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Cooking without the bulb

I would cook without onions till the price came down! This was my way of rebelling

December 13 was a memorable day in my life, one which would change my culinary traditions for the next couple of months. I was at the market for vegetable shopping with my husband when suddenly I was reminded of the news headline “Onion prices rise across the country”. Out of curiosity, I checked the price of the bulb. It was at a whopping ₹200 a kg.

The next instant, I dropped it back. What do I do now? This is too much! Though one part of me reasoned I could afford to buy half a kg, the other part was completely revolting. As an Indian, I am sure all of us would have faced this situation recently when onion prices skyrocketed in the country. After all, no Indian kitchen is complete without this pungent ingredient.

So, my mind frantically raced trying to solve the problem. Finally, that day I had made my decision, though it sounded a little harsh to me. It was that I would cook without onions till the price came down. This was my way of rebelling. I did the rest of the shopping and rushed back home still feeling heavy in my heart. For quite some time, I felt stupid. Can anything big happen to the Indian economy or onion price rise, if I stopped eating them?

I set out with the task on hand. As I opened my smartphone and tapped the words “recipes without onion-garlic”, everything seemed so daunting. One site said “use cabbage in place of onions”. At another I thought I had found a really lovely recipe for “dhaba-style dal tadka” without onion and garlic that my husband may like. But then did I have the courage to put what I made on the table? Well, it was another story altogether.

The first few days were a complete chaos with dishes turning extraordinarily spicy and oily as I didn’t understand this fact that onion-free cooking required so much less spice and oil as there is no onion to absorb them. This was a discovery. Great. That means I can do healthy cooking after all! Now that I had a grasp of how much salt, oil and spice should go into onion-free food, I now began to focus on flavouring it well.

If there was no onion in my kitchen, surely there were other things. So I began playing with elements such as coconut, jaggery, tamarind, ginger and coriander and began incorporating them into my ordinary everyday dishes with the result that one day at the table my children declared that dal was tasting like kurma or maybe even pav bhaji that day. I was quite thrilled at the ability of the humble dal to please the palate of my family. I then realised this was so much fun. The fact was that I had never been so excited to go to the kitchen before. Life was becoming easy without the tears caused by onions.

Following cook books and recipes and making exotic dishes are all well and good. Being complimented at the party for the food is surely pleasing. But making great dishes when one had everything in place is one thing and throwing a party with nothing much in hand is a completely different thing. And I had done that! By now I had practically cooked everything under the sun sans onions. Dal, paneer makhni, poori-chole, rajma chawal, malai kofta, stuffed parathas, pav bhaji, poha, the list goes on! Every time I put these perfectly made onion-garlic-free food on the table, my face beam with pride.

janakirajaram1991@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:36:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/cooking-without-the-bulb/article30713067.ece

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