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Fast food in the fast lane

Print Edition: Sept 9, 2007

Sanjeev Kapoor
Sanjeev Kapoor
Quick and easy is the name of the game in today's kitchens. We all feel 24 hours are not enough to pack in all that we need to but that's all we get. We live life in the fast lane, drive fast cars and eat fast food. But wait a second. With due respect to a precious commodity that is time, let me clarify that fast food is called fast food not because it is quick to cook but only because it can be served at a moment's notice. Everything is prepared and all it needs is assembly. The real test begins when it comes to fast food that is fast to cook. My focus here is on food that can be cooked fast, while at the same time retaining its taste, texture and nutritive content.

What can be fast food? A quick meal that is easy to make, requiring no fancy equipment or special skills. It could be a meal that is quick to prepare. But let me tell you, with all my experience in the kitchen, everything takes time! Whether you are kneading dough, soaking the pulses, chopping the vegetables, grinding the masalas, waiting for the pressure cooker to whistle or the microwave oven to buzz, all these activities need time. See the recipes Jeera Aloo and Chicken Stew given in these columns. The potatoes with the cumin seeds will take about 12-15 minutes on the fire.

The chicken recipe requires about 15 minutes from start to finish while you can toast the garlic bread side by side in an oven. Yes, what you can do is have things ready so that the actual time from "raw to table" is reduced. Fast food also has to be delicious. That cannot be compromised especially if it is a recipe coming from me! And if the meal is to be quick, let it be so, but ensure there are no shortcuts from the health point of view. If it is bread instead of chapatis, buy brown bread instead of white; if it is a onedish meal, make sure a variety of foods from all the food groups go into it.

Tips for preparations

The major thought that gnaws away at cooks is the decision on what to cook. The hardest part of cooking a meal is not the making but in deciding. Here it is-a simple (a little thought provoking!) weekly task:

Plan the menu. Make a list of meals for the week keeping in mind that the whole family has to be pleased. You want to feed the family healthy meals and make the most of the rupees too.

Shop. And shop going by the list. Pick up provisions for extra mouths to feed in case there are unexpected guests. If not used, they can always be incorporated in the following week's meals.

Take an hour or two on an off-day or weekend to prepare the masalas. Grind the spices, scrape the coconut, boil the stock, boil the dals, prepare dosa-idli batters, etc. and then freeze them in portions. We have no dearth of ready-made ginger garlic pastes, tomato purées, etc. that can be made use of. We can also make use of precut vegetables once in a while when time is really short. Blanch spinach and keep. The colour is retained and all you have to do is purée it. Some even like to freeze makhni gravy or onion-tomato masala that can be the base for many recipes. I recommend freezing paranthas, tikkis, etc. for those absolutely rushed moments.

Keep measuring cups in every bin. If you have a cup to measure rice for one family meal kept in the rice bin, keep an appropriate one in the dal tin, and flour bin, etc. It helps to cook in the correct quantities and in case you do plan to cook for two meals (so that one can be frozen) then the measurements can be increased proportionately.

Techniques

All that cooks need is a flame-or, well, the oven or the microwave. I highly recommend prudent use of the pressure cooker. It is versatile and a real blessing. If you have a large one, use the containers to boil dal, rice and potatoes together-three things in semipreparation in 25 minutes. While it is whistling, the chapatis can be made. If you have a microwave, let the rice be done in it while you use the gas flame for the vegetables, dal or curry. Another de-stresser in the kitchen is innovation. If you are cooking by the book and some ingredient falls short, don't waste time in rejecting the recipe…rather, go ahead and innovate, use something else. If you know the working of an ingredient, then you are in total control.

Total control. I think it is about time we take a grip on things and control time so that we can relish balanced homemade meals twice a day. That, I know, is the foundation of good health.

Chicken stew with easy garlic bread

Chicken Stew with garlic bread
Chicken Stew with garlic bread
Ingredients

Chicken, 1-1/2 inch cubes - 500 grams
Butter, unsalted             - 1-1/2 tablespoons
Garlic, sliced                 - 1/2 tablespoon
Onion, sliced fine          - 1 medium
Carrot, cubed                - 1 medium
Potato, cubed               - 1 medium
Whole wheat flour (atta) - 1-1/2 tablespoons
Salt                              - to taste
Chicken stock                - 2 1/2cups
Black pepper powder      - 1/2 teaspoon
French beans,               - one inch pieces 3-4
Milk                             - 1/2 cup

For Garlic Bread

French loaf                       - 1
Salted butter                    - 4 tablespoons
Garlic paste                      - 2 teaspoons
Black peppercorns, crushed - 1/2 teaspoon

Method

1. Heat butter in a pan. Add garlic, onions, carrot, potato and sauté for 4-5 minutes on high heat till all the moisture dries up.

2. Meanwhile, for preparing Garlic Bread, cream salted butter till smooth, add garlic paste and crushed black peppercorns. Slit French loaf diagonally every two inches and generously apply butter in the slits, wrap in aluminum foil and keep in the pre-heated oven (200� C) for 5-8 minutes.

3. Add whole-wheat flour to the vegetables for the stew and sauté for a minute. Add chicken pieces, salt and sauté for 8-10 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add half of the black pepper powder, cover and cook for 3-4 minutes.

4. Uncover, add French beans, mix and cook. Add milk and the remaining black pepper powder. Cover and cook on medium heat for 7-8 minutes.

5. Serve hot with hot Garlic Bread.

Jeera aloo

Jeera Aloo
Jeera Aloo
Ingredients

Potatoes, boiled, 1-inch pieces - 4 large
Oil                                        - 4 tablespoons
Cumin seeds                         - 1 teaspoon
Salt                                      - to taste
Red chilli powder                    - 1 teaspoon
Coriander seeds, crushed       - 1 tablespoon
Roasted cumin powder           - 1 teaspoon
Dry mango powder (amchur)   - 1/2 teaspoon
Fresh coriander leaves, chopped - 2 tablespoons

Method

1. Heat oil in a pan. Add cumin seeds and sauté till it changes colour.

2. Add salt and stir. Add red chilli powder, crushed coriander seeds, roasted cumin powder and dry mango powder.

3. Add potato cubes and stir carefully till the masala covers all the potato cubes well.

4. Add coriander leaves and stir.

5. Serve hot.

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