Learning how to cook well & cheaply is easy.
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“Ma, I’ll be flatting away from home next term," said Hosh. "I’ll miss your Indian cooking.”
“Missing is just another way of remembering," Isha smiled back at him.
"I’d rather you remembered me not when you miss my cooking, but every time you create delicious meals yourself.”
“How can I do this, Ma?” moaned Hosh. "I could never cook like you. No one can cook like you."
“I'll teach you about my secret spice box," said Isha, "and also give you recipes. Get stuff together as per Ingredient Lists and use the recipe to cook dishes in a jiffy."
"You'd be amazed to see how quickly you can yourself start cooking simple global recipes fast and well, for cheap. It's easy."
"Really?" Hosh was skeptical. "But there are so many spices?"
"True," she laughed. "But even though there are more spices because of their combinations than there are varieties of plants, great cooking requires just a basic knowledge of a few master spices."
"You'll learn from experience how temperature works on food, what makes a balanced nutritious diet, how you can use more organic produce in a reasonable budget, and which foods go or don’t go with others."
"But to cook a healthy, tasty meal, you need no more than a passion to cook, a keen eye, and a give-it-a-go attitude."
"You could start cooking in less than an hour if you really wanted to. You are truly self-sufficient if you know how to cook. It would even be a great help to your future wife.”
“Could I mum?" Hosh was suddenly excited at the prospect. "It would be great to have such independence. When can you start teaching me?”
“We can make a start now if you want,” said Isha.
Hosh nodded enthusiastically.
"If I was allowed just one spice for all my cooking," Isha began, "I’d pick the magical cumin seeds. In Hindi, we call it Jira, but some pronounce it as Jeera, Zira, Zeera, Girah or even Geerah. It comes in two varieties - black and white, and both are widely used."
"Cumin is also an essential ingredient in Curry Powder and Garam Masala. It can be used as a powder or seed, and is good with meat as well as vegetables."
"It is also good for making dips, and brilliant for marinating. The seeds are oval and have a warm, strongly aromatic and slightly bitter flavor. Their flavor and aroma emerges best after they have been dry roasted or added to hot oil.”
"They flavor wonderfully-well lamb ribs, flash fried steak, red meat, chicken, pork and even fish. Cumin is brilliant in rice and just on potatoes - either wedges, or halved roasted potatoes, or with the flesh scored so as to absorb the oil and seasoning, making them crispy and tasty.”
"Your Pa is always talking about his grandfather cooking yummy meals with plain old salt and chili, and just a hint of spices. I bet his granddad used just Garam Masala. If he could, you can too, can't you?"
"What makes cumin a novice’s best friend, is that it adds layers of flavor and is tough to overdo - a little is nice, a lot is even nicer. Its strong flavor stands up to other big, bold, robust flavors without overpowering anything.”
"It is an ancient spice, and has been prospering on the earth for at least the last 4,000 years. Seeds excavated at the Syrian site Tell ed-Der have been dated to the second millennium BC. Cumin even finds mention in the Bible, in both the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:27) and the New Testament (Matthew 23:23)."
"It has been used for centuries in Indian, North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, and even the westerners are now discovering its magic. I recently heard about cumin seeds being used to flavor the Dutch Gouda. It grows well in the Mediterranean climate too, you see. ”
"I use Cumin as it is good for digestion and rich in Iron. Called Jirak in Sanskrit, it has been used in Ayurvedic decoctions for centuries. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, it is known for enhancing appetite, taste perception, digestion, vision, strength, and lactation."
"It is used to treat diseases like fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal distension, edema and puerperal disorders. Don’t worry about remembering all this, as this information can now be readily googled on the internet."
"There are also many YouTube videos on its weight-loss and health benefits. But for now, just remember how it looks and feels and smells. Since we are already here in the kitchen, let's roast some. You'll be able to tell it’s roasted when it crackles and starts jumping in a hot pan in a minute or two."
Isha put some Jira seeds on a hotplate and roasted them for a couple of minutes. Hosh loved the fragrance of roasted cumin seeds and the roasting technique seemed pretty straight-forward.
"See," said Isha, "how the color changes and the aroma comes out when it is roasted. Now grind it for me. We’ll use it to flavor and spice up your yoghurt in the dinner tonight.”
Next Story: Aloo Jira - Cumin Spiced Potatoes