Food for life

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March 24th, 2010 Abhilasha Ojha

I enjoy cooking a lot. In fact, I find it a stress buster. It’s great fun to rustle up something in the kitchen. It’s an experience to think of unique ways to turn perfectly simple dishes into something scintillating. And it doesn’t have to be too much effort. All it requires is a dash of imagination, a drizzle of innovation, and you’re sure to have a fabulous dish on the table.
While nothing works better than a cold cucumber soup for me (dunk it over bite-sized bread pieces), whenever I’m feeling low, I find it reassuring to have a glass of warm milk (I pour it in a bowl, again, over slices of bread, with a generous sprinkling of sugar). In winters, especially, I love wrapping my hands around a mug of warm milk (with heaped spoons of chocolate powder, some crushed almonds) with a book resting by the bedside table. Speaking of winters, another quick recipe included washing and roughly chopping a whole lot of fresh veggies (spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, broccoli), a fistful of moong dal, a spoonful of rice apart from chopped onions, tomatoes, bruised garlic pods and a humble potato. After putting oil/butter in a pressure cooker, I’d just put some asafetida (I love it), cumin seeds, turmeric, throw in the veggies, cover with enough water and sprinkle salt and cover the lid and basically just take it off the gas after one whistle. I hate straining (in any case, this soup-meal/stew isn’t too watery) so I’d opt for a generous sprinkling of chilli flakes, a garnish of cheese (it works), top it with just a little more butter (it’s so tempting) and basically eat it with bread/soup sticks.
I never really cooked as a kid (I was in the hostel for most time) and my mum often worried about how I’d be the recipe for disaster in the marriage market eventually. There were bitter fights too but we’ll save that part of the story for another day.

I think the first brush with cooking really happened when I was in the hostel where we “set” cakes – not ‘bake’ them by the window sill (oh yes, we did that). The recipe was simple: it involved Parle G biscuits, Bournvita, some water, a packet of Gems, a fairly thick cardboard piece (from any notebook, really). The method of creating these cakes began days in advance and involved, well, sacrifice. We first had to save biscuits (four biscuits used to be given to each student every morning before the morning PT class and during tea time in the evening). Saving them was a hard task since we were hungry goats. Once we had enough biscuits (around 30-40 of them), we used to crush them and bind them with water (and you must know that there was no concept of mineral water. Oh, this process was done with our bare hands in plastic mugs). After this we would also mix Bournvita (a dash of chocolate taste, you see) and take the entire mixture on cardboard torn mercilessly from a notebook. Then began the tough part; ‘setting’ the cake into shape. A ‘heart’ shape –was a big hit, it involved taking a measuring scale, the edge of a compass, and deftly scooping out extra ‘cake’ to create the shape. We decorated the cake with Gems but since it was moist (note: we didn’t always get the water measurement right), we used to leave it overnight by the window sill. Our logic: By night time, the cake would dry out. What if it didn’t? Well, there would be many more nights, of course.
I feel like puking even as I write this but back then, when we were living in a hostel, there wasn’t anything better than our biscuit cakes. Midnight feasts were a hit because of ‘bun omelets’ (diligently saved for over a week), a limp packet of chips, beer bottles (skillfully sneaked into the premises), Maggi (soaked in water that was warmed thanks to the water heating rod in an aluminum bucket, and so much more.
Food, then, is really savouring so many memories, right?

PS: I’d be delighted if you could exchange simple recipes, food stories, on the forum. Thanks.

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11 Responses to “Food for life”

  1. Omigosh Says:

    On the other hand, there is Rogan Josh, recommended in the book Chef by Jaspreet Singh as a peace formula for J&K

  2. Omigosh Says:

    A Heart shaped cake?
    Nice! Very nice!

  3. sanj Says:

    i remember me and my friend making grilled cheese sandwiches in the common oven. we would apply butter on the outside, throw a slice of cheese in between the slices, and put it in the oven - it came out very nice with the outside having grill marks and nice golden yellow toast color. for spicy taste, we kept a bottle of “sriracha” hot chilli-garlic sauce available at local supermarket. it is a thai / chinese hot sauce.

  4. Abhilasha Ojha Says:

    Babita: waiting to try your ‘beetroot salad’ recipe. thanks
    Vibhor: Thanks for sharing the recipe
    Rishu, Abha: You both are so kind. Thanks for your valuable comments.
    Rishu: Yes, I love bread. No, I still won’t call the blog Bread For Life.

  5. Abha Says:

    excellent topic, but badly written

  6. Abha Says:

    re-read your post, it seems your are more enamored by bread, than the process of cooking

  7. Rishu Says:

    Read the blog: Title it “Bread for Life”, your every dish must be had with bread

  8. rishu Says:

    you know what, re-read your post, it seems your are more enamored by bread, than the process of cooking

  9. Vibhor Says:

    I would like to share one of my favorate snack..which is easy to make..

    Recipe for Yoghurt Toast:

    1. Place one bread loaf over the other & divide them into four parts.
    2. Take curd(not too thick)-around 100 gms, put oil tadka in it(with rai,kadipatta etc).
    3. Heat Tawa & put little oil.
    4. Mix the bread pieces with the curd.
    5. Place them on the Tawa & heat for about 5-7 mins.
    6. Have it with Tomato sauce/Green Chatnee.

  10. Babita Says:

    We’ve done similar things in childhood…. But ours was more to do with cold treats…. the ‘very close to heart’ ice-cream was created by mixing jam & sugar in milk. Leaving it to freeze for the entire day & out came the milky candy for just the right treat after dinner. Parents hated even to take a bite of it.

    Hey u know what if u are a salad person, you could just roast grated beetroot on a tawa with very little oil, a pinch of cumin seeds & salt, a couple of curry leaves & a sliced green chillie. After a roast for about a minute, serve it only with cold yougurt with a simple paratha or roti. I’m sure you’ll love it. It’s refreshing & nutritious….

  11. Rrishi Says:

    Speaking of school hostel food: we used to smuggle in Maggi and cook it using hot water for bathing. On one occasion, though, no hot water was available, so a roommate and I, with no little difficulty, suspended a small kettle with the water/noodles above an entire forest of burning candle stubs. Really the heat was fiendish, and the candles were busy melting each other — hard work for us stewards! — but finally the deed was done and the noodles boiled. So then we sprinkled in crunchy Cheeselings for the gourmet touch, and ate. Gone in 60 seconds.

    Now my stomach turns at the memory, but then it was a hard-won snack for two ultimately sweaty and singed hostellers. Is it any surprise that neither of us noodle-eaters ever learned how to cook?


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