Wednesday, March 05, 2008

1001 Quickie Dinners


1001 Quickie Dinners
For aspiring cooks, learning to cook rice is a basic survival skill. Thil is the single most important technique I'd recommend. Master this and you'll never have to worry about food again.

Once cooked rice is ready, you can eat it mixed with plain ghee as ghee rice, or with yogurt as curd rice or with a variety of pickles / podis. This is probably the simplest meal you can cook up. So if there is just one technique you learn, learn to cook rice !

A variety of one pot meals
The trick to cook a thousand varieties of rice is simplicity itself - Mix flavouring and goodies along with rice and cook everything all at once, in a single pot. You now have a full fledged meal ready in the same time it takes to cook rice.

Mind you, this is not how traditional recipes are cooked. In most recipes, rice is cooked separately, the flavouring and vegetables are cooked separately and mixed together.

But when everything is cooked together under pressure, the flavours deeply penetrate the rice and result in a tastier dish ( This is the secret behind the technique of 'Dum' where food is cooked in a sealed pot ). You also need just one vessel to feed a crowd.

I taught this technique to my office staff ( all bachelors) and they have now taken to throwing parties, with a minimal kitchen boasting of one gas stove, one knife, one pressure cooker, one ladle and 10 plates !

I use this technique extensively while travelling. I pack a portable gas stove and a pressure cooker in the boot. Feeding up to 12 people is possible in under 20 minutes. One of my fondest memories is cooking Chicken Biriyani for 4 people in 15 minutes in the biting icy mountain breeze on top of Valparai. ( Cooking at high altitudes takes forever - but not so with a pressure cooker!).


Feeding an army on the move
Interestingly, this is exactly how cooks used to feed armies on the move. The last thing you want to do is to make starving, bad tempered soldiers wait for hours for their food !

Take a huge vessel, place a smaller vessel inside, Fill the space between vessels with hot coals. Add rice, flavouring, meat , vegetables and water in the inner vessel. Seal both vessels and string up an array of such vessels between eleplants. The food gets cooked on the move and as soon as the army camps, hot food is ready to be served, As each vessel can feed over a hundred men, it is a snap to feed a large army with very few cooks.

Feeding 20 guests in 20 minutes
You can use the same technique to feed a crowd. A 7 liter pressure cooker can feed 12-14 people. If you have say 25 guests, all you need is two pressure cookers and two piping hot varieties of rice is ready in 20 minutes. And the best thing is that you can spend time with your guests and not in the kitchen.

Just choose a recipe from the table (A handful or rice on cooking becomes three handfuls and is usually sufficient for one person.). Take as many handfuls of rice as there are guests, cook up the flavouring and goodies, add rice and water and you are done. This can even be done beforehand. Then all you need to do is to put the cooker on the stove. that's it. Nothing is more impressive than feeding a crowd with virtually no equipment. The cleanup is real simple too !

Using the Pressure Cooker
The easiest, fastest and fool proof way to cook rice is to use a pressure cooker.

A pressure cooker has four parts. The vessel, a lid, a rubber ring which fits into the lid, giving a airtight seal and a weight, which is inserted into the spout of the lid. On heating, water becomes steam, filling the cooker. Not able to leak out, the pressure builds up and food is cooked in this pressurised steam. After a while when the pressure rises above a preset value, the steam pushes the weight up and escapes with a loud hiss. This is the first ' whistle'. With the venting of steam, the pressure drops and the weight drops back into position on its own. The process repeats itself, and soon we have the second whistle. The time taken for two whistles is usually enough to cook rice.

Get someone to show you how to use a pressure cooker. It will take a couple of minutes and it
is a skill well worth learning !

In a pressure cooker, add a cup of rice. Add two cups of water. Close the cooker , and cook on medium heat for two whistles. Turn off the stove and wait for around 15 minutes for the steam to settle. You can now open the pressure cooker. If the rice is overcooked, add a little less
water the next time. If undercooked, add a bit more. By trial and error you’ll know exactly how much water to add. Most households stick to one variety of rice.

Tips

Presoaking rice for around 30 minutes in water makes it softer.

Rinsing rice in water before cooking it makes it less prone to stick together.

Cook in steam, not in hot air. To remove all air in the cooker, do not fit the weight on top of the cooker till you see a stream of steam coming out of the top hole. This means that the cooker is now completely filled with steam and all air has been driven out. Now place the weight and cook on medium heat for two whistles.

After cooking it takes 10-15 minutes for the steam to settle. To check if the steam has subsided, lift the weight a bit. If steam does not hiss out, it means it is safe to open the cooker.

Never fill up the pressure cooker over half way. Rice expands to nearly thrice its volume on cooking. This goes to Archana's One dish meal event.

For detailed recipes, check out the following
Model Recipes:
Manjula's Mixed vegetable rice video
LG's Lentil Rice
Cham's Vegetable Biriyani

Pongal
Solai's Sambar Rice
Bhavani's Tomato Rice

2 comments:

LG said...

Thanks Ramki for marking my lentil rice as a model recipe. Lentils Rice is fast to cook and tasty to eat.

Raaga said...

I totally agree... am always cooking like this

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"It is extraordinary to me that the idea of creating thousands of recipes by mixing building blocks takes immediately to people or it doesn’t take at all. .... If it doesn’t grab a person right away, ... you can talk to him for years and show him demos, and it doesn’t make any difference. They just don’t seem able to grasp the concept, simple as it is". ( Thanks Warren Buffett !)

"What's angering about instructions in many cookbooks is that they imply there's only one way to cook a dish - their way. And that presumption wipes out all the creativity." Cook dishes your way - Download  1001 South Indian curries now and learn to cook, not to duplicate ! ( Thanks Robert Pirsig !)

"Recipe purity is no different from racial purity or linguistic purity. It just does not exist. Cuisines are alive and change all the time. What is traditional today was esoteric just a few decades back. So being a 'foodist' is as bad as being a racist !

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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