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Cooking for Four May 25, 2008

Posted by espritnoir in I, Me and Myself..., Miscellaneous.
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The last two weeks have whizzed past in a blur. Trips to London, Stratford-upon-Avon, dissertation meetings, planning a trip to Germany, and amidst all this exploring a new aspect of life. Serious cooking!

Never ever have I cooked for others. All my experiments with cooking have been restricted to eating whatever I have had prepared. Well, I’m not counting the quick millions of half fries and omlettes, and bhurjis I’ve prepared over the years for friends and family. Anybody can make those. I’m also not taking into consideration the once in a while potato sabji and pithale bhaat, and other basic stuff. I think those are like a few basic quick fix dishes that anybody who has lived alone has to learn as a part of survival training. I’m talking about actual cooking, which involves thinking about what spices to put in the curry, gathering them, deciding how much to put in to give the dish the right flavour, etc. I’m talking about the kind of food that my mom makes. Well, my mom only makes vegetarian food, but trust me, it’s great food! To tell you the truth, she isn’t like a chef, she can’t conjure up exotic dishes and she doesn’t have a repertoire of a zillion dishes. But even her simplest food is definitely the most amazing. Good wholesome food, which is nothing less than an art form, I tell you. Now, this is the kind of cooking I’v always wanted to experiment with but never got around to try. In hindsight, I think it was because back home, I was way too lazy and was always making up excuses. We didn’t have the right spices. We didn’t have the right oven. My mom doesn’t like me cooking non-vegetarian food in her kitchen, although for the life of me, I can’t remember a single occasion when she said that. On second thoughts, I think like a lot of other things in life, I had a passion for cooking, but I was just way too scared to actually go and try it out, god forbid it turned out a disaster, and it was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I couldn’t cook. Or worse still, if it did turn out good, then I would have had a standard to live up to the next time I cooked. (Having put that down, and having associated that thought to a few other things I’ve done or not done in life, I just had a thought! Christ, how messed up in the head, am I?) Anyways, one thing or the other, and I never actually cooked for people. The only few times I did cook, was mostly just for myself and I must say I was always, too much flash and less substance in the kitchen.

Well, when I shifted to the UK, into my student accommodation, I brought with me tons of recipes and cookbooks and what not. I was going to experiment! I was going to explore my culinary skills to the limit. I was going to enthral friends with my gourmet skills. I was going to conjure up new dishes everyday of the week, and become the Gordon Ramsay of the student accommodation! In reality, for almost eight months, I ended up doing nothing. In eight months, I must have cooked exactly 10 times. Mostly eggs, Maggi instant noodles, pithale (so whats new?). The closest I ever came to cooking was when I looked up a recipe for Chicken Fried Rice one fine evening, but my friends who I wanted to impress with my cooking decided to go out for dinner that night, and I ended up eating rice for dinner all by myself, as well as breakfast and lunch the next day. And one time, I made palak paneer, (which was good, by the way), but how it got made is a different story altogether. Why did I end up not cooking in the UK? Well, I have my meals with friends from India, who stay in the apartment next to mine, and there’s this one guy who can cook. To his credit, he cooks really well. He is like a thinking cook. He knows how much spices to put in, how long to marinade the chicken, and how to save a dish if it’s too salty, or too spicy, etc. And he’s been nominated the official cook for the apartment. And after the whole fried rice incident, and a couple of others back in the early days, when I was still getting to know these people, I realized that I wasn’t going to be playing second fiddle to a kid who was younger than me. Not in the kitchen, and not anywhere. Also, he had an advantage in the fact that he could actually cook, while I merely fancied myself to be India’s answer to Gordon Ramsay, I never actually tried cooking in earnest. I had to swallow my pride here, and accept the fact that if it came out to a cook-out match between us, I would be the one who was least prepared for it. It was much easier to be a commis cook, and help out with the chopping, and cleaning and occasional making omlettes, all the time taking in notes learning how to clean chicken, how to marinade it and cook it etc, hoping that one day I would put it to use.

That was until he went on a 3 week vacation, early this month. In that apartment, the only girl who could cook was a vegetarian, and despite the fact that we like our greens, the thought of going without meat for 3 weeks was a scary thought. Something in me clicked, there was no excuse this time. And I decided it was time to put on the apron, and take the pan by the handle!

