The year 2020 has been full of surprises. A submicroscopic organism has brought the world to a standstill and our only hope to stop it is through old school methods. As we navigate this new normal, things we took for granted – grocery shopping, cleaning, eating out and so many more – have changed. Perhaps for the better? Six months into the pandemic, physically and socially distanced, home-bound and “working remotely,” we thought this would be a good time to take stock of things. As food enthusiasts, of course we had to start by discussing food habits and our new routines. So here goes, a quick chat over caffeinated drinks (chai and coffee) about the new joys and pains of pandemic cooking!
Kitchenpostcards Podcast Ep 2 – Pandemic Cooking: Finding comfort in things new and old
Listen to the second episode of the Kitchenpostcards Podcast where we talk about what has changed in our kitchens in the past few months.
Scroll down and keep reading for the details – tips, ideas, and recipes.
Khichdi – Beauty in simplicity
I have made this humble dish more often since the pandemic than in the last 5 years of having my own kitchen. A simple bowl of khichdi made with moong chhilka dal and rice has brought us comfort during the madness raged outside and inside on our screens. The only prep I had to do was measure a cup of moong chhilka and half cup of rice (proportions can vary to one’s liking), wash a few times and finally soak. Pressure cooked with 4 times water and an optional ghee-onion-ginger-garlic-tomato tadka (No, this is not an elaborate exercise for the Punjabi in me!). A drizzle of ghee and a few twists of pepper for oomph and the greatest meal ever was in front of us. A variation was a pulao style chane ki dal khichdi, best served with a homemade dahi and some chhondo style mango chutney.
Salmon – finding new ways to enjoy an old favourite
Cooking in these times has by turns been a pleasure filled, relaxing distraction or a grudgingly completed chore. To relieve my anxiety, often brought upon by all the distressing news, I have been adding tiny treats in my grocery orders. A chocolate bar, tub of chocolate ice cream and salmon filets – 6 ounces, just off the ice, wrapped in paper. Oh, the delight of seeing a plump, red fleshed filet. Even as complicated recipes flooded my socials, I wanted to cook simply while indulging my tastebuds. For me eating salmon is an indulgence that I both like to plan or stumble upon by surprise. Each has its own rewards! While planning grocery deliveries – the only way we have been getting out food – adding Salmon to the order is a treat. I do not order it each time. But, when I do the reward is well worth the wait. Read on for an easy, elegant and comforting recipe that is my new favourite.
Tomato Paste – for when you can’t find fresh tomatoes
I remember my first grocery order after returning from a trip to India in March this year. I ordered a pack of frozen mixed veggies, frozen spinach and a small tetrapack of strained tomatoes amongst other things. This wasn’t new or unusual for me but when tomatoes aren’t the best quality or out of stock, this tetra-pack has come to my rescue. I always stock onions, tomato, ginger, garlic and green chillies in my kitchen to enable my unplanned cooking adventures. I consider them to be the building blocks for most of the curries and pulaos I make. While most things in this list have a long shelf life, tomatoes, particularly good ones, are not something that last long. At such times, these strained tomatoes come to my rescue. What do I use it in- everything from anda bhurji, tadka for dal, egg fried rice to pasta sauce.
Quick Chicken Curries – three ingredients only!
I have relied on chicken a lot more than I used to pre-pandemic. It has become a staple ingredient on our menu, featuring mostly as a main for dinner. Cooking any meat can seem cumbersome, especially if it isn’t a part of your repertoire. I’ve learned that cooking chicken is both easy and can be a quick, fuss-free process with some planning. To simplify it further I’ve been cooking with the least ingredients possible – spices, garlic and onion. That’s it! If I am feeling fancy, then a bit of yogurt/curd. This might sound bland, but there is a beauty in savouring the flavour of a few spices versus overwhelming the palette with too much. Have you enjoyed food at a roadside eatery / dhaba? Or eaten a meal cooked at a camp fire? That is the kind of pared down distillation of flavour I’ve begun to pursue and enjoy. More in a recipe soon! In the meantime, find some equally delicious recipes here.
Making Greens last longer
Most greens, like spinach, though great for our health are finicky ingredients. Their shelf life is short and once they’ve begun to ripen, it is really challenging to recover anything, if at all. That’s where mom’s advice comes hand – just steam those greens! During this pandemic I’ve been following an easy three step process to store spinach – wash (thrice in a water bath), steam, and store. When needed in dishes like Palak Paneer or Palakwala Chicken, it’s easy to blend and use the already cooked spinach. On the other hand for times I’d prefer crispy greens for salads, I’ve found it easier to store and use cabbage – red and green – and lettuce. Both of these are easy to wash and dry before refrigerating (that pandemic cleaning routine continues!). Their shelf life is much longer than baby spinach and arugula (also called rocket).
