Indian Food For Thought

I have never been a foodie in my life. That’s not a great way to start a blog post titled Food, but it is true! For the longest time, food has simply been the fuel I needed to do all the other things I love doing. That translates to how bad a guest I become when I am invited for dinner parties. While trying to pick a restaurant, I tend to go towards a narrow set of familiar tastes, which is usually Indian; sometimes Italian or Mexican cuisines come a close second.

So, when my husband and I moved to London, newly into our marital life, I thought cooking was going to become a similar mundane activity like eating. I had only just started cooking full meals so it felt cumbersome, and I carried certain pre-conceived notions like making time to cook after work in the evenings will be tougher or that weekends would often be a break from cooking all week! Turns out, I was completely wrong.

I have been cooking Indian food at home for over two and a half years now. And each day has been a revelation! I’ve started to look at food differently now, perhaps almost lovingly observe as all the little things weave together to become on single dish. The sheer number of spices that go into certain recipes, the rich and light ingredients alike, the varied flavours they bring out and oh, the variety in colours; Indian food I think is no less than an artist’s delight!

I stand with my ‘masala box‘ that is the palette of my base colours, in front of the canvas that is my heated wok (or kadhai as we know it!). I always have some additional richer spices in various forms – some ground, some as a paste, some simply hand-cut into pieces. An excitement seeps in looking at my stock! I begin with tempering the oil, slowly add layers with finely chopped pink onions, diced red tomatoes, green peppers & white button mushrooms. The rich spices bring texture to the dish, and I notice the hues changing, from light pink to creamy orange to sienna. As the aroma fills up my senses, the final strokes are that of garnishing with freshly cut greens or a dollop of home made butter. Doesn’t that feel like being in a painter’s workshop, after all? Only here you can actually taste the painting!

As I mentioned earlier, the sheer joy I have felt while cooking is when these spices, so characteristically different from the one another, come together as one; it seemed random at first to a beginner like me but I realised there is a Method to this Madness! There is science backing certain combinations of ingredients & spices, which when cooked together enhance each other’s qualities, bring out their flavours better and sometimes go on to make the dish healthier too! Read this article recently published on Washington Post and there are many on the World Wide Web if you google.

This is not specific to Indian cuisine, but cooking, in general, is an activity that brings the family together, and closer. “Peel these potatoes while I grind garlic and onions”, or “roast coriander seeds with dry red chillies and some cumin”, or “knead the dough as I clean the greens” are some common assignments in the kitchen when our families visit us! And, when it is just the two of us here, we ensure we cook dinner together – every night.

Truth be told, my affinity towards food has certainly increased manifold since I started cooking at home. I am more comfortable experimenting with food in my kitchen, even if it is within the realms of Indian cuisine. In fact, after a hard day’s work, cooking together is our favourite way to unwind!

I guess my point here is I couldn’t be more grateful for having picked up the ladle & spatula, despite my initial apprehensions and notions, to give cooking an honest try! Selfishly, I couldn’t be happier it is the Indian recipes that came my rescue. Oh, I am still not a foodie but I sure am learning to cater well to that category! And, that is far more rewarding sometimes.

On a closing note, enjoy a dollop of these wonderful quotes I collected about cooking, and eating!

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ~ Julia Child

“Cooking food and shopping for food brings rhythm and meaning to our lives!” ~ Alice Waters

“I love that after a day when nothing is sure… you can come home and absolutely know that if you add eggs yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.” ~ Julie Powell

“Eating is a necessity, but Cooking is an art.” ~ Anonymous

Featured photo above: a street market selling Indian spices, just look at those bright colours!

GUEST POST: Life Lessons From Food

So I figure for everyone who writes / manages a blog, there are probably tens or hundreds who don’t! And I also know for certain everyone has thoughts & ideas, which at some point they want to express to the world. I know some of my friends do! And I felt what best than to invite them to this platform to share their thoughts.

This is the first in this new series of Guest Posts, and I have my bestie Shruti JP Mehta (follow her on twitter) with us who writes about her love for food and the lessons it’s taught her. Its not surprising she begins with ‘I love food.’ She also shares a leaf from her recipe book, I hope you will give it a try, and enjoy reading what she has to say!

