 1: South Indian Filter Kaapi

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First off, for anyone who intends on moving out in the near future, trust me when I say this, coffee is your best friend. A good cup of coffee will keep you company as you spend hours trying to figure out how your bank balance managed to make its way into the negative denomination. A good cup of coffee is the perfect fix for when you’ve run out of deodorant. (Because who doesn’t love the smell of freshly brewed coffee) A good cup of coffee is sure to fool your significant other into thinking you’re paying attention to what he/she is saying when what you’re actually doing is counting the number of bubbles in the froth (norai is lyf!). A good cup of coffee (with the right filters) is all you need when you’ve run out of a will to live but have to convince your followers on Instagram otherwise.

Now secondly, don’t judge me. (Try, at least.)

I know I know. A South Indian who doesn’t know how to brew a decent cup of coffee? Blasphemy. For someone who consumes an ungodly amount of caffeine on the regular, it pains me to admit that I’ve been drinking.. instant coffee *gasps* for the past few years. I don’t mean to make light of the situation but can we all just accept the fact that brewing a perfect cup of filter coffee is an art form by itself. And one that I have taken upon myself to master today. *cue dramatic music*

THE BARE ESSENTIALS

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After days of trial and repeated error, I managed to brew myself a pretty good cup of coffee, thanks in large part to this detailed recipe. Step one of adulting: check. 

Day 2: THE FOOD THAT MY FOOD EATS a.k.a. A SALAD

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As much as I welcome the idea a life where I just sip coffee all day, practicality managed to get the better of me (Gah, being an adult is a curse that keeps on giving). Since I’d already *coughs* perfected *coughs* the elixir of life, I figured the next obvious step was to incorporate something I could actually chew on. And if you’ve not already figured it out by now, your twenties is mostly you discovering a new-found appreciation for fruits and vegetables that you used to previously hate with a vengeance. So bro, are you even an adult unless you know how to make a salad?

The best thing about a salad is how you don’t really need to rely on a recipe. You can throw in just about anything: vegetables, fruits, your salary and with the right seasoning, it is next to impossible to go wrong.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

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I’ve included the recipe we follow at home, mostly because its so stupidly easy that it necessitates documentation.

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Day 3: A CLASSIC INDIAN OMELETTE 

(Or as we 90’s kids like to call it, omelette du fromage, OMELETTE DU FROMAGE!) 

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Have you ever been in the midst of doing completely normal, like attempting a handstand for example, and you find you’re suddenly gripped by this inexplicable urgent need to have a seven course meal from a  Michelin three starred restaurant at that exact instant? I know I have. (In retrospect, it might have simply been all that blood rushing to my head.) While satellite television, with the likes of MasterChef, may have brought gourmet cuisine closer to home than previously possible, who really has the time to spend two hours cooking something that’s going to be wiped clean in two minutes? Law of returns, my friend. And also, inflation.

In times like this, I find that the best way to instantly quell said hunger is to prepare an omelette.

Benefits include:

  1. Literally takes ten minutes to prepare
  2. If done correctly, can be enough to trick your tummy into believing you’re actually ingesting gourmet food.
  3. All the ingredients required will work out to be effectively cheaper than the money you’d spend simply googling where the nearest Michelin starred restaurant is.
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TIP: I personally don’t follow a recipe when it comes to an omelette so I like to think there’s an added element of surprise each time I try. Something I have learnt, courtesy the best omelette maker I know, is that the oft-unattainable fluffiness is attributed to adding a few spoons of water and or milk before you proceed to beat the eggs. Also, for an amateur cook, cheese should be your answer to everything. (You’ll thank me later.)

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SIDEY TIP: While many will argue that eggs can be a tad messy to work with, the pros far outweigh the cons. Get it on your face and you’ve got a DIY blackhead removing/ pore reducing face mask. Get it on your hair and you’ve got yourself a DIY hair mask. (Take that, annoying salon lady who insists that the only way my hair can be salvaged is if I spend 800 rupees on a tub of shampoo!)

DAY 4: Sambhar/ Dal/ Lentil Based Vegetable Stew

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If you’re wondering WHY Sambhar, READ NO FURTHER! Anyone who questions sambhar is undeserving of any extra help at life. *glares* Sambhar has to be the most versatile Indian dish there. It can be served with just about anything: dosas, idli, rice, chappati, sass (Saravana Bhavan servers have perfected this combination); you name it.

One of the reasons why sambhar/ dal has be included in every millennial’s guide to conquering the kitchen is that you can prepare it using just about anything. A while back I had sambhar made using Pumpkins. PUMPKINS!! Now as easy as this sounds, the art of perfecting sambhar, unfortunately, lies in the technicality* of the preparation. My initial few attempts were a right royal disaster so do not be discouraged if it doesn’t turn out to be Sanjeev Kapoor- worthy on your first go.