Fennel seeds – an underrated spice, great for digestive health
Fennel seeds or saunf are easy to find in kitchens across the Indian subcontinent. The seeds of the fennel plant are more commonly used in Indian cooking as against the juicy and crunchy bulb that can be found in salads and soups in western cooking. As flavourful as fennel is, it is remarkably good for digestive health. There is a reason it finds use in achars/pickles, Kashmiri cuisine as well as a mouth freshener post meals. Both of us love using it in achari recipes like this achari chicken, or achari kaddu and even these flavorful saunf wale baingan (eggplant). Did you know fennel is one of the ingredients in gripe water given to infant for colic? I am not entirely sure of how it works, but it seems to help. These days we make a light decoration by boiling fennel seeds in water to drink after meals.
New found appreciation for Dishwashers and Steel Wool!
As much as I feel blessed for having a Dishwasher in my kitchen, I must mention that it doesn’t do a thorough 100 percent job of cleaning pots and pans after cooking heavy duty Indian food. Don’t get me wrong, the dishwasher is a fantastic piece of equipment that I use every single night and it probably has a hand in keeping me sane during the pandemic and lockdown. But when it comes to the bottom of the cookers and kadhais (woks), even if there is no food stuck, the bottom of the pan/cooker/kadhai doesn’t come out to be as shiny. And no, I don’t pre-rinse. So since I prefer these pots to be as reflective as they can get, I bust out the old steel wool and give it a good scrub. If you enjoy cleaning and tidying up as much as I do, you will not regret the extra effort once in a while to get squeaky clean pressure cookers and pans. I scrub my chai pan (which is just a medium sized sauce-pan), my bigger aluminium pressure cooker and my smaller stainless steel pressure cooker every few weeks to keep them shiny and clean. Try it and tell me if it doesn’t make you happier!
Eggs, eggs and more eggs!
Eggs have always been part of our grocery order. Just that ever since the pandemic, I find my self ordering a pack of 15 eggs instead of the usual 6. We love our anda bhurji with roti, egg rolls, spicy egg fried rice or herby egg fried rice and egg curry with rice, one of which I find my self cooking on rotation each week. If I don’t use them in these recipes, I sometimes use them for a sunny side up or scrambled egg breakfast or an egg sandwich lunch. My breakfasts usually comprise of some sort of dalia/cereal or homemade granola with yogurt so eggs for breakfast aren’t a usual thing. So what do I make with so many eggs? Eggs have helped my newfound love for baking cakes, cookies and lately I find myself making simple Anda Biryani (currently in recipe testing phase, watch this space!).
Homemade Jams, Compotes and Chutneys – saving ripe fruits!
Fruits are delicious, pretty and also expensive. In all honesty as much as we try to keep our meals balanced and eat the daily five, fruits are often forgotten. By the time one reaches for them there is at least a piece or a few that are over ripe and on the cusp of rotting. To rescue them and our conscience we resort to making preserves, compotes and chutneys. Yes, we feel guilty wasting food, especially in this phase of pandemic cooking. The easiest way to make a preserve is to wash the fruit, cut and dice into large chunks – if using apple, pears and the like – throw in berries whole and cook on a low heat allowing their juices to cook. Once thick and jammy, add sugar and lime or a dash of vinegar. That’s it! Store in a glass jar or even a plastic container and use within a week or ten days. Indian chutneys utilising fruits follow a similar process with some additional steps. If you need inspiration check out one these recipes on the blog: Monsoon special Plum chutney, Mango Basil chutney, Plum-Mango chutney, Masserated strawberries, and Compote.
– Kanika & Sakshi
Yogurt, yogurt, yogurt!
If you’ve eaten an Indian meal (your presence here means you have!), then you appreciate the value of a bowl of yogurt/curd served along with it. It balances the spice, cools down a bite and cleanses the palate. Which means it is usually in high demand, at least in our households. It was natural for both of us to want to have a steady supply of homemade yogurt just like in our childhood homes. But when we first began the process of making yogurt we were bummed by our failures. Over time we have found what works to get creamy yogurt using an Instant Pot and without it . It is now a weekly routine in both our kitchens many miles apart. You may or may not find a hot meal but you will find chilled yogurt whenever you visit! The pandemic has been helpful in forcing us to focus on our techniques. More on this soon!
– Kanika & Sakshi
Finally, jumping on the Sourdough bandwagon
As soon as the lockdown began we noticed a flood of images featuring sumptuous bakes on our socials. It was as if people across the world had been given permission to go on a baking frenzy and unleash their inner bakers’. Then came the sourdough craze. Frankly, it was a little overwhelming. We took many steps back and receded into our shells to hibernate for a bit. Now, when that frenzied phase is over, we’ve surrendered and jumped aboard the sourdough bandwagon. Sometime in the summer both of us began our starters. With some hits and misses, our starters are healthy and thriving. Each – Sakshi’s in Dubai, and Kanika’s in Tucson – has been put to work to make sourdough focaccia’s, sourdough boules, sourdough cookies and even sourdough rawa dosa. These are some of the recipes we’ve followed: BBC Good Food’s Homemade Sourdough Bread, Heartbeet Kitchen’s Sourdough Focaccia , Debbie’s Sweet Sourdough Cookies
Stay tuned for recipes that put our sourdough discards to use! Nothing wasted, even in pandemic cooking.
How has the pandemic changed your cooking and eating habits? Tell us in the comments below.
– Kanika & Sakshi