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cute girl bakingI love food. And I love cooking. And I love sharing these two experiences with people I love. And these make up some of the most cherished memories of my life. Some of the earliest memories I have of cooking are of making cakes with my best friend, Ramya. Her cakes used to be perfect but my cakes would often come out looking like a burnt crater or a balloon filled with air. I would put a generous helping of chocolate sauce to hide the disaster and she would encouragingly devour them all. A decade since then, now we often share recipes and success stories from our kitchens. So when she asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I decided to write about cooking and food, a hobby she introduced me to.

Sometimes, when I stand alone in the kitchen, cooking and enjoying the warmth of the stove on a chilly morning, I realize that there are many life lessons that food itself teaches us. Like enjoy the journey. I love cooking leisurely as it gives me many moments to find joy…the aroma of garlic getting roasted on low heat, the delightful colors of fresh vegetables, the sizzling sound of some melted cheese escaping a cheese sandwich and falling on the hot pan.

Patience. There are some dishes that take 2-3 hours to prepare, and these are the some of the tastiest ones. Like gajar ka halwa (click here to know more about this delicious Indian dessert). It has to be simmered on low heat for a long time as the milk slowly thickens… the aroma of milk and carrots fills the house and makes the whole family wait in anticipation. Some of the best things in life too need to be patiently waited for.

Focus on the present moment. Many a time, I have had something very delicious while watching TV or playing on my mobile and then been disappointed that suddenly the food is over and I didn’t relish it enough. I feel that good food deserves undivided attention. At least the first few bites… the enticing aroma, the amusing crunchiness or the mushy melts-in-your-mouth softness, the wonderful combination of many spices…there is so much to experience if we just pay a little attention to it.

Make memories. Life is indeed about the good memories one can look back at and cherish. The more lovely memories we accumulate, the more enriched our life becomes. Food is an excellent way to store memories. Like every time I make toast and scrambled eggs, in my mind I am transported back to Goa. From the time we went there for a week last year and lived in a charming studio apartment with a great view. We used to go for a swim in the sea early morning and come back famished. And quickly wash off the salt in a hot water bath and make crunchy toast with a generous helping of butter and eggs with just salt and pepper. Oh it was so delicious!

And like food, life too is best enjoyed with loved ones!

If you haven’t tried your hand at cooking yet and would like to just see what the whole fuss is about, try this super easy recipe:

Cinnamon Hot Chocolate with Rum

  • Level – Beginner
  • Makes two tall mugs
  • Uses a thick bottomed vessel to boil milk, a big spoon to stir and a strainer
  • Takes 15-20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Full cream Milk: 1/2 litre
  • Dairy milk chocolate: 30 grams bar
  • Bournville Rich Cocoa Chocolate: 30 grams bar
  • Sugar to taste: 1 teaspoon approximately
  • Cinnamon (coarsely powdered) : 1 teaspoon
  • Dark Rum: 2 Tablespoons (Optional)
  • A magic ingredient

Method of Preparation

  1. Bring the milk to boil (Give this part your full attention, as milk has a mischievous way of boiling and spilling over the moment you take your eyes off it :P)
  2. Lower the heat and stir the milk with a big spoon for a minute to make sure it does not spill over.
  3. Break the chocolate bars into 4-5 pieces each and add to the milk.
  4. Add cinnamon and keep stirring.
  5. Take a deep breath and enjoy the aroma of chocolate and cinnamon.
  6. Once the chocolate has melted completely, taste the mixture and add sugar as per your taste.
  7. Now it is time for the magic ingredient….wait for it….a pinch of salt! Yes, salt! I call it the magic invisible ingredient because it brings out the flavor of every dish and in most preparations, you don’t realize it is there unless there is too much or too little of it.

Add a pinch of salt and stir well. Let it simmer on low flame for two minutes more.

  1. Take the mixture off the stove and use a strainer while pouring into mugs to filter out the cinnamon powder.
  2. Add a tablespoon of rum to each mug. (Optional)
  3. Your hot chocolate is now ready! Best enjoyed slowly in chilly weather, in the company of loved ones or in solitude beside a big window.

Bon Appétit!

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We welcome your comments about the post and add any more lessons you think food teaches us! And yes, would also love to hear if you tried/enjoyed the recipe & have any more to share with my readers.

photo credit: http://www.fotosearch.com