KITCHEN CRAFT: MALATHI MOHAN takes you through the basic lessons on cooking.
“Non-cooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet,” said Julia Child, an American cookery expert, whom you must have seen quite recently in a movie, “Julie and Julia”. She also said, “I was 32 when I started cooking, up until then, I just ate.”
So, take heart, you can learn it at any age, though earlier, the better. My son was planning to study in the U.S. and therefore he took up a course in the catering college, but as he did not succeed in getting a visa, he made a great career of his catering background. Therefore, I would like to stress the fact that cooking offers great challenges in life and in the choice of your careers.
An art or a science?
To a beginner, cooking is an insurmountable task. It's a chore and a hard one at that. It's confusing and it's too much. With experience, you can sail through it, and many take it up as a stress buster, provided somebody else cleans up after them!
Is it possible to read and write, if you don't know the alphabets? So, what are the alphabets of cooking? The ABCs of cooking are much more than the 26 alphabets in the English language. All these have to be learnt and mastered before you become a good cook.
Since cooking is a life skill, I feel that everybody, whether girl or boy, has to have an awareness of survival skills and cooking should be on top of the list. It's true that pre-prepared and processed foods are available in the market and those who can afford eating out can manage without cooking. However there are many people who cannot afford to buy all their meals. Therefore it is essential that mothers, who cook, do not keep their expertise to themselves. They should share it with their children. It used to be felt in earlier days that a young girl is confined to the kitchen when she gets married and so the mothers let them be free of cooking till then. Nowadays, whether sons or daughters, they should be taught the rudiments for their own survival.
Now for the lessons in cookery… here's a little theory to start off with. This is absolutely essential to understand the life skill classes you are about to begin.
The first step is to identify foodstuff: Very often, errors happen due to ignorance. Unless you are experienced yourself, you would not know that toor or red gram dhal (thovaram paruppu) is actually yellow and green gram dhal is also yellow and is not green! The names are based on the colour of the whole gram, before it is split into dhal. Masoor dhal, called Mysore dhal in Tamil Nadu, is pink and not necessarily from Mysore!
So, there you are, as names are misleading, the first lesson is to learn to identify the foodstuffs you would be interested in. Sure, someone like a chef, a teacher or your mother has to help you out. A not-too-busy grocer may help too. Our supermarkets have labeled food products which make this step easy, if you bother to shop, read the labels and the packet is see-through, whole and unopened.
In training schools and colleges, these foods are displayed in food groups and labeled with name, cost, and nutrition highlights. This is the very important first step in cookery. Otherwise, you will go the way of this young lady who used maida for semolina (rava), to make uppumav!
The next step is to familiarise yourself with kitchen equipment: The absolute basic necessities and their uses. Which vessel, which ladle, which baanali or saucepan you will use for different needs.
The third step is to know and understand measurements of weight and volume: In the beginning, it is necessary to have this knowledge. Anyone with experience would be aware of the measurements by sight and feel. But there is no doubt; you need a lot of experience to reach this stage. Generally, students of home-science were teased that they have to learn cooking only by such measurements. Nothing wrong in being a learner, is there? Which skill can be learned without teaching, observation, practice and trial and error? Even King Arthur burnt the cakes, did he not?
In earlier times, measurements were based on the human anatomy. Length was measured by foot and arm lengths. Even now, flower vendors use ‘molam' (tip of the middle finger to the elbow), for measuring tied flowers. For volume a pinch, a fist and palm full were used. Now we have standard cups and spoons which can make learning easier. For weights a small kitchen balance would be useful.
Finally, we come to the skills required: If you are tired, I'll catch up with you when you have practised identifying foods.
Easy recipe to cook rice
As rice is a dry grain, it needs 1:2 by volume of water to rehydrate. Dhal can also be cooked similarly, but it needs a longer time. Soaking the dhal for over 15 mins earlier, helps reduce cooking time and also makes it softer.
Raw rice — 1cup
Water — 2 cups
Pressure cooker and a vessel with lid, which fits inside. Should hold 750ml to one litre in volume
Method: Wash rice with clean water, drain the water. Add 2 cups of water and place the vessel in a pressure cooker, with one cup of water in the cooker.
Cover the rice dish with a lid and close the cooker.
Place the cooker on the cooking range and light the burner.
Place the weight on the nozzle of the cooker when steam starts escaping.
Lower the flame to medium and cook for 10 mins.
Remove from fire and keep aside.
Open the cooker only after 10 mins, as it is dangerous to open when the pressure is not yet released.
Serve hot with gravy dishes and vegetables.
Rice can be cooked directly in a larger vessel with more water. When the water starts to boil, reduce the flame to medium. Do not cover the vessel, as it will boil over. When rice is cooked ( you will know by checking it), pour out the excess water.
The author is Dean, Academy of Fitness Management, FitnessOne.