Baby steps into cooking

COOKING is an art. An art that can be literally be savored. Hence cooking is an intrinsic blend of enthusiasm to cook, creativity, imagination and good luck. As a beginner you are certainly far away from being a gourmet cook but it is good that you have decided to take the first step.

En route, you will have burnt or nicked fingers, disappointments, flops, frowns, sneers, ?better-next- time pacifications? etc and one fine day voila, churn out something really good.

Flair for cooking is the first ingredient without which any crash course in cooking, rummaging through dozens of cookery books by experts, attending cookery classes is not going to help you in th least.
Start with the basics

Cooking rice, a simple dish of dhal, rolling out chapattis and frying them, making tea/coffee, boiling eggs, cutting vegetables etc are the basic preparations that you can start off with.

Though cooking rice sounds simple, it is not so. Knowing when exactly to strain the rice (boiled rice takes longer to cook than long-grained rice), the right quantity of water required when cooking rice in a pressure cooker, initially call for a few trials and errors.

Familiarity with kitchen equipments and utensils is essential. A gas or electric stove, a food processor (commonly called a mixie) with attachments for wet and dry grinding to prepare wet masala pastes and puree items like tomatoes, onions for gravies. Make sure you use separate chopping boards for meat/fish/vegetables to prevent cross-contamination of smells of fish/meat into vegetarians dishes and vice-versa.

A set of sharp knives of various sizes for cutting both meat and vegetables is required. A grater, to prepare coarse pastes or powders from coconut, onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, mixing bowls for preparing dough, batters and other raw ingredients are also a few things you need to be familiar with.

Choose a rolling pin for rolling out chapattis, pastry etc, that is neither too heavy nor too light to handle. Colander/sieve for straining rice and cleaning vegetables and various dhals and lentils is another must have in the kitchen. Heavy bottomed pots and pans of various sizes and shapes, a griddle type pan for roasting, a pan for deep frying, deep and flat saucepans with lids for preparing curries and vegetable dishes is something you can invest in to get started. A pressure cooker is a time-saving cooking device that cuts down cooking time to less than half. You can use metal/Teflon whisks to whisk up a milkshake, or beat an egg for omelets.

General purpose tongs can be used to handle shallow frying pans. While cooking, constantly monitor the flame and the dish to avoid over-cooking or burning the dish. Bear in mind that no matter how you season a burnt dish, it will still taste burnt! Beware when using salt! Start with a minimum quantity and attain the right taste by trial. Salt can make or break a dish.

Another way to avoid burning your cooking, especially eggs or cheese sauces, is to use pots like a double boiler. Keep one pot on the flame with inches of boiling water in it and set the other pot with your dish in it.

Principal ways of cooking are boiling, steaming, stewing, roasting, frying, braising and baking.

Freshness of eggs can be tested by placing them in a bowl of water. A fresh egg will sink to the bottom of the bowl and lie in a horizontal position whereas stale one will either float or assume a vertical or slanting position in the bowl.

Always keep a handy stock of ginger/garlic, green chili and onion paste separately in airtight containers. As most of the vegetables contain a fair amount of moisture, it is preferable to cook them on a low flame without adding water.

Salad leaves, coriander and mint leaves should never be chopped with a knife but should be plucked leaf by leaf in order to preserve their juices.

To conclude with the same words as in the beginning, no one can be a perfect cook in a few days;it calls for a lot of patience, trial and error methods, perseverance and guidance from experienced cooks.