Cook Smart!

Quick and easy is the name of the game in today’s kitchens. We all feel 24 hours are not enough to pack in all that we need to do and also want to do, but unfortunately that is what we all get! We live life in the fast lane, drive fast cars and eat fast food. But wait a second, with due respect to a precious commodity that is time, let us clarify that fast food is called fast food not because it is quick to cook but only because it can be served at a moment’s notice. Everything is prepared and all it needs is assembly. When it comes to fast food that is fast to cook then the testing time in the kitchen begins.

Quick, easy and healthy

What can be fast food? A quick meal that is easy to make requiring no fancy equipment or special skills. It could be a meal that is quick to prepare. But let me reassure you, whoever has some experience in the kitchen, knows that everything takes time! Whether you are kneading dough, soaking the pulses, chopping the vegetables, grinding the masalas, waiting for the pressure cooker to whistle or the microwave oven to buzz, all these activities need time. Yes, what can be done is have things ready so that the actual time from ‘raw to table’ is not much. Fast food can also be delicious. And if the meal is to be quick, let it be so, but ensure there are no shortcuts from the health point of view. If it is bread instead of chapattis, buy brown bread instead of white, if it is one dish meal make sure that items from all the food groups go into it.

Tips for preparations

The major thought that gnaws away at time is the decision of what to cook. The hardest part of cooking a meal is not the making of it but the deciding. Here it is – a simple (a little thought provoking!) weekly task:

1. Plan the menu – Make a list of meals for the week keeping in mind that the whole family has to be pleased. You want to feed the family healthy meals and make the most of the rupees too.

2. Shop – And shop going by the list. Pick up provisions for extra mouths to feed in case there are unexpected guests. If not used, they can always be incorporated in the following week’s meals.

3. Take an hour or two on an off day or weekend to prepare the masalas, grind the gravies, scrape the coconut, boil the stock, boil the dals, prepare dosa/idli batters etc., and then freeze them in portions. We have no dearth of readymade ginger and garlic pastes, tomato purees, etc. that can be made use of. We can also make use of precut vegetables once in a while when time is really short. Blanch spinach and keep. The colour is retained and all you have to do is puree it. Some even like to freeze makhni gravy or onion-tomato masala that can be the base for many recipes. We recommend freezing paranthas, tikkis, etc. for those absolutely rushed moments.

4. Keep measuring cups in every tin. If you have the cup to measure rice for one family meal kept in the rice tin, keep an appropriate one in the dal tin, and flour tin etc. It helps to cook in the correct quantities and in case you do plan to cook for two meals (so that one can be frozen) then the measurements can be increased proportionately.

Techniques of cooking fast

All that cooks needs a flame. Or, well, the oven or the microwave! We highly recommend prudent use of the pressure cooker. It is versatile and a real blessing. If you have a large one, use the containers to cook dal, rice and potatoes together. Three things in semi preparation in twenty five minutes! While it is whistling, the chapattis can be made. If you have a microwave, let the rice be done in it while you use the gas flame for the vegetables, dal or curry. Another de-stresser in the kitchen is innovation. If you are cooking by the book and some ingredient falls short, do not waste time in rejecting the recipe…rather go ahead and innovate, use something else! If you know the working of an ingredient then you are in total control.

Here are some recipes that are really tasty and also get ready in a jiffy.

Quick Chocolate Cake Crumble

Quick Fried Chicken – All Green

Quick Pressure cooked Vegetables

Hope planning meals and cooking goes from being stressful to being a stress buster for you like it is for me! Do let me know.

Happy Cooking!

The power of nine!

The power of nine!

Navratri is the celebration of the nine forms of Goddess Durga for nine nights and nine days before the festival of Dussehra. The word navaratri is a combination of two words nava meaning nine and ratri meaning night. Like any other festival in India the legends and customs revolving around the festival are different in different parts of the country. However, the sentiment is the same – to worship and give adulation to Maa Durga.

