METRO PLUS

To serve, with pressure

Good foodMembers of the United By Food group; (below) crab curry cooked the OPOS wayPhoto: R. Ragu and Navanee Viswa

Good foodMembers of the United By Food group; (below) crab curry cooked the OPOS wayPhoto: R. Ragu and Navanee Viswa  

There’s one question you must never ask members of the secret Facebook group, United By Food — ‘how many cookers do you possess?’ Suddenly, an informative discussion to share tips and tricks about a cooking method turns into an excited kindergarten class of sorts. Ten, replies one. Another person finger counts, and proclaims: 8. A third says hers is a modest seven. You see, the pressure cooker — a two-litre one — is central to their lives. If they earlier used it just to cook rice and pulses, it now helps them create entire meals in a jiffy. The UBF members swear by the One Pot One Shot (OPOS) cooking technique, the only motto of which is that ‘Anyone Can Cook’, a la Auguste Gusteau of Ratatouille fame. It’s five in the evening when I walk into the Pizza Republic outlet on Eldam’s Road. Laden on a table are mounds of cut vegetables, grated carrot, sugar, masala, a cup of curd and coconut-chilli paste. Another has five pressure cookers. Around 10 OPOS practitioners are present. Someone passes around oats murukkus, while another speaks about the merits of a cooking technique that has captured hearts, beyond the boundaries of age.

“How long do you take to cook breakfast and lunch?” asks Guruji aka B. Ramakrishnan, 48, who started the group three years ago. “Forty-five minutes to an hour,” I say. The rest are polite enough to not snort. Ten minutes, says one. Fifteen, says another. “It’s just a matter of getting used to this technique,” says affable Chithra Viswanathan, 78. Roopa Raghav, 35, a professional who also handles her home, says breakfast is ready in less than 10 minutes, allowing her to focus on other things. Teacher and theatre professional Shyamala Srivatsan, 50, banks on OPOS, and says it’s especially useful to rustle up dinner on the days she heads out to act in a play.

Ramakrishnan explains why they zeroed in on the pressure cooker. “We are used to it; it’s available in most homes; and it works the same across climates, making it easy to standardise cooking conditions.” Manjula Natarajan, 56, has eight cookers, and says they all try out recipes, discuss their merits and come up with hacks to ensure the dish tastes the same every time, in any kitchen. The idea, says Ramakrishnan, is to remove manual skills from cooking. “Ideally, anyone must be able to cook. Cooking is about following a recipe, a technique. That can be standardised; it is not about flair alone,” he adds.

Of course, for those who are insistent on spending more time in the kitchen, the team has come up with stuffed penne pasta, where it takes about half an hour to fill a single portion. The nearly 10,000-member group, which has a mix of men and women, the elderly and the young, believers and hesitant practitioners, is known for its ability to take criticism and thrash out solutions. Ramakrishnan is the resident Principal. He posts every day, asking people what they OPOSed and their experience. The colour, flavour, texture, accidental charring… everything is discussed.

“What we’ve created is group effort. One of the first recipes we put up was for kesari. We tried it about 20-25 times, in different kitchens,” recalls Manjula. Suresh Ramanathan, 60, has been cooking for about 20 years, since his wife’s demise. “I learnt from scratch. If I’d known this technique earlier, life would have been simpler,” he smiles. Today, he OPOSes most meals, each of which takes just about 15 minutes.

The group has come up with doable hacks that remove the traditional ‘kai-alavu’ and ‘kan-alavu’ (hand and eye measure). For instance, the sugar hack takes away the trouble of checking the one-string, and two-string consistency by giving people the specific number of whistles it has to be cooked for.

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Autolysis helps knead atta, and make kesari, pongal and kozhakattai, while dal grits are a godsend for paruppu usili and rasam/sambar/kootu… Chithra says the possibilities are endless, and it is up to individuals to explore the full potential of OPOS.

Shyamala swears by pressure-cooked tea, especially when there are loads of guests and the mood is right for masala dum tea. The technique works well with non-vegetarian food too. Sisters Ayesha and Rahima Fakhruddin use it extensively. Between them, they have about 10 cookers; their mother has 18, including one being used since the 1970s.

Roopa says what she loves most is the burst of flavour, because the food cooks in its own juices. “I recently tried the jaggery and coconut puranam using OPOS. To think it would take our elders so much time! Now, even my 12-year-old daughter Tejaswi cooks.”

All failures are considered lessons. “There are no flop cooks, only flop recipes,” adds Ramakrishnan. Recent superhit recipes include OPOS Mysorepak, six-minute no-oil, no-water chicken biryani, and pasta cooked without a drop of water, banking on the creaminess of the tomatoes and cheese.

The group has slowly been converting cynics. Ramakrishnan’s mother finally came on board, as did B. Chidambaranathan’s wife who was anti-OPOS. I’m asked to try cooking too. In less than 10 minutes, there’s carrot halwa, a bean and carrot aviyal, a poriyal, and pasta on the table. I’m all set to buy a two-litre pressure cooker. No match for Ramakrishnan’s 22, but it’s a beginning.

Among the benefits of OPOS are reduced oil and fuel consumption, enhanced, intense flavours and vegetables retaining colour.

And yes, the members have become better food photographers! In fact, Chithra says that if a dish is cooked in a pressure cooker and not opened, it stays fresh for days even without being refrigerated, thanks to the vacuum.

She recently served her family baingan bharta cooked three days before. “I did have a standby dish in case this did not work. But, it tasted perfect. No one knew till I told them,” she laughs.

A negative, if you could call it that, is the incessant whistling — some recipes call for 40 or more — but Roopa says that her neighbours have now stopped wondering if she’s forgotten to turn off the stove.



The group has come up with doable hacks that remove the traditional ‘kai-alavu’ and ‘kan-alavu’



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