On Cooking

For a little over a month, I’ve been living alone. And since Gurgaon doesn’t offer terrific variety of options in terms of cuisine, I’ve been cooking. Actually, I’ve been having a combination of cuisines every day – breakfast is continental (cereal with milk), lunch is north indian (eat it at the office cafeteria) and dinner at home is south indian. This arrangement will last for a couple of weeks, after which my mother will be joining me here.

I’ve often received queries as to how I can find so much time to cook. Others say that time can be managed, but how I can find the enthu to cook. A fwe others advise me to not bother with this and to employ a cook. The reason I don’t take the last bit of advice is because I’m usually fussy about what I eat. And then, one month of Gurgaon meant that I was bored of North Indian food, and needed something else for dinner (and how many cooks can you find in Gurgaon who can cook something else?). There is one really good South Indian restaurant here, but I can’t keep going there everyday, can I?

What I do in order to get the time and enthu to cook is to employ concepts such as economies of scale and law of conservation of willpower. I’ve talked about the former two posts back, when I gave a possible reason for only South India having a well-defined breakfast cuisine. The latter can be found in a NY Times article written in april which I’ve linked to several times from here, and now don’t have the enthu to find the link.

The basic unit of South Indian cooking is rice. It is extremely easy to make, and requires you to spend not more than a sum total of five minutes in the kitchen. Hence, it can be easily prepared in the evening following a long and tiring day at work. the next most important item, curd, can be purchased off the shelf. I have pickles which I’d ordered from Sri Vidyabharathi Home Products in SringerI (blogged about it but too lazy to put link). However, rice, curd and pickles doesn’t make a complete meal. You also need sambar or rasam to go with that. And making that is a non-trivial process.

This is where economies of scale comes in. The amount of effort to make five litres of Sambar is only marginally greater than the amount of time taken to make 1 litre (you need to cut more vegetables). My fridge works quite well, and Sambar or Rasam, when stored the right way, can last for about two weeks. So you know what is to be done (actually my grad student friends in the US tell me that this is what they’ve been practicing for ages). Whenever you get the enthu to cook (we’ll come to this in a bit), you make enough to last a week. Only thing is that you shouldn’t have qualms about eating stuff that has been inside a fridge (if you are a strict observer of the maDi-mYlge-musare-enjil practices, you may not be willing to do this).

Speaking of enthu, this is where the law of conservation of willpower comes in. Cooking is a fairly mechanical process, and there isn’t any scope for creativity, especially if you are making “vanilla” products such as rice, rasam, sambar and curry. Hence, for someone like me who is more idea-oriented and not  execution-oriented, it can consume a lot of willpower. One attempt at cooking can be quite exhausting. So you better make sure you don’t spend all the energy that you get from eating in cooking the next meal.

My policy so far has been that I shouldn’t do any kind of major cooking more than once a day. By major cooking, I talk about processes that take more than 10 minutes of kitchen time (this excludes making rice, heating stuff, etc.) .I broke that rule today, and have ended up totally tired. However, as long as  I follow that rule, I know that sometime or the ohter i’m going to feel enthu and go into the kitchen. This wya, I dont’ end up spending too much will power when im in the kitchen. And I get to eat good food every day.