Since then, its been a food fest every third day! Murgh Kababs, Chicken do Pyaaza, Murgh Hariyali Kababs, Alu Gobhi, Alu Mutter. For the first time, in my life, I was cooking for others, and trust me when I started off it was a scary prospect. I didn’t know whether these guys would like my food or not. It was one thing me eating off something I had made, even though it wasn’t palatable, but for these guys to do it was expecting too much. But, they seem to like it. Off course, I’ve taken a few falls. I have a heavy hand with the chillies, coz that’s the way we cook at home, and these guys can’t handle my spice level most times. But, I’ve learned to kinda control it. So, my friends can go easy on the dinner time Coke now!

We decided to put my skills to the test 2 nights back. There was just me and CM, one of my Indian friends here, in the apartment. Out of the blue, we decided to call over some friends over for dinner and drinks, something light, nothing too fancy. I decided to make Kababs, and hoped that everybody – 2 Croatians, a Turk, a German, and a Nigerian – would enjoy them. In the evening, there were 7 of us for dinner, and for the first time in my life, I experienced that feeling that people get when they say feeding somebody is so much better than eating. I’m not kidding, CM and I actually had to go dinnerless, coz all the chicken got over. For lack of a better word, it was a mindFUCK! Watching people eat something you’ve cooked, and liking it (I was tempted to use the word ‘loving’ instead of ‘liking’, but I think that would have been too strong a word) is a feeling that I won’t be getting over soon!

Last night was great too. For the first time in my life I made Chicken curry just the way I eaten at my relatives place ever since I was a kid. All my life, I wondered how the hell, people could cook something so well, so effortlessly, and now, I can’t believe how simple it is. But, the toughest part is getting the portions of the ingredients right. I think I managed it right last night. Hope I get it right in the future too.

So, for anybody who is interested in basic cooking, here’s the recipe. I don’t know where I got this recipe from. Its something I picked up from the net, and I have tweaked it a bit to make it something different.

Chicken Curry

Serves: 3-4 approximately
Cooking time: 30 minutes

  • Appoximately 800 gms chicken, thighs and breasts, with some gashes on the fleshy parts (That’s roughly 4 drums and 3 breast pieces in all. If you like it boneless, cut the chicken into 1 inch pieces)
  • 3 medium sized onions, finely chopped
  • About 4 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste.
  • About 1 cup curd (set yogurt)
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon(s) garam masala powder
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 4 green chillies, chopped
  • 2 cup(s) hot water
  • 3 sticks of cloves
  • Some cinnamon sticks, for flavour
  • Oil, for cooking and shallow frying
  • salt to taste

NOTE : The way I cooked this dish, it requires some multitasking, and cooking 2 things on the hob at the same time. I am going to explain this just the way I made the dish. You can prepare the chicken in advance first, and add it to the curry later, but I think this way makes it better, so pay attention.

  1. Blend the ginger garlic paste along with about half an onion, finely chopped. Add a couple of chillies to give it some kick, if you like. While blending, add a little water, and a pinch of all the dry spices in the list. You can keep it just a little bit coarse instead of making it a very fine paste, but that’s your call.
  2. Coat the chicken with the ginger-garlic and onion paste and keep aside for a few minutes.
  3. In a heavy bottomed wok, heat oil. Add the rest of the onions and fry on a medium flame till they are golden brown. Add some chopped garlic, green chillies, cloves and cinnamon and continue frying for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the yoghurt. Stir constantly. Fry for about a couple of minutes more or till oil separates.
  4. While the oil in the wok is heating up, put another saucepan on the hob, and heat some oil for shallow frying the chicken. Then, while the onions, and then the tomatoes are frying in the wok, shallow fry the coated chicken pieces for about 5 – 6 minutes each, turning it over to make sure that it cooks evenly on all sides. Once the chicken pieces are done, place them on a dish with a paper towel on it, to soak up the excess oil.
  5. Here’s where the multitasking begins. While the chicken is being fried, add in the rest of the red chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric powder, garam masala and salt to the wok with the onions and tomatoes. Increase the heat. Fry for about 5 minutes or more till the mixture in the pan looks well blended.
  6. When the onion tomatoes mixture looks well blended, add in the shallow fried chicken to the wok. Let the chicken cook in the mixture for a while, and absorb the flavour of the mixture. Coat the chicken with the mixture to make sure that it catches the spices.
  7. Add hot water and mix well. Add more garam masala on top, if you like. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes or till chicken is well cooked and has soaked in all the flavour & has become tender.

It’s not the most complicated of dishes, but it is one of the best. It has a bit of a kick, so if you like it to be a little less spicy, go easy on the chillies and the chilli powder. If anybody ever gives it a try, and likes it, lemme know 🙂

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