There are some things that are as easy as boiling water – only if you know ‘how-to’. As long as you are ready to learn, you can easily master anything in the kitchen. Here is a list of some basic tasks around the kitchen.
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How To Make Paneer
Paneer is fresh farmers cheese that you get by curdling milk. Unlike the rennet used in commercial processes for making cheeses, this method uses fresh lime juice. The method is simple.
You need to have a cheesecloth and strainer or colander ready. You also need a big weight such as a heavy pan.
- Heat 1 litre or 4 cups of whole milk until it comes to a boil.
- Add lime juice, about 2-3 Tbsp. The milk will curdle and the cheese will separate from the whey. When you see lumps of the cheese in a watery liquid, switch the heat off. This will be a minute or so after adding the lime/lemon juice.
- Pour this mixture in a colander lined with a cheese cloth while holding above a sink. As the whey drains out, wash with some fresh water. Now pull together all ends of the cheese cloth and squeeze it until most of the water drains out. Tie the cheesecloth in a tight bundle.
- Set the colander upside down. Put the cheesecloth containing the cheese on the colander and put a weight on it such as a heavy pan or skillet. Set aside for 2-3 hours until all water gradually drains out.
- Untie the cheesecloth. Slice or cube the paneer cheese as needed and use in your recipes.
How to make Yogurt
Yogurt making is an art. There are a lot of factors that need to come together to create the perfect yogurt or ‘dahi’. The weather plays an important part since most homes in India are not centrally heated or cooled. Yogurt sets easily in the summer and tends to become sour easily unless refrigerated. Winter time is bad for yogurt, and the quality suffers.
We need what is known as a starter or ‘Virjan’. This is also determines the quality of the dahi. The method is as follows –
Take 2 cups of milk at room temperature. Add 1 spoon of dahi or yogurt and stir around. Close the pot and let the bacteria do the rest. The yogurt will set in 6-8 hours. Refrigerate after the dahi sets. How much dahi or yogurt to add as a starter depends on the weather, room temperature, milk temperature and the quality of the starter itself. Practice is the only way to get close to perfection here.
How to make Ghee
Ghee or clarified butter is used a lot in Indian cooking. While many store brands are available, there is nothing like the flavor and aroma of homemade ghee. This also means that you keep additives to a minimum.
Start with unsalted sweet cream butter. Land O Lakes is a good brand to use. Heat 4 sticks of butter in a thick sauce pot or wok. The butter will melt and come to a boil. It will be cloudy and frothy first but then will become totally clear. This is the point where ghee is ready. It is very easy to burn the ghee beyond this point, so you have to be very vigilant.
Let the ghee cool completely before transferring to a container. There will be some burnt matter stuck to the bottom of the pan. Do not scrape and add it to the ghee.
Four sticks should roughly yield 1-1.5 cups of ghee.
The solids stuck to the bottom of the pan are called ‘beri’ in Marathi and they make a delish snack. Just add some sugar, mix it up and eat.
How to make Sprouts
Sprouts are formed when seeds germinate. Sprouts are very healthy and easier to digest than the lentils or legumes. Sprouts are frequently used in Maharashtrian cooking to make the traditional ‘usal’, but are also used in salads, chaats, sandwiches etc.
Here is an easy way to form sprouts. Warm weather is your friend here.
Soak a cup of legumes like matki, mung beans etc. overnight or for 10-12 hours. Drain and tie in a cheese cloth. Place this bundle on an inverted colander ( that has a drain dish below it), and put some heavy weight on top. The seeds sprout in 12 hours or so. The sprout length should be more than a cm. Sprouts might smell in warm weather but this is just the process of germination.
If the cheesecloth gets too dry, sprinkle some water on it.
In cold weather, keep the sprouts in an oven with the light switched on, or near a heat source such as top of the refrigerator.
Sprouts can be refrigerated for up to 3-4 days and can be frozen too.
How to cook Pasta
Pasta is a universal favorite and is ready in minutes. But most people overcook it. To have perfect ‘al dente’ pasta, follow the package directions.
Boil tons of water in a large pot. I generally use a large 6-7 quart stock pot for a pound of pasta. The water should be bubbling. Add salt liberally and add the pasta. Stir slightly. Stir again in 3-4 minutes to make sure the pasta does not stick. Boil for 10-11 minutes or whatever time is given on the packet.
Make a quality check. The pasta should not be crunchy but should still be slightly chewy. Drain immediately and add to the sauce.
Tip – Cook the pasta for 2-3 minutes in the sauce so that all flavors permeate.
How to cook rice
Cooking rice is the most basic skill you can have in a kitchen. Rice may be cooked in a pot on the stove, in an electric cooker or a pressure cooker. The method is more or less the same.
Wash and drain the rice well. This method should definitely be followed for rice bought in Indian stores because rice is generally coated with boric acid or some similar chemical to deter pests.
Add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. This will work most times. Some varieties of rice can easily absorb 3 cups, whereas some delicate varieties such as Basmati may only need 1.5 cups. It is safest to go with 2 cups water, and then add or reduce water the next time depending on how your rice turns out.
Saucepan – bring to a boil, turn the heat down, cover and simmer until water is absorbed and grains fluff up.
Pressure cooker – Cook for 2 whistles and allow to release steam naturally
Rice cooker – Just add to the cooker and switch it on. Auto timer will switch off cooking mode once the rice is done.