Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Lessons from cooking

My wife has been gone for her maternity and is not due to return until early next year. As a result I had an opportunity to cook for myself. Here are what I learnt from the experience

  • Cooking has always been a source of fun. It is a great stress-buster especially when combined with good music, but only if you start early to have enough time. Me being me, I think of cooking only when I start feeling hungry. Till then, how Jake Sully saves Pandora from the dream walkers and wins back Neytiri's love this time around in Star Movies seems more important.
  • Once you start cooking, it is important to list and line-up the raw-materials first. I have been cooking on and off for about 10 years now, with about a gap of a year or so between two bursts of cooking. But even now, I first put the vessel and light the burner before I think of the vegetable oil!
  • A little less salt and spice is always better than a little too much. But the problem is less and more are relative. As long as you are cooking for yourself, less or more doesn't matter, of course. You screw up, you eat and don't tell anyone. Or your throw it out, have the ever-reliable bread-butter-jam combo.. and shut-up again. But the problem comes when you cook for others. A few people can take when the salt is a bit too high, but not when it is a bit too low. For a few dishes, adding the salt later works, but for a few, it doesn't. But from my experience, if salt is way to low, adding some salt helps to a certain extent. But if the salt is way too high, you can do nothing but feel bad about it!
So  far I find that there are four big challenges in cooking
  • Finding the difference between toor dhal, moong dhal, urad dhal and when to use what. 
  • Finding the difference between, gingeli oil and ground nut oil
Again, after over 10 years of part-time cooking, I am not able to sleep-walk through this
  • Judging the correct quantity of rice and vegetables to use to achieve the correct quantity of the dish by the time cooking is done. Sometimes, I choose to prepare a dish that I plan to use for over a couple of days (like tomato chutney). I take four tomatoes and come up with a real tasty one after about 45 minutes. But I find  that it wouldn't last after the first meal. I wonder "Wasn't four enough?". Then it strikes. "Not when the tomatoes are as small as lemons!"
  • Maintaining consistency in taste. All the challenges I have mentioned earlier, I have got over at some point of time or the other. But consistency is still too high a bar for me to jump over. I remember that, as a kid, during family occasions my mom and aunts come together and cook for the extended family. I used to have each dish and by their taste, I would be able to say who cooked what with a fair degree of accuracy. THAT is consistency! 
Cooking is easy if you think of it as an isolated task on just one particular day. But if you consider cooking as churning out multiple dishes in correct proportions each day, maintaining consistency in taste over multiple days and maintaining variety over any given week. Then you really see how tough it is and how easy your parents have made it look for you.