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Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus

In the last month, the world seems to have gone crazy around us. Not only has coronavirus created an unprecedented health emergency, it is causing us to relook at our lifestyle and life choices like never before. Most people I know are working from home and because I live in Mumbai and work out of a startup hub, I am getting increasingly aware of another kind of panic gripping my friends and colleagues.

If you think that eating out puts you at risk and you have never cooked before, chances are you are scratching your head on what to eat for dinner. I know of some fine folks stocking up on copious amounts of gin and 50 packets of maggi right now. But in case you are looking for a bit more variety and nutrition, here are some ideas for things you can cook even if you are an absolute novice cook. Also, read to the end for a nifty list on what to shop for when you have a pantry devoid of any supplies. It's a short list and I'm going to show you how to cook a whole week of meals w…
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The Bread Whisperer

What do an electrical engineer, a monk and an IT trainer have in common? These are all the things Abhilash was before he turned his attention to bread baking. Not the one to pick an easy path, Abhilash started with the most temperamental of breads - the sourdough - as his baking adventure. At first, he was baking these loaves for himself. Accolades from friends and family quickly followed and much to the delight of this writer, he turned his passion into a full time career six months back.

For the uninitiated, a sourdough bread is made by fermenting the dough with naturally occurring yeast, making it harder to perfect than the bread made with commercial yeast. The bread's signature tang and the open crumb, with lots of holes, is only made better with a high hydration dough that is super tricky to master. While extremely popular around the world, good sourdough is an elusive commodity in Mumbai and there are only a handful of bakers I would trust when I am looking for bread.

Thoro…

The Perfect Polenta

This polenta is like a hug in a bowl. Coarse cornmeal cooked until creamy and then topped with cheese, honey and mint, this dish is as perfect for breakfast as it is for a lunch or a lazy dinner. What I like best though is that the porridge present a perfectly blank canvas for other flavours. On other days, I've topped polenta with a creamy mushroom sauce. Once, I felt fancy and set the polenta in a tray and cut it into dainty squares that were topped with whipped feta and caramelised onions.



What's most important though is that base. Polenta can very easily go wrong so here's my tips for that perfectly cooked, creamy flavour:
1. Use a lot of liquid. This recipe used 6 times the volume to cook polenta in. And while there's nothing wrong with using plain water, mixing in something richer (milk in this case) gives you better results.
2. You want to add polenta slowly, almost like it's a rain shower, and you want to keep whisking it while you are adding the grains so…

Ruby Brownies

Have you heard of ruby chocolate? Up until 2017, chocolate used to be brown, dark brown or white. Then Callebaut came up with another colour: ruby chocolate is naturally pink. I first tasted Ruby last year at London's Fortnum and Mason and was instantly taken in by the unique flavour. It's sweet like white chocolate but there is a lingering sourness, a light tang that sets it apart.

Ruby chocolate has become easier to get hold of in Mumbai now so after I had my fill of the chocolate in its natural form for a few months, I turned to what else I could do with it. The first recipe to cross my mind was naturally brownies. This fudgy concoction is set to showcase the chocolate and for my first attempt, I used my trusted recipe from Dorie Greenspan.

Some adjustments had to be made though. Ruby chocolate is sweeter than the dark variant I normally use in this recipe so I reduced the sugar content. And I noticed the pink gets pale, almost brownish, in the batter so I added a little b…

Banana Cake. Peanut Streusel.

I love baking Plain Jane cakes. The ones you can whip up quickly in a bowl and the ones where you do not need to fuss about frostings and such. I specially like the kinds you can bake on a weekend and leave in the fridge to snack on during the week.

The brown butter banana cake from food52 checks all the boxes. As an added bonus, there is no need to even bring out a whip; you only need a blender or a food processor. The original recipe is for a loaf cake but I adapted mine to fit a 6 inch springform pan. If you are comparing recipes, you will notice that my cake recipe is halved but I kept the full recipe for peanut streusel. That's because the peanuts and oats add a real crunch and more is really a lot better in this case.

Here's the easy breezy way to get your cake fix.

Ingredients
For Streusel
40 grams butter (I use salted Amul butter)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup oats
2/3 cup salted, roasted peanuts

For cake
50 grams butter (I use salted Amul butter)
1 cup minus 2 tbsp plain …

Kaffir Lime Rasam

I've been on bit of a Thai food kick this past month. Which means that the fridge is also chockfull of Thai ingredients. So I started to think what else I could do with them. Which means there have been a few experiments. Here's the most successful of them thus far: a kaffir lime rasam.

As far as fusion foods go, this isn't too much of a stretch. Lime rasam is already a thing and kaffir lime adds a lovely new dimension to flavour and fragrance of this rasam. Here's the recipe.

Ingredients
2 tbsp arhar dal
4-5 kaffir lime leaves
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of turmeric powder
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
1 tbsp rasam powder
1 tbsp lime juice

In a pressure cooker, add arhar dal, 2 kaffir lime leaves, salt and turmeric with 3 cups of water. Boil until the dal is fully cooked and you have a watery stock.

Heat the oil in a pan. Add hing, cumin seeds and rai. Wait a minute for all the seeds to start sputtering, then add the kaffir …

The Curries of Thailand

For someone who grew up in India, I am really a chicken when it comes to eating spicy food. Hence, for a long time, I would also avoid Thai curries. But then I went to Thailand twice this year and fell in love with the food. I also realised that the curries come in a whole spectrum of spice levels, from the mild massaman Curry to the fiery green one.

No wonder then that the massaman curry is my favourite and the one I cook the most once I got back from Thailand with a bag full of ingredients. It's a strange one too, with flavour influences from India and Malaysia. Originally made with beef and potatoes, I make my vegetarian version here with a mix of onions, peppers and potatoes. Here's the recipe.

Ingredients
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into bite sized squares
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped into bite sized squares
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and cut into squares
2 tbsp massaman curry paste (look for the vegetarian version)
1 tbsp peanut oil
200 ml coconut milk
1 tb…