Ever since I have started gaining some loyal readers of the blog, I get asked these questions a lot – How does simple food taste so good? How do you make such tasty food at home so easily?
My friends and family members who know my cooking style have also asked me this question several times. So I thought about it and understood how cooking is a misunderstood concept. A lot of people I speak to are intimidated by the idea of cooking a meal at home. This is either because it seems like a time-consuming task or because they think it is way too much effort.
My cooking style is mostly quick and simple meals, but one thing that I cannot compromise on is flavor. I mean that’s the whole point of this exercise right? Food needs to taste good. It’s great if the food looks stunning on a plate, but until and unless the flavors are right, everything is more or less a waste.
So here are my two cents on how you can make tasty food at home every single time. These are very basic but mostly forgotten tips. You might already be knowing all of them but may have somehow not thought of it too much.
Whatever be the case, what I can assure is that you do not need too much oil, spice or cheese to make your food taste good. Just keep the following points in mind. And start slow, one step at a time.
1. Use fresh spices
This is a major secret for making tasty food at home. Well not really a secret but a lot of flavors that emanate from simple food come from the spices that are freshly ground or prepared at home.
For instance, almost 95 percent of all the spices I have in my kitchen pantry has been powdered at home. Be it cumin, black pepper, coriander or garam masala, I get the whole spices from the market and then powder them at home. A slight dry roasting on a pan before grinding it brings out the maximum flavor. Too lazy? So am I. Which is why I make large batches at one time which lasts me for at least two months, and I keep refilling them with time.
The flavor of fresh spices or masalas is just divine. You do not even need to work too hard because the freshness and aroma of powdered spices at home will do the work of adding extra punch and flavor. So stop buying packaged spices and start grinding masalas at home!
2. Limit (or totally abandon) preservatives
You know what I hate the most? Frozen vegetables, processed foods, and packaged pastes and sauces. They just feel so artificial in my mouth. And processed foods are known to have carcinogenic elements in them. Not to mention how awful they taste.
So if I decide to make a peas pulao, I will buy fresh peas from the market, peel them and then use them for the recipe instead of buying a large packet of frozen peas. And that makes a huge difference, not just in terms of taste, but also to my health. I believe in using fresh ingredients to the maximum of my ability.
So next time you have to put ginger and garlic paste in your chicken curry, do not buy a readymade version from the market. I know it sounds way to easy to do that, but it will never give you the taste that freshly made ginger and garlic paste would give. Once you start using everything fresh in your cooking, you will get used to it and never go back to buying stuff full of preservatives. And that would be a good habit!
3. Use seasonal produce
I know we live in a world where Instagram gives us major food goals. Avocado toast, blueberry cheesecakes, passion fruit smoothies – ah the list is endless. And indulging in these foods once in a while is also a great idea. But in India, since most of these things will be imported (and outrageously expensive), it does not make sense to eat them on a regular basis. Instead, eat what is in season and what grows around where you live. The same rule applies to whichever part of the world you live in.
There are four advantages to eating seasonally. First, you eat the healthiest of produce because it is according to the crop cycle. Second, you save money because seasonal and local food is available in abundance so it is highly affordable. Third, you help local farmers by buying their products and supporting their livelihood. And lastly, seasonal produce simply tastes the best! Just think about mangoes in Indian summer, pumpkins during Halloween and spinach in winter. Such bliss!
Anything that does not fall in the seasonal produce category will not give you the best taste. So try to be sensitive to your local surroundings and eat accordingly. And you will get great tasting every time.
4. Keep an eye on the temperature
Different kinds of recipes require different techniques. I will state the most common ones here. First up is oil. If you are frying something in oil, wait for the oil to get hot. This is mostly the case with really pungent oils like mustard oil or ghee used in Indian cooking. The temperature of the stove will also range between high to medium in cases like an Indian chicken korma recipe.
However, if you are using butter to make a pasta, you will have to use medium heat. I do not fry the garlic when the butter is too hot. Instead, I let the garlic infuse into the fat so that the butter gets a beautiful and non-burnt garlic flavor, that eventually spreads to the entire pasta recipe.
Cooking is an art and it requires constant monitoring. Keep a check on the temperature you use. If you are a novice, follow the recipe to the T. Techniques will vary and the way you apply that knowledge will determine how good or bad your recipe turns out to be.
5. Invest in good cookware
I know this might sound weird but trust me, it’s important. The market is flooded with so many different varieties of cookware. Shiny metallic surfaces, bright colors and so many advertisements make it very appealing.
But cooking in the wrong vessel can not only deplete taste but also make you fall sick.
I personally like to cook in traditional cookware, made of iron or good quality stainless steel. I never use plastic to store my food, and I also refrain from using non-stick pans and pots. They might look pretty but the Teflon layer on them is not the healthiest layer to cook food on. And most of them do not last.
So invest in good quality cookware. It might cost you slightly more, but it will last you forever. And you will not have to compromise on the health of taste.
As an example, I never cook Indian curries in a non-iron kadhai. A traditional vessel is needed to bring out the authentic flavors of a dish. So go ahead and buy the right cookware for your kitchen.
6. Garnish at the right time
I share a lot of Indian food on my blog and Instagram handle, where I always add garam masala in the end. I get asked this question a lot – why in the end? That’s because the ingredients in a garam masala, primarily cardamom, clove, and cinnamon (along with a few others) are powerful in terms of flavor, but have a tendency to evaporate if added too early into the process. And because I really enjoy the zing that a fresh garam masala adds to a dish, I add it right at the end.
The truth is a garnish can make or break a dish. Depending upon what you are adding to your dish, you need to know the timing of the garnish.
The same goes for herbs. If you are using hardy herbs such as thyme or kaffir lime in your dish, you can add it early and let it cook with the rest of your ingredients. This will let it infuse its flavor into the recipe as it cooks with time. However, for something such as coriander leaves or basil, you need to add it right in the end because they are very delicate and their flavor and color will get lost if added too early in the recipe.
6. Cook with love, and share!
This might sound too cliche but it is so true! Cooking is therapy to me and a lot of other people. It lets me be creative, enjoy wonderful flavors, keep learning and most importantly, share the joy with people I love.
You will notice the difference. Just imagine a time when you cooked with a lot of enthusiasm versus one time when you just cooked to stop your stomach from grumbling. When you cook for others or yourself in a good and happy mood, the energy passes on to the food as well. And it gives it those extra brownie points because when you cook with love, you are more aware of the cooking process and you give it your best.
Share your food and call your friends over for a feast. Because food is best enjoyed when shared with loved ones. And the compliments will make your day!
I hope this post inspires you to cook your own food and limit the use of preservatives. Do let me know what you think of this and you can always ask me any questions that you might have. I am also open to discussions in the comments section.
You can find all my recipe videos on YouTube.