15 Cooking Hacks for the Budding HomeChef

This past year of learning the language of food, picking up recipes that have been in the family, understanding traditional cuisine and learning to adapt the food to the local produce has been possible only owing to the parents – especially my mother.  Were it not for her support, I would still be making the occasional instant noodles and egg curry. With Maa, I’ve taken the shaky steps from a beginner to someone inching towards intermediate.

Interestingly, Maa is not a fan of cooking – despite being an amazing cook – and has several little tricks up her sleeve to make kitchen time easier. These tricks, she says, have been tried and tested by generations of cooks.

“There’s a scientific reason to most of these kitchen hacks. I don’t know what they are but I do know that they work just fine,” she always says. So here are a few of those amazing cooking tips that have helped make my year in the kitchen a lot easier. These tips have been given in no particular order – just listed the way they kept coming from my mother.

  1. There are a few ways to check whether the oil is hot enough to be used for frying. The easiest way is to hold your palm over the oil to check for warmth. If you are going to use the oil to deep fry, drop a speck of vegetable or batter to test the oil. When the oil is hot, it gives off a faint shimmer and there is light movement in it, almost like water.
  2. When frying fish or meat, add a pinch of salt to the hot oil before you slide in the produce. This will stop the produce from sticking to the pan.
  3. To avoid overflow of boiling liquid – like milk or lentils – prop a ladle into the vessel OR lay it diagonally over the vessel.
  4. Rice and lentils soaked for a minimum of 30 minutes help reduce cooking time.
  5. Some vegetables tend to turn brown within a few minutes of being cut – like potato, aubergine, etc. To avoid the discolouration, soak the vegetables in water with a pinch of salt until you are ready to cook.
  6. To keep stir-fried cubes of paneer/cottage cheese from drying, soak them in lightly salted warm water. This keeps the paneer soft and helps absorb gravy better.
  7. For the lovely caramelized glazed on onion slices, add a pinch of salt to the cooking medium (oil/ghee/butter).
  8. If your food is too salty, add a chunk of peeled potato OR a ball of wheat flour dough to the food. Simmer for a few minutes and then check the salt level.
  9. Add a splash of milk to eggs being whisked for a scramble or an omelette. They make the eggs softer and fluffier.
  10. To thicken curries-dals-soups, whisk in rice flour instead of cornflour. Rice flour acts as a thickening agent without changing the taste of the food. For onion-based curries, consider adding cashew nut paste or pumpkin seed paste.
  11. To avoid milk from sticking to the vessel, add a teaspoon of water. Then pour in the milk to boil.
  12. Think twice before throwing away the gravy of the leftover chicken tikka masala. Add sliced omelettes (be inspired by this Spicy Omelette Curry recipe) or boiled eggs to the curry, boil and serve with rice or bread of choice.
  13. Oil leftover after deep frying can be reused after straining it for sediments.
  14. If a recipe calls for water to be added after the spices have been cooked, add warm/hot water. This speeds the cooking process and does not dilute the taste.
  15. Always remember – cooking time will vary depending on the produce, water and external temperature. So trust your guts.