The Durga Pujo from Bengal and nearby states is famous all over the world. Majestic pandals that house humungous and beautiful statues of goddess Durga are set up in every nook and corner of Kolkata. Durga Pooja is the biggest and grandest festival in the east and is celebrated extravagantly with bhajans, puja, dance and plenty of food. On the tenth day, the idols are immersed in water bodies with a promise of bringing them back next year.

The celebrations in the west revolve more around dance and music. People look forward to the arrival of Navratri when the nine evenings are filled with song and dance which goes on well past midnight. Dandiya raas is performed in the honour of Goddess Durga. Did you know that the dance is actually a dramatization of a mock fight between the Goddess and Mahishasura. The colourful bamboo sticks used during the dance represent the sword of Durga. Men and women dressed up to the nines in traditional ghaghra cholis and kediyus dancing with gusto is a common sight across Gujarat and Mumbai.

Navratri is celebrated twice a year – once in the beginning of summer and the second time in the beginning of winter. Because these are two important occasions when the climatic changes and solar power influence mankind and therefore, are ideal for worship of the divine power. It is this very divine power that provides the earth the energy to move around the sun which causes the changes in the nature, yet maintain a correct balance. Furthermore, these changes in the nature make the bodies and minds of people to change and the divine power helps to maintain our physical and mental balance. The fasts that we keep during the navratras are a great way to maintain balance of the elements in our body. Everybody has different ways of doing their fast and different customs and traditions. While some consume only milk and fruits during these days some people eat one satvik meal a day. My mother used to keep a fast during navratra, which, for us, meant getting to eat some very different type of food which would not be prepared during the rest of the year. Things like kootu ke atte ki puri, rajgira rotis, sabudana and aloo ke wade, sweet potato fritters with black salt, dry fruit laddoos and other such farhali recipes were made. We also attended several pujas and satsangs organized in the area, a habit that we continue till date as a family. As a matter of fact even my kids love visiting the Durga Puja pandals. The singing of bhajans and listening to the tales and legends of Maa Durga is one of my favourite parts of this festival.

According to the Hindu mythology, there are 8 incarnations of a woman in the form of goddesses. Each of them signifies different virtues that we must imbibe in our lives:

Parvati: Power to detach and withdraw
Parvati is life giving and sacred. She teaches us that you can only live a full filling life once you learn how to detach yourself from the negatives and people around you and the things that are pulling you down. Once you rise above that it becomes easy to be joyful and in turn keep others content. Her symbol is a cow, which is considered sacred and life giving.

Durga: Power to let go
Let go off all the negativity and vices in your life. Letting go of things isn’t easy and it does require a lot of strength. Durga maa is also known as shakti and is symbolized by a lion. Let go off your old habits and forgive those who may have wronged you.

Jagdamba: Power to tolerate
Jadgamba means mother to all, she considers everyone her child. Tolerance is natural and not negative. You don’t get hurt when you tolerate. She gives out a message of unconditional love and purity. It is important to love and mother your own self first, only then will it be possible to mother others. Nurture and heal yourself.

Santoshi: Power to accept
Acceptance has always been difficult for mankind. Santoshi maa teaches us the power to accept. Like in a bowl of rice – full of grains, separate yet together, every person is different from the other, yet we must accept them as they are and treat everyone as equals without putting forth any conditions.

Gayatri: Power to discern
She teaches us to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong and to discriminate. The spinning chakra behind her head symbolizes self-realization. The conch shell that she has teaches us that the right words must be spoken at the right time. The swan she sits on symbolizes love.

Saraswati: Power to decide
Saraswati maa is the goddess of knowledge and music. The sitar in her hand tells you to create your own music, the scriptures she holds depict accurate decisions. Anyone with knowledge can create his/her own music. The rosary or the jaap mala tells us that decisions are independent, but should be made keeping others in mind.

