Cooking for One
Have you gotten in the take-out rut or do you wait for invites from friends for a home cooked meal? The idea of cooking for oneself seems like an unnecessary daunting affair – a performance with no applause. But the fact is with limited healthy options, boring dubbawallah meals and restaurant costs at an all time high, cooking at home is not only a way to let your creative juices flowing but rewarding for your waist and wallet in the bargain. Cooking nutritiously and economically is challenging but not impossible.
Get Organized
You do not have to spend hours in the kitchen to have a good meal. The first step is to get organized and stock your kitchen with the basic ingredients and needed utensils. A few small pots, one small pressure cooker, ladles, grater, strainer, a knife and chopping board, are a few utensils you will need to start. Invest in a steel spice dubba(just like the one your mother has) and small quantities of spices such as mustard seeds, geera, hing, cinnamon sticks, cloves, black pepper, cardamom, red chilli powder, and bay leafs. Dried basil and oregano and masalas of your choice also come in handy.
Keep it SimpleMeals should not be elaborate. Ease into cooking with simple meals. Make some egg burji, cut one cucumber and serve with tomato chutney and some store bought chappatis or wheat bread, it is a complete meal and only pot to wash! Basil, garlic, olive oil and some walnuts make pesto(cheese is optional). Make yourself a cheese, tomato, pesto sandwich with a strawberry milkshake(use lowfat milk) and you have an elegant meal for one. A simple dal with some your favourite fragrant rice is the most comforting of comfort foods – you will be thankful that you learnt your mom’s dal recipe, especially on those evenings when you miss home the most. There are many such simple options in all types of Indian and ethnic foods.

Shopping Lists
Europeans buy their foods fresh every day. Indians seem to be emulating the American way which is shop once a week and buy as much processed foods as possible. You need not shop every day but do try to get the veggies you need alternate days or at least twice a week. When you begin to cook you will begin to notice that vegetable vendors and grocery stores are on nearly on every corner – you paid no heed to them before. This will mean fresh foods with less wastage. This also allows room for planning impromptu meals for any cravings you may have. Want Chinese tonight – you have the sauces stored at home, just pick up the needed veggies on the way home.

Part of Life
Sure, sometimes you are tired, don’t feel like cooking or just do not have the time, but cooking should be seen as a joy and not a burden. If it is done often then it becomes a routine, part of your life – like exercise should be. It may take some time before cooking becomes more of a habit and less of a chore but with time it will take less effort. You may not be as comfortable in the kitchen as your mom but remember she has had years of practice.

Shortcuts
Eating the leftovers is always fun – you come home and dinner is ready in the fridge! So go ahead and cook for two. If you do not feel like having that pasta two days in a row, then freeze the pasta sauce to have next week. All you need to do it make fresh pasta.

Pair up with a friend. If distances permit then pick up your meals from a friend that cooks as well and vice versa. With all these shortcuts you need only cook 3 days a week!

Clean as you go. Buy some absorbent sponges, paper napkins, and nice smelling dishwashing liquid. When you are waiting for something to cook, wash some dishes and tidy the counter. Do not wait until the end to clean up – it’s just no fun.

Therapy
You can get on the net or watch the latest happenings on Big Boss but it is much more fun to make something nourishing and tasty for yourself. It really does beat the bhelwalla, samosas or Dominos take out. Put on a news channel or some of music of your choice and cook away. Cooking can be a great form of therapy, a way to unwind at the end of a long day. Taste along the way, experiment, and keep the flame on low – enjoy the process. Bon Appetit!

Recipes(serves 2)
Versatile Pasta Sauce
This pasta sauce can double up as a pizza sauce. Add it to bread with some cheese and veggies the next night and your dinner is set. If you do not have an oven then the tawa works well on low flame and a lid to make pizza toasts.

Ingredients:
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ kg tomatoes, boiled lightly and pureed or hand crushed
1 tsp dried oregano or 2 t fresh, chopped
sprig of fresh Italian parsley(or dried if not on hand)
2 tbsp oil, preferably olive oil Salt and black pepper to taste 1tsp sugar

Directions:
Sauté garlic in oil until golden.

Most recipes ask you to peel and deseed the tomatoes but I find this time consuming and wasteful so I mix everything together. Hand crushing gives the sauce a chunky consistency and pureed in the mixer will make it smooth – whatever you are in the mood for at that moment.

Add the tomatoes and reduce heat. Add oregano and parsley to the sauce, salt pepper and sugar.

Add to your favourite pasta with cheese and some steamed green beans or vegetable of your choice.

Easy Chicken Curry(chicken can be substituted with tofu, paneer, or cauliflower, potato, etc)
Ingredients:
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tsp of butter
¼ kg boneless chicken
1 sliced onion
3 crushed cloves garlic
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp red chilli powder
3 chopped tomatoes
2 green chillies
Salt
1 tbsp chopped coriander
juice of 1/4 lime

Directions:
Heat the oil and butter in a heavy pan and sauté the onion over a moderate heat until golden brown. Add the ginger and garlic and continue to fry for 1 minute, followed by the coriander powder. Stir, then add the turmeric, garam masala, cumin seeds and red chilli powder. Stir to combine and continue to fry for a further 1-2 minutes before adding the tomatoes, chillies and half of the fresh coriander. Cook out for 15 minutes on a gentle simmer.

To the basic curry sauce, add salt to taste, and then add the chicken along with a tea cup of water. Cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Stir in the lime juice and add the remaining fresh coriander. Enjoy with steamed rice, bread and cut salad.

Published in Pune Mirror, February 28, 2011