I started my PhD in a beautiful place in England. A place which I consider prettier than my home town in Kerala. Exeter. Everything was fun except for one thing. I did not knew how to cook. Yes, we can survive without cooking in India for a very long time, probably all your life.
Cooking in India in my point of view was something like alchemy (not true for someone who knows how to cook). You cut vegetables to appropriate sizes and shapes, mix mysterious spices, smoke, fire, right temperature, right time, oil, coconut milk, tamarind. I was clueless. This is what you see your mother is doing from childhood and you are always baffled as the final curry looks completely different from the ingredients she started with. I ask, ‘Amme, what is this mixture for’ and she says , hmm, we have to mix this one when the other one gets hot. You get the picture.
Here I am at Exeter, with a hob and a microwave oven and unknown vegetables.
Initially I survived by microwaving things as per the instructions. I realized you can practically get every vegetable cooked in microwave in minutes ( say 6 mins). I was always scared to cook meat, double checking if its properly cooked and so on.
One fine day, I was walking hungry after my usual ‘grocery’ shopping. I stumbled upon a roadside shop, he was selling food from Nepal. After a typical conversation that happens before ordering the food, we started chatting random. Probably to take my attention out of my food being cooked, he says ‘Chicken need to be cooked perfectly before eating, though we can eat beef or fish raw’. ‘yes, chicken should be cooked well before eating’ I agreed. I ordered chicken noodle, so no worries. I waited, took the packet and left. But it struck me that people eat raw meat, as we are all evolved from the same ancestor, its very likely that I too can eat raw meat. There came my first principle of cooking, you can eat raw meat, so I don’t need to be paranoid about food getting cooked completely. Of course, I generalized this to vegetables.
The second realization was about taste, this came really late after making food with minimal taste for a long time. The idea is that there is an optimal amount of salt to be used in every food, but it may not be exactly a bell curve. So my untested theory goes like this, more salt more taste till you reach a point at which it becomes non edible. This has to be found by trial and error, but you can always add more water and dilute your food, if you are ready to eat it. I kept adding more salt, measuring taste after every addition. Eventually learned, salting.
That’s it you know cooking. The rest is thermodynamics, thermal engineering and chemistry. Which will be for some other time.
Don’t worry about cooking : raw or overcooked food wont kill you! salt is all you need for taste.