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!

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


Stuff it

‘Atithi devo bhava’ we Indians are taught this phrase and its meaning since our childhood. We all follow this custom since then. What happens when guests come over to your house, unannounced! After the customary pleasantries you find yourself rushing into the kitchen trying to whip up something to serve the guests. After all we don’t serve just chaiand biscuits anymore. All of us want to make something special for guests and not the normal routine khana and mingle with the guests at the same time. One thing I have noticed is that a dish which involves a stuffing of any sort automatically becomes special, be it a Bharwan Bhindi or a lavish stuffed chicken. Stuffing is basically filling a cavity in a food item with other edible ingredients. Stuffed dishes offer us more scope for using different textures, colours and taste in one dish itself. Hence making it very interesting to prepare and eat. Dishes with stuffing can most certainly act as a complete meal if the right ingredients are used. Almost every cuisine in the world has a traditional stuffed dish – be it Italian Ravioli, Spanish Stuffed Chilli Peppers or our very own Indian stuffed kulcha’s and parantha’s or even samosas.

Preparing a stuffed dish need not be complicated. All you need is something with which you can create a cavity. Vegetables like bell peppers, Bhavnagari chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, brinjals, lady fingers and mushrooms; fruits like lychees, apples and dates as well as dishes like paranthas, kachoris, tikkis and omelets etc. make an excellent base for a stuffed dish. What do you use as a filling? Anything! There is no hard and fast rule about ingredients for a filling. Cheese, potatoes, vegetables, mince, sea food, dry fruits, nuts, paneer, eggs – it works. The dish can be baked, steamed, pan fried or deep fried. The good part about making a stuffed dish is that you can let your creative juices flow free.

Dishes produced by this method of cooking may seem fancy and look like the cook has toiled in the kitchen for hours to create it, but it is not the case. If you take care of a few basic things making a bharwan dish should be as simple as any other recipe. It is important that the cavity, into which the stuffing is put, should be correct. If it is too thin then the stuffing may ooze out of it and the resultant dish may end up looking shabby. If it is too thick or chunky the stuffing inside it may not cook well. It is also better if the filling is on the drier side. If the filling is to wet or is like a gravy then the entire dish may end up becoming kind of soggy. You should also ensure that the outer covering and the filling inside both complement each other in terms of taste, texture and visual appeal.

Since I went to Muscat this week, I thought I would share with you one of my stuffed recipes with Arab influences – Taboulleh Stuffed Tomatoes. Taboulleh is a classic Arab dish that is made using bulghur or broken wheat. This recipe of Taboulleh Stuffed Tomatoes is sort of a fusion dish.

Taboulleh Stuffed Tomatoes

I am sure all of you must have made some innovative dish using the stuffing method, hoping that you will share them with me, just like how I share my recipes with you. Yaad rahe – khana, khushi aur pyaar baatne se kabhi kisi ka bura nahin, sirf bhala hua hain!You must also try making these -I have added my own twists to it and this dish has collected many praises by everyone who has eaten it.  Blanched tomatoes are scooped and the cavity is stuffed with a mixture of bulghur, scooped out tomato pulp, radish, onions, parsley, salt, pepper and lemon juice. This dish is very easy to make, is tasty and is very visually appealing. This dish has it all – the crunch of the bulghur, slight pungency from the onions and radish, freshness from parsley and tomato and plenty of zing from the crushed pepper and lemon juice. Healthy and tasty is the combination that we are all looking out for in our recipes and this one has just that! It is low in fat and high in proteins and also keeps your stomach full for a long time. You can also add ingredients of your choice to the tabbouleh mixture, after all what is life without a little innovation. Hope you try this recipe in your home, it is easy to make, and you can make a batch, keep it in your fridge and bring it out just before eating. It’s an attractive dish and is made in individual portions so it is also ideal party food.

Baida Roti 
Stuffed Aloo Tikki
Stuffed Gulab Jamun

Keep cooking, stay happy and stay stuffed!

Sanjeev Kapoor