Since this is a beginner’s kit to tackling the kitchen, I figured the chances of ME screwing up would be significantly lower with dal rather than sambar. I’ll leave you this recipe (appropriately linked under bachelor-cooking), which I personally tried, and survived.

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(Photoshop; furthering democratic relations with our neighbouring countries one serving of dal at a time.)

Under the insistence of the mothership, I also attempted sambhar, the major difference between the two being about half a dozen vegetables. In a surprising turn of events, it didn’t out to be half as bad as I expected.

NOTE*: The process of preparing above dish usually involves continual stirring for an extended period of time. If at any point during this process, you feel compelled to dive head first into the concoction on account of how closely it resembles a pensieve, please, for your sake and mine, don’t.

Day 5: Rasam

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One of the perks of being a grown up is that all those childhood make-believe tea parties with your sibling become a life sized reality. Societal norms dictate that the beverage of choice has to be Pinot- noir. But when you’re on a tight budget, life only leaves room for… noir. (Okay okay, sorry about that.) So in times like this, rasam is your go-to man. Mostly because it serves the dual purpose of being a beverage as well as a condiment in your meal.

Its duality on the dining table aside, Rasam is also an excellent stand-in for when you don’t have a working health insurance plan. Immerse yourself in a bucketful of rasam and you’ll find that you’ve been magically dispelled* of all bodily ailments.

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NOTE*: Okay, in all honesty, one cup of Rasam will help alleviate a sore throat; at best. The magical expulsion of bodily ailments is still left to be proven otherwise.

FUN FACT: I wouldn’t go so far as to claim this to be 100% factually correct, but during one of our annual horror storytelling sessions, a kind friend let me know that the surest way to avoid being overcome by an otherworldly spirit was to consume rasam. And quite frankly, that’s reason enough for me to be drinking rasam everyday for the rest of my life.

Day 6: Fried Potato

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I’ve been called a potato and countless other variants of the word my entire life so it only seemed fitting that I included at least one Aloo item in this handbook. Potato has so many uses, besides being a creative cuss-word. Sprinkle a little salt on mashed potato and you’ve got yourself a meal fit for two- perfect for when you need to impress bae with your culinary proficiency. (And they claim romance is dead, tch.) Cut it into neat little fingers, fry it and you’ll find you’re giving McD a run for their money. Leave it to rot in your backpack for a month and you will mistake it for a dead rat some day. (I kid you not, this actually happened to me in fifth grade.)

Day 6 was to be the last offering in my crash course and I figured I owed it to myself to amp things up. Enter Aloo fry. My memories with this particular item date back to school, when each time a friend of mine brought it for lunch, the subsequent scene was everything short of a massacre.

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Same.

It only seemed fitting that I pay homage to one of the most pivotal moments in my life by attempting to recreate some of that magic now in my twenties. And if I’m being completely honest, I think I did quite well.

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Miscellaneous tips and tricks

These are a few useful little tips and tricks I’ve amassed over the year- perfect for when you need to pretend like you’ve got life together.

Know your ingredients. Referring to items as simply green leaves could result in a potential catastrophe at a later point in time so let me break it down for you.

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  • Curry leaves and karuvepillai are believed to be the same and do not refer to two different green leaves.*nervous giggling* Curry leaves are also referred to as sweet neem leaves and are commonly employed as seasoning in South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine.
  • Kothamalli= coriander. Coriander (also referred to as dhania/ cilantro/ parsley) is a herb commonly used to make chutneys in Indian cuisine but more popularly used as garnish world-over.
  • Keerai= spinach leaves. Keerai poriyal is most commonly employed in South Indian households to inflict terror upon undeserving innocents. Come your twenties, and spinach manages to find its way back into your diet, thanks in large part to another equally horrific phenomenon: juice cleanses.

Invest in a bottle of Nutella. While it might seem like a bit of splurge initially, your soul will be forever grateful. Besides being marketed as edible ecstasy, Nutella is also believed to be the ONLY known cure for heartbreak.

Always ensure you also purchase fruits during weekly grocery visits. While being a source of some much needed nutrients, they also double up as colourful room decor. (Middle class Indians represent!)

If like me, presentation isn’t really your forte, grieve no further. This is 2016 and if there’s one thing the masses have made clear, it is that stainless steel is so passé. Nothings says hipster like multicoloured plastic utensils. Incorporating a touch of VIBBGYOR to your cutlery is sure to shift the focus from your awkwardly plated omelette to how ‘bohemian you are. (Throw in a fedora and a pair of aviators to your outfit to further accentuate this effect.)

And lastly, do not, under ANY circumstances, attempt cooking for the first time without the supervision of someone who is sure to help you douse the flames.

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BON APPÉTIT!

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2 Comments Add yours

    1. SJ says:

      Thank you Divya! 😀

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