Here I am, sitting in the warmth of my little apartment in Vienna alone, on a cold, dreary Sunday with my mug of oatmeal and almond milk; my staple breakfast ever since I moved to Europe and figured dairy and I could no longer remain friends. I have a long list of things to do and errands to run before I head back home to Kerala, which I jotted down on a flimsy bit of paper staring right back at me almost as if to remind me that I need to buck up. Our yearly trip back home is something I look forward to, all year. People all around keep asking me if I miss living in India and honestly, the answer to that is no. However, what I do miss is the familiarity of the surroundings in my hometown Trivandrum; the joys of living in a home where your mum runs the kitchen; the fact that you can let the child inside you run free for a few, short, glorious days; no responsibilities, no “adulting.”
Anyway, let me get to the point. One question that I get almost on a daily basis is how I manage to “stay fit” in spite of loving food with a passion like no other. Today, given the fact that quite a number of us have health and weight issues or even gastroenteritis issues at very young ages, I am going to let you into one of the basic rules in my mum’s kitchen; a rule that has travelled with me to my own kitchen; a rule I would love for each of your kitchens to embrace; and a rule that I give almost all the credit to for “staying fit”. It is simple. “You can eat whatever you like, as long as it is cooked at home.” Sounds tedious? It honestly isn’t, just hear me out.
All through my childhood, every celebration or festival, every birthday or anniversary in the house would invariably hear my mother utter this one question. “What would you like to eat?” All our meals, sweets, cakes, desserts, snacks, everything was homemade, every single time. Eating out was a feat that we as a family resorted to only maybe once in a year or maybe even two. I admit there must have a time or two when I felt a tad jealous of my friends at school who would innocently brag about their weekly (and sometimes daily) family outing for dinner or the Chinese take out that would more often than not have a place in their lunch boxes the next day. At the same time my lunch box would have a humble but fresh meal cooked by my mum’s soft hands early in the morning and almost always boiled rice, some stir fried vegetables and a small cup of yoghurt. The little lunch box wrapped with a frayed lunch towel and generously doused in love I can still feel tugging at my heart so many years later.
That may bring you to a couple of questions. Why make the effort if you can just takeout? Why bother to cook a meal in these days when one has no time even to catch a decent shut eye? It’s food at the end of the day, does it matter if it’s cooked at home or in the restaurant?
Let me explain.
The thing about a home cooked meal is that you know every single ingredient that goes into the dish and in turn into your body. You will know for certain the meat is fresh, the vegetables washed and clean; you even get to choose the oil that works for you and you will for certain know that it’s not refried oil (a major carrier of carcinogens research says) that you are putting into your body. Anyone who has ever deep fried stuff at home knows the sheer quantity of oil that goes to waste later. Do you honestly think the restaurants throw out the oil every single time to make way for fresh oil for every dish they serve? I might think not.
Next, let me address the time constraint. One thing my mum always tells me is this. Every soul on earth gets not a minute more than 24 hours a day. What you want to do with those 24 long hours is solely up to you and I do not mean to coax you to whip up a storm every single day. But how about starting with something as simple as stir fried veggies or grilled chicken or some simple dal with or without rice or anything else that you may fancy? Scramble a few eggs with onions and green chilies maybe? A one pot rice vegetables and meat? We live in a time when you have the world at your fingertips. There is never a dearth of easy, ten minute recipes on the internet, correct? So how about keeping aside half an hour for a home cooked meal? Everyday meals DO NOT have to be fancy and instagrammable, they just need to fill you with goodness. I understand that cooking does not come naturally to all of us but it really is a life skill just for survival and your own health’s sake.
Long story short, at the wake of a new year when we are all looking for resolutions to take up, how about deciding to keep aside a tiny portion of your day for a warm, home cooked meal? This does not mean that you do not stay away from the restaurants in toto; let’s just resolve to not let it be the norm. Please don’t forget to come back and thank me when you see the inches on your waist falling and your tummy less rumbly. This year, let’s resolve to make home cooked meals fashionable again 🙂
On that note, here is a recipe for an easy Spicy One Pot Vegetable Pilaf.
Things you will need:
- Basmati Rice- 2 cups (washed and drained)
- Onion- 1 large chopped finely
- Tomato- 1 large chopped
- Ginger- 1 tablespoon julienned
- Potato- 1 large cubed
- Carrots- 1 large cut into semi circles
- (Add whatever vegetables you may like. Broccoli, cauliflower etc)
- Whole Coriander seeds- 1 teaspoon
- Whole black peppercorns- 1 teaspoon
- Cinammon- a 2 inch stick
- Cumin/jeera seeds- ½ teaspoon
- Cloves- 4
- Green cardamom- 3
- Bay leaves- 2
- Green chilies- 2 slit
- Kashmiri chili powder- 1.5 teaspoon
- Turmeric- ½ teaspoon
- Corinader powder- 2-3 teaspoon
- Garam masala powder- 1 teaspoon
- Boiling Water- a little more than double the quantity of rice
- Cooking oil
- Ghee- optional
How to go about it:
- In a large heavy bottomed wok, heat three tablespoons of cooking oil on medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, cloves, cardamom, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon and bay leaves. Sauté for about 20 seconds.
- Add the chopped onion and sauté until it gets nice and golden brown (important). Next goes in the ginger. Sauté for half a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and the green chilies, mix well and keep the wok closed for two minutes or until the tomatoes are soft.
- Add the spice powders and salt to taste and keep sautéing until the mixture looks homogeneous and the oil starts to separate. Add the vegetables and turn it all around in the wok. Keep the wok closed for about 30 seconds.
- Next, add the washed and drained rice. Mix well but be careful so as to not break the grains of rice and keep sautéing for about two minutes.
- Add the boiling water, mix well and keep the wok closed until the water is almost drained. Take off from the heat, drizzle some ghee and keep the wok closed for about 20 minutes before serving.
- Serve warm with raita, pickle and pappad.