Cooking (North) Indian Food

While health officials have said that COVID-19 doesn’t spread through food, especially if you heat it properly before consuming, I haven’t felt comfortable ordering food from restaurants since the government announced the lockdown in March. This means Ankush and I have been cooking all our own meals for the last two months.

I’ve cooked for myself in some capacity since I moved to Bangalore seven years ago, but this is the first time I’ve been forced to cook nearly every single meal myself. In the process, I’ve learned a few things. They may be familiar to folks who have been cooking for years, but each one of these tips made a huge difference to the quality of my cooking:

  • Ghee can make everything taste like it was cooked by the spirit of a dead Mughal chef, but it can also overpower all the other flavors in your food. I used to use a ton of ghee in all my cooking, but I now prefer using a neutral oil for most dishes.
  • Most North Indian recipes call for a 1:2 ratio of onions to tomatoes in the curry, but I like to use a bit of extra tomato to add some tang to the gravy. If I don’t have a small tomato lying around, I add a tablespoon of packaged tomato puree.
  • Using ginger-garlic paste, whether homemade or packaged, always results in tastier gravies compared to using chopped ginger and garlic.
  • The slower you brown your onions, the better your gravies end up tasting. About twenty minutes on a medium flame works great, but I’ve cooked them for even longer with good results.
  • You want to put either jeera powder or dhania powder in your gravies, but usually not both.
  • You want to put either jeera seeds or mustard seeds into your tadka, but usually not both.
  • Hing is a very potent spice, use it with care.
  • It can take a really long time to cook peas. I’ve boiling them in water for a few minutes before putting them into gravies, because sometimes they end up staying raw even when all the other ingredients in a dish are cooked through.
  • If you’re cooking chana or rajma in a pressure cooker, don’t forget to add salt. If you pressure cook them without salt, the resulting dish will taste bland even if you later add enough salt to the gravy.
  • If you don’t use up your rice fast enough, you’ll sometimes see small black bugs appear on the grains after a few weeks. These are rice weevils, and their eggs are invariably present on your rice even if you buy the really fancy brands. You can get rid of these eggs by putting the rice in the freezer for a few days before using it.
  • Common grains in descending order of cooking times are: white chana > rajma > toor daal > moong daal and basmati rice > masoor daal.