Thursday, March 08, 2018

My culinary journey so far

My cooking skills were non existent till I was into my late 30s. If batter was there, I could make decent Dosais. I also learned to cook rice in an open pot. That was about it. I didn't learn to cook for myself. Could not even prepare proper decoction for filter coffee that I love.

During my early days as an Engineer in a fertiliser factory, I was given a two bedroom quarters where I stayed there alone for nearly 3 years. My mother gave me an induction stove and some vessels, hoping I would cook now and then. Not once did I switch on that stove. For vegetarians like me, Tuticorin in 1990s had very few options. Yet I ate out daily in parotta stalls and road side dosai shops. Never tried to cook. 

After my marriage, the same thing continued. We were staying with my parents, so I hardly went to the kitchen. My wife too loves to cook, and things went swimmingly well. It wasn't that I thought cooking wasn't a man's job, just that I was terrified of the seeming complexities involved in cooking a single dish. I didn't even know that one had to make tadka for Rasam. I wrote about it here.

Things came to a head in 2013. My wife went on an onsite visit for four months. My parents went abroad to be with my newly married brother. My in-laws went on a pilgrimage. All at the same time. So there was a window of two weeks when I had to send the kids to school all by myself. 

I was terrified to say the least. Each day morning was an ordeal. I had to pack lunch five days a week. One day I would make mini oothappams. Another day curd rice with potato fry. What about the other three days? When I attempted to make Pooris they never puffed up. I tried to make mixed vegetable rice, and well, they were either mushy or stood ram rod straight. Never got the right consistency. Rasam and Sambar were out of the question. I was exhausted after struggling to pack lunch for two kids daily.

Poor kids, they put up with my attempts for two weeks till my in-laws came back. Those two weeks made me realize how bad I was at one life skill that I needed. It was around this time my wife joined the UBF (United By Food) cooking group in FaceBook. Their promise was simple. They broke down complex Indian recipes into easy to do blocks and perfected some techniques so that any dish could be made in One Pot (Pressure Cooker mostly) and in One Shot (put up the cooker on stove and cook for n number of whistles), and your dish was ready. My wife used to save the recipe cards in our common cloud folder. I looked at them sceptically. Cooking a Biriyani can't be so easy, can it?

I still didn't gather the courage to start cooking. I went back to my normal mode once my parents came back. I didn't go back to the kitchen.

In my family, my wife and daughter eat meat dishes. Me and my son are vegetarian. Since my wife was abroad, I used to buy Chicken Biriyani from the hotel for my daughter. One day on an impulse I decided to follow the OPOS recipe card and cook Chicken Biriyani. It was SIMPLE. As simple as the recipe card promised. I was hooked. I started trying out various dishes. Desserts were the first, easy to cook and well received.

Choco Flan - made with eggs and condensed milk

Though a vegetarian, I have no hang ups about cooking meat. The fact that one half of my family is vegetarian while the other half are meat eaters helps. I have some one else clean the meat though.  Cooking meat was fairly easier than the vegetables in OPOS. I have hardly made a mistake while cooking meat. 

Pepper Chicken

Gongura Chicken

Mutton Sukka

My wife was initially hesitant to let me cook because she was sure that I will mess up. I had to convince her a lot before letting me cook. An advantage of OPOS is it uses minimal number of vessels. So cleaning up after cooking is very easy.

As she started traveling more, I had to pack lunch for kids on regular basis. Once you plan everything the night before and have the vegetables cut, making lunch at the morning was a breeze. It took hardly ten minutes to rustle up this Brinji.


I became an evangelist for OPOS cooking. Got a couple of my friends to join the group. I started trying out more fancy stuff. One thing I noticed was those who already knew to cook found it difficult to follow OPOS as it went against their notions of cooking. But for newbies like me, it was easy and it was a life saver in many occasions. 

There is a constant debate about how OPOS deprives the joy of cooking and how it is not really authentic. I am not getting into that debate. I started cooking non OPOS dishes and found that cooking was therapeutic too. Especially making Palkova by traditional method. Whenever I am stressed out, nearly an hour spent stirring the milk calms me down :-)

I am not paid by OPOS nor am I member of their FB group :-). They now have an youtube channel OPOS chef . You can also buy the OPOS cook book in Kindle.

Learning to cook has helped me a lot. There was a learning curve, but it wasn't steep. Cooking is one of the things that gives me joy, which I impose on unsuspecting followers in Instagram. Learn cooking, it is one of the life skills you definitely need. My son too has caught the bug and makes us Dosais some days when we are tired. He is 11.

But don't think that we have a harmonious time cooking in the kitchen. Early in my journey I realised it doesn't work that way. She wants just a glorified helper, who will hand over things as she asks. I chafe at being reduced to a gofer. After a couple of attempts, we have called truce. Both me and my wife cook, but independently.


Narayanaswamy G said...

Wonderfully written. I can connect with every aspect of this, as, i personally started cooking in my early 30s.

I'm a true fan of OPOS, starting from Biriyani to Sakkarai Pongal. I feel every dish can be cooked as OPOS, provided you under how every spice reacts to what amounts of water and at what temperature.

Would love to see more!

Senthil Kumar said...

Awesome Chen. Even I have started the cooking sessions after following Hebbars and Yum recipes. My cooking happens during weekend during evening snack time. So for now making snacks. Thanks for the OPOS info. I will definitely join that group and try as well.

Rajmi Arun said...

Superb sir. Well written. Yes the needed life skill of cooking is made easier in OPOS. Have seen the dishes you have made which were shared by your wife. They definitely are class apart. No one can say you started cooking in late 30s

Vijayashankar said...

Very nice post, somewhat mimics my experience! (however never tried OPOS - but have used ready made pastes, to make chicken gravy for my kids, when my wife was busy with her exams!)

Is your wife working in IT industry? How does she make time to cook?

Prema Sridharan said...

Well written and so much from the bottom of your heart. Thoroughly enjoyed reading every bit! Good luck with more Opos recipes....

Chenthil said...

G Narayanaswamy - Thanks. I too love the infinite variations one can make by varying the spices and water. The experiments make it interesting to cook.

NG - Thanks. Am happy that my College Mess Secretary appreciates my cooking :-)

Rajmi Arun - Thank you :-)

Vijayashankar - Thanks. Yes, my wife works in IT. But we never felt it interfering with the cooking. We have our menu planned in advance and vegetables cut by the maid previous day. That reduces cooking time considerably.

Prema Sridharan - Thanks :-)

Ashutosh Chauhan said...

We are urgently in need of KlDNEY donors for the sum of $500,000.00 USD, WhatsApp or Email for more details:
WhatsApp +91 779-583-3215

radhakrishnan said...

very interesting. i wonder how a born vegetarian could change to non veg overnight

without any inhibition. it is unimaginable for me. ofcource necessity. but it is my
strong opinion that everybody should know cooking and the art should be learnt from
earlier ages.only that skill will save them from starving and unhealthy foods whereever
they go in this world. very interesting post indeed.vazhthukkal