My Cooking Lessons and Lessons from Cooking

It’s quite challenging to combine cooking and a job in an office, especially if one cares to do justice to both.(There is always a danger of messing up both!).I got an opportunity to try this out and have completed more than 3 weeks doing it. The first few days were great as most of us are ARAMBHASURAS(energetic at the outset). So far it has been a mixed success. Initially I was following my notes rigorously and as I gained confidence I started taking some shortcuts.
So, what are my experiences and lessons? Here they are:

1.When there is a disaster, DO NOT PANIC or LOSE HEART:
Let me first tell you what is the disaster I’m talking about. On one Sunday I cooked Yellow pumpkin ‘koottu’ and raw banana curry – both of which are my favourites(Koottu, by the way, is a popular dish from Tamilnadu which is made using Moong Dal). I was really looking forward to having a great lunch but as luck would have it, it turned out to be a disaster – a bad day in the kitchen. How could anyone possibly mess up a simple banana curry? Here is how. First mistake: Didn’t peel off the skin perfectly which left a very thin, hardly visible, inedible green layer on top. Nevertheless I carried on thinking that it would only add to my fibre content. Second Mistake: I was very miserly in using oil. As any expert would have guessed by now, the vegetable turned out too hard to taste well. Of course this experience isn’t without its positive aspect! While peeling the banana skin, I discovered that it contained a natural super glue which got stuck to my palm and wouldn’t get washed even with a powerful detergent or soap. My guess is that if someone could suitably process and formulate, it could turn out to be a great environment-friendly glue.
As for ‘koottu’, I couldn’t figure out what went wrong except to say it tasted rather dull. By evening I got busy on SKYPE to sort things out. I called for a video-conference with my Disaster Management Cell consisting of the following experts from the US: A specialist in cooking, that is my wife and 2 experts at Salvaging a bad preparation – they are my daughters.I gave details of the disaster and desperately wanted to know how to salvage. Each gave her own version of what might have gone wrong and suggested ways and means of salvaging. I took down notes diligently and the following day was a day of salvage. I’m happy to say it was accomplished successfully. What did I do? I simply boiled ‘koottu’ again with a bit more salt and ‘Idli Molagaippodi’. It worked like magic. Simple but very effective solution.(Idli Molagaippodi is a concoction made with red chilli powder and few other ingredients).

2. Timing is the essence of good cooking: This is true of everything in life. In the art of cooking, I discovered that there are 2 or 3 crucial moments. To start with, consider the process of assembling the cooker. The challenge here is to use the cooker optimally to cook rice, Dal and Soup/vegetable in one go. Assembling the vessels inside the cooker is always a moment of suspense. One has to carefully pick the right size of vessels with the right height. The moment of truth is when you close the cooker with all its contents. Till that happens, the million dollar question is: Will it or will it not close? If it closes perfectly, you feel a great sense of relief and accomplishment. The next moment of truth is when you do the finishing operations called seasoning or flavouring. The critical questions that bother one are: did I put all the spicy ingredients, in the right sequence and at the right time? As you fry the spices in oil for seasoning, one has to have a zen-like mindfulness – an alert mind to act at the right time(here time resolves into its minutest fraction of a second). The spicy ingredients of the seasoning have to be taken out of the fire just when the ‘urad dal’ turns colour and the entire mass is quickly added into the preparation. While experts do it all with great ease and elegance, novices like me have to train their minds and hands to do a good job.

3. Plan well before execution:
Cooking is a mind game. I always found it useful to make a firm resolve(Sankalp)each day. If I needed to cook in the precious morning hours, I would keep cut vegetables and other materials handy the evening before and mentally plan the sequence of work. This would make it easy to execute on the following day without any hiccups.

4.A positive outcome is NOT always guaranteed::
Like all activities in life, the outcome of cooking efforts also depends upon a number of parameters. It’s a long list starting with selection of vegetables and other raw materials. Our attitudes, moods and skills – all contribute to a quality preparation.
Finally, I completely agree with my sister who is fond of saying that an extra input called love is the most basic ingredient to make a great tasting food.

Published in: on November 24, 2013 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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