Meals in a Hurry
In a previous blog post, I discussed the monetary benefits of cooking and eating at home. In addition, cooking can be a great way to destress and plus, cooking our own meals will allow us to have control over the ingredients that we use and as such, is likely to be the healthier choice as well. However, a major issue that can't be ignored here is the time constraint that many of us face.
In reality, home cooking can take time and spending hours in the kitchen after a long day of work is the last thing anyone wants to do. How can we set ourselves up for success? A lack of time and energy is the greatest obstacle here so we need to plan our meals accordingly. When cooking in a hurry, prep is very important. A simple example would be rice. As Asians, a lot of our meals are centred around rice and making extra for tomorrow is a great way to cut down on cooking time. Making rice is always the leceh (troublesome) part for me so having some in the fridge that I just have to reheat is always a very comforting feeling.
In this post, I'd like to share a couple of prep ideas and quick recipes if you're looking to cook more at home but lack the time. Let's start with the prep work. The main question here is this: what can I do ahead of time to make my cooking fast and easy? If you do your grocery shopping over the weekend, I suggest you start your prep there. Once you get back, prep your meats.
For chicken, wash and marinade before storing in the freezer for later use. This gives the meat plenty of time to soak up the flavours in your yummy marinade. Plus, all you need to do now is thaw your meat and you can use it right away. You don't have to wash it or prep it on the day of cooking, which let's face it, can be pretty leceh. I like to use a simple marinade of yoghurt, turmeric, chilli powder, salt and coarse black pepper.
What other ingredients do you often use that you can prep ahead of time? I use a lot of ginger-garlic paste in my cooking and this is something that I find very useful to prep ahead of time. Instead of buying bottled pastes that can be quite expensive, I learnt from my mother-in-law to grind my own ginger-garlic paste at home. Over the weekend, I often put on some music or listen to an audiobook while peeling heaps of ginger and garlic. I put roughly the same amounts of both into a grinder with a little water and grind away! I store the resulting paste in a small container and keep it in the fridge for up to a week or so.
If you use lentils in your cooking, this is also something you could prep ahead of time. I use mysore dhal in my cooking either to make sambar or to use with vegetables and again, cooking the dhal can be very leceh business. So I like to prep it ahead of time. I soak the dhal for about 30 minutes and then, cook it over the stove in a pot of water along with turmeric, asafoetida, curry leaves and crushed garlic for another 30 minutes. When the cooked dhal cools down, I store it in a tupperware and into the fridge it goes. The pre-cooked lentils helped with a quick lunch I made recently in a hurry: rice, snake gourd cooked with lentils and a simple omelette.
Another quick meal that can be made with these pre-cooked lentils is a simple chicken dalcha. Dalcha is basically a meat curry or stew made with lentils. This is a relatively fast version so I like to call it chicken dalcha lite. Here's recipe #1:
Spices (1 stick of cinnamon, 2 cardamom pods,1 tsp of cumin & fennel seeds)
1 large serving spoonful of cooked lentils
3 chicken fillets (cut into cubes)
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 dried chillies, whole or cut into half
A handful of curry leaves
1/2 large tomato or 1 small tomato, chopped
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp sambar powder
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste
Heat oil in a pan. Add whole spices and saute for 1 minute.
Next, add onions, dried chilies and curry leaves. Saute until onions brown.
Add tomatoes and ginger-garlic paste.
Once tomatoes are mushy, add cooked lentils, add water and sambar powder.
Let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes and then, add the chicken pieces.
Add salt and allow to cook for 10 minutes.
Finally, add coriander leaves and serve with rice while hot.
Another quick meal option is a quick-cooking protein and some sauteed vegetables. Here's recipe #2: Ingredients For the prawns:
15-20 medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined 1/4 tsp mustard seeds 1/4 tsp cumin & fennel seeds mixture 2 cloves of garlic, chopped 1/2 green/red chilli, chopped 1/2 tsp turmeric powder 1 tsp chilli powder 1/2 tsp gram masala powder Juice of 1/4 lemon Salt and pepper to taste For the vegetables:
1 carrot 8-10 long beans 1 clove of garlic, chopped 1/2 tsp chilli flakes Butter A little lemon juice Salt to taste Method For the prawns:
Marinade the prawns with turmeric, salt and pepper for 1 hour.
Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds, cumin and fennel seeds.
Once mustard seeds begin to crackle, add chopped garlic and chillies. Saute for 1 minute.
Add in the prawns, chilli powder, garam masala and a little water.
Cook for 4-5 minutes. Finally, add lemon juice and stir.
For the vegetables:
Chop the carrots and long beans into long strips.
Put them into a microwavable container and add some water.
Steam vegetables in the microwave for 1.5 minutes.
Heat some butter in a pan. Add chopped garlic and chilli flakes. Saute for 1 minute and add the steamed vegetables.
Add salt to taste and lemon juice.
Cook for about 4-5 minutes.
For everything we do in life, we need a strategy. The same goes for cooking. Not every meal has to be elaborate, some meals can be in a hurry. To summarise, some tips on quick-cooking on a busy weekday night include:
Clean, marinade and freeze your proteins for use later.
Prep staples/essentials ahead of time (e.g. ginger-garlic paste).
Choose quick-cooking foods or look for short-cuts to reduce cooking time.
Stack the odds in your favour, my friend, and cook away! :)