 Kali: Power to face 

She is fearless and teaches us that once we overcome our fears, including the fear of death, we can face any situation and perform our actions with more conviction. We don’t need to face people but overcome our own weakness instead. Don’t accept weakness, kill that demon.

Laxmi: Power to cooperate
She teaches us to cooperate with others instead of competing with them. The lotus that she sits on symbolizes how it’s possible to be pure even amidst muck. The gold coins that she drops from her hands signify detachment. The more you give the more you get. She teaches us to give without any expectations.

We spend nine months in our mother’s womb and during navratra it is time to go back to the source and imbibe all the qualities in our core personalities. Eat and drink with restraints to purify and rebuild the balance and maintain harmony of the mind, body and soul.

While you’ll are busy celebrating this festival don’t forget to share your recipes and any food experiences with me.

Try some of these recipes that are made especially in West Bengal during the puja days.

Begun Bhaja



Happy Navratri!

Sanjeev Kapoor

Ghee is good

With the festive season already having begun, it is time for food and more food. Indian festival celebrations are synonymous with food and more importantly mithais and Indian mithais in turn are synonymous with ghee! You cannot really say you have experienced a true Indian meal unless you can smell the aroma of ghee and taste the gorgeous flavour of it in the dishes.

Ghee is to India what blood is to your veins! Right from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to Assam, ghee finds use in culinary tradition in every part of the country. Ghee is nothing but clarified butter that is prepared by boiling butter and removing the residue. Ghee is healthy fat and is a natural byproduct of milk. It is used in several recipes across India and in some other parts of Asia and the Middle East. It can be used as a medium to deep fry, shallow fry, tempering certain dishes or just added on top of some dishes for the unique earthy flavor it provides. The aroma and taste of ghee are very characteristic and automatically makes the dish richer and heavier. Ghee can be easily made at home or you can buy it from several brands available in the market. It can be filled in an airtight container and be stored for several months without getting spoilt. These days, it is considered unhealthy and fatty which is not the case. Ghee does contain fats, but the fats in ghee are much better than those in butter or vegetable oils. However, those who suffer from obesity or have high cholesterol should stay away from ghee. Otherwise there is nothing wrong with including moderate amounts of ghee in your diet. There must be something beneficial about it because of which ourdadis and nanis are constantly layering our breakfast paranthas with ghee.

Let us see why, ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fat. When cooking, it can be unhealthy to heat polyunsaturated oils such as vegetable oils to high temperatures. Doing so creates peroxides and other free radicals. Ghee has a very high smoke point and doesn’t burn easily during cooking. Ghee has stable saturated bonds and so is lot less likely to form the dangerous free radicals when cooking. Ghee’s short chain of fatty acids are also metabolized very readily by the body.

Lab studies have shown ghee to reduce cholesterol both in the serum and intestine. It does it by triggering an increased secretion of biliary lipids. Ghee is also good for nerves and brain. It helps control eye pressure and is beneficial to glaucoma patients. Ghee is most notably said to stimulate the secretion of stomach acids to help with digestion, while other fats, such as butter and oils, slow down the digestive process and can sit heavy in the stomach. Ghee is rich with antioxidants and acts as an aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from other foods, serving to strengthen the immune system. A high concentration of butyric acid, a fatty acid that contains anti-viral properties is believed to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.

It is good for treatment of burns. According to Ayurveda, ghee promotes learning and increased memory retention. While in a healthy person consuming ghee may reduce your cholesterol or not affect it, it is not advised for people already suffering from high cholesterol.

It is safer than butter. It has been used in Indian medicinal practice to help with ulcers, constipation and the promotion of healthy eyes and skin. Now you understand how Punjabis have tonnes of ghee and still are fitter.

So enjoy your festive mithais and treats without going on a guilt trip because – ghee is good!

Try some of these recipes with the goodness of ghee

Hyderabadi Parantha 
Namak Ajwain ka Parantha
Till I write again.
Sanjeev Kapoor