A never-ending learning process: Fried Egg Sambal

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

A few days ago I had a wonderful lunch meeting with an editor of a local magazine. Over a slew of emails deciding on what time and day would best suit the both of us, she suggested we meet for Thai food. That’s when I knew I was going to really like her. And the moment she asked for her Tom Yum soup to be extra-spicy, I knew we were going to be best friends! Lunch was delightful, and the conversation we shared over fresh salad rolls, Pad Thai and Fried Bananas with ice cream was simply exceptional. Being the food editor of the magazine, she undoubtedly shared my obsession with all things culinary. We bonded over our favourite childhood snacks (who knew that ketchup on toast with a dash of pepper was not something that only weird ‘ol me enjoyed! I know, I know, it sounds like a hideous combination; but in my defence, I was 14, breaking out in pimples and was going through a phase where anything out of the ordinary was thought to be “in”…), how we usually plan our vacations based on places that are mostly know for their food more than anything else, and our dislike for broccoli! It was going great until she asked me the dreaded question – when and how did I learn to cook?

I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I’ve been faced with that very question. If only I had a penny for each time I was asked, well, I guess I’d have a lot of pennies by now! As far as I can remember, I actually started cooking when I moved out of home for college; the food there sucked, and since I had an inbuilt kitchen in my room, I figured I could at least try and salvage my hunger and save some money in the process. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said that wasn’t really when I learned to cook. My mom didn’t think much of having me and sister learn to cook the real way. Sure, she’d often have us help her at dinner time by setting the table, making the salad, frying puris while she rolled them out splendidly, and of course, doing the dreaded dishes once everyone was fed. There were days during holidays and weekends, when I would spend time talking to her in the kitchen while she prepped meals. In the process I often took note of how she added one ingredient after the other, roasted spices in dry heat to bring out their aroma, and took special care to avoid any extra gravy while layering Biryani. Little did I know that these special sessions we shared would one day be the basis of my career.

Truth be told, I can’t really point an exact time frame in my life when I actually learned to cook. It kind of just happened, maybe it was always there somewhere. In fact, I’m on a constant learning curve. Each day I educate myself with something new – be it how to make the perfect hard-boiled egg without having the shells stick to it, or that soft, delicious naans could actually be made at home in a flash. Without a tandoor. Who knew! What I can tell you honestly though is that the one thing I actually learned to cook was fried egg. My mom decided to teach me so that I could make my own breakfast without her having to leave the laundry halfway to feed me. It wasn’t a fun experience at all. I must’ve had thrown away a couple dozen before I could manage to crack them just right without thrusting my thumb in and breaking the yolk. But it was all for a good cause. How else could I have made myself this delicious Egg Sambal had it not been for that fateful day.

So, now I ask you – when did you learn to cook?

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Simply summer: Mediterranean Kebabs

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

What is with people who graciously accept your dinner invitation, arrive two hours late without so much as an apology or look of regret on their face, eat merely two bites of the delicious spread you took hours to lay out and declare that they’re just not that hungry! Huh? Wha…?

A few years ago, when I was a newbie in town, I had decided to invite a few people over for a nice dinner so that we could all mingle and get to know each other over mounds of spiked jello shots. The list of invited guests included a few of my colleagues, neighbours, the friendly dude from my dance class and a close friend on mine I’ve known since we were barely in our teens. A weird bunch to bring together no doubt, but I figured that if I ever intended on having a close knit circle of friends to run to over the weekends, then they should at the very least meet each other in person.

I had decided on serving Mexican food. Mainly, because they were such a diverse bunch and I figured that bringing them together over a Taco/Fajita bar laden with fixin’s and over-flowing pitchers of Sangria would definitely lighten everyone’s spirits. And also of course, who doesn’t like Mexican food? I mean, seriously, isn’t it illegal to frown upon it in some parts of the world? Mexico included?

The table was set, plates, glasses and cutlery laid out, and a Mariachi band was serenading away on my second-hand stereo. Slowly, the crowd started to pour in. The music continued to play, folks laughed at each other’s jokes and I couldn’t empty out tortilla chips into the bowls fast enough! It was all going well, until this person made his entrance. He seemed to be in a real bad mood, which made me wonder why he didn’t just call me up and say that he wasn’t able to make it. He sulked in a remote corner all night, nibbling on a handful of chips dipped in about a teaspoon of salsa. Did I mention I actually roasted tomatoes for the first time to make that delicious batch? Needless to say, he hardly even kept a conversation with me – summarizing his answers to my questions in monosyllables. And you’d think he would call me up the next day to apologize, but I’m yet to hear his reasons for his insane behaviour – and it’s been almost seven years now. Not that we’re still in touch though. I somehow find it very hard to maintain my cool with people who show no consideration for others. Which is why I hardly ever cook dinner for them more than once.

When it comes to having friends over, and I mean those people who you really love to spend your time with and not those that you hope to spend some time with – I almost, always, cook whatever they enjoy most. I recently had a close friend over for lunch who is simply smitten by anything Mediterranean! Her love for this eclectic cuisine knows no bounds, and she’s not one to let a good meal pass her by. Since it’s that time of year when I love throw anything on the grill and enjoy a nice lunch outdoors – I wanted to create a cool, calm and simple summer menu, the highlight of which were these deliciously lovely kebabs.
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A ‘no-recipe’ recipe: Garlic Tofu Noodles

Pic taken from www.hookedonheat.com, visit site for recipe details.

Today I have for you what I like to call one of my ‘no-recipe recipes’. These are a class of recipes that I often come up with at the spur of the moment – they have no reason, no inspiration. Just a bunch of ingredients thrown together in the hopes of creating something edible. While a few of such of my creations have turned out perfect to go into the trash, many of them have become a family favourite over the years and continue to make their appearances on my dinner table. Most of them are throw-it-all-into-one-pot-and-hope-for-the-best kinda meals, while others are quick assembly ones. But they each have one thing in common: a few starving mouths waiting to be fed.

I remember this one time when I tried cooking spaghetti with some leftover meatball curry, spaghetti bolognese a la Indian, which did not work out much to our liking. Nethier is combining paneer with green curry paste in hopes of creating a Thai-Indo fusion fried rice such a great idea. But I digress, a ravenous tummy = brains cells on holiday! But sometimes, the lack of time, energy and a frighteningly increasing hunger can create the most delicious meal.

Take today for example – I woke up with a strong will to bake. And bake I did! A bunch of sorry looking carrots found its way into my baking pan and turned into the most deliciously moist treat, a perfect pairing for my evening cup of coffee (but that’s a recipe for another day!). Then I slowly crossed off things on my to-do list one after the other. I was on a roll and nothing was going to stop me. Except, of course, my screaming stomach who knows nothing about keeping its cool when hungry. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that I was past my regular lunch time, and I had to act fast! So I did what I could – picked a bunched of that, chopped a few of those, boiled a pot of this, and stir-fried them all together. And might I add, as hideously simple as it sounds – it was a great meal. Or maybe that’s just my tummy talking!
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