No ex­cuse for not cook­ing: 2 min­utes is all you need

Mint ST - - TASTE -

ISAMAR HALARNKAR

am sick of it. No, re­ally. The snig­gers, the do-not-ex­pec­treg­u­lar-peo­ple-to-be-like-you grins and the gen­eral con­de­scend­ing air that floats around me when some folks cite this col­umn, and the du­bi­ous book I have writ­ten, to make me out to be some sort of freak.

I guess I am though—and that is this coun­try’s tragedy and missed op­por­tu­nity. The fact that I cook is of­ten con­sid­ered some­what freak­ish, as if real In­dian men will some­how di­min­ish in stature if they lean in to the kitchen. When I try to ex­plain how it re­ally is not that dif­fi­cult to cook, that if I can do it, any­one can, that it keeps you happy and healthy— try clean­ing up a kitchen af­ter a din­ner party, you will know what I mean—and that In­dia would be a dif­fer­ent coun­try, if more men cooked, I get one of th­ese re­ac­tions:

“My wife is happy when I stay out of the kitchen. I am also happy!”

“Haha!”

“I agree with you, but I must first learn to boil wa­ter.”

“Haha!”

“Boss, too late for me.”

“Haha!”

“There is no time.”

“Haha!”

You get the pic­ture.

Ev­ery ex­cuse that the mid­dle-class In­dian male—with hon­ourable ex­cep­tions of course—of­fers for not cook­ing is a sad re­flec­tion of how he has been brought up, and how he re­ally could not care, be­yond a point, about the women in his life. A rea­son­able num­ber of women will hotly con­test my views on the pri­macy of the In­dian male, but I am afraid they are vic­tims of the Stock­holm syn­drome and do not know any bet­ter.

I know this sounds harsh, but, as I said, I am sick of the ex­cuses and see no rea­son to be viewed as this man who is do­ing some­thing ex­cep­tional—or freak­ish. I have said it be­fore, and I say it again: I sus­pect the main rea­son I write this col­umn, and in­deed was pub­lished as a cook­book author, is only be­cause I am male.

I have been given an op­por­tu­nity that many women will not get. I am an or­di­nary cook, and mil­lions of women who keep the home fires burn­ing would outdo me in mak­ing a cha­p­ati or dal.

My main re­deem­ing qual­ity as a provider of food is that I cook quickly. Years of ex­pe­ri­ence, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and an im­pa­tient, hun­gry fam­ily have taught me how to short-cir­cuit culi­nary meth­ods. Th­ese tech­niques are not the stuff of par­ti­cle physics or rocket sci­ence. Ev­ery­one can learn them, and that is why I have less and less pa­tience with those men who make cook­ing out to be an in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cle that mainly women must climb. As I cook, I learn and adapt, and that is my mes­sage to you to­day.

For in­stance, last week, I was par­tic­u­larly hard-pressed for time. I had less than half a day to catch up with of­fice work. I had to pick up my eight-year-old from school at 3pm and catch a flight to Mum­bai. And, yes, I had to make lunch, and pack a snack box for her. It was, as you might guess, a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing day.

The easy thing was to grab some bread and leftovers, which I of­ten do. I asked my­self, surely I could do bet­ter? Could I come up with some­thing in 2 min­utes? Two min­utes is a holy grail of mod­ern life. If you can do some­thing in 2 min­utes, you can do any­thing. But could I make fish in 2 min­utes?

Now, there was a chal­lenge.

I did not feel like fry­ing an egg or mi­crowav­ing leftover soppu (spinach). I did have fresh fish, how­ever. The mi­crowave, I might add, is per­fect for dis­abus­ing your­self of the I-just­don’t-have-time ex­cuse. We of­ten use the mi­crowave to make healthy veg­eta­bles—car­rots and beans—for the eightyear-old who, like her fa­ther, is lim­ited in her culi­nary pref­er­ence for things that were not liv­ing crea­tures. Sprin­kled with herbs or soy sauce or light spices or lime, th­ese 2-minute veg­eta­bles are fam­ily favourites.

I mulled over the same ap­proach with fish. Steamed fish is rare in restau­rants in In­dia, but I have come across a few ster­ling ex­am­ples. Steam­ing is how we make those 2-minute veg­gies—in one of those small mi­crowave steam­ers—so it stood to rea­son that I could do the same with fish, which cook as quickly.

I quickly and lightly mar­i­nated the fish, placed it in the steamer and in 2 min­utes I had a healthy, sat­is­fy­ing lunch be­fore rac­ing out the door.

Eggs are even quicker in a mi­crowave, tak­ing about 30 sec­onds, al­though I do them on full power and, oc­ca­sion­ally watch them ex­plode. I strongly rec­om­mend a mi­crowave to the In­dian man— it is so easy to use that the re­sults might change his fos­silized mind.

There is much you can do to weave cook­ing into the daily fab­ric of your life. Time is not an ex­cuse, and—frankly— nei­ther is com­pe­tence. You learned to cy­cle? Swim? Run? Then you are good to get into the kitchen—give oth­ers a respite, do the best you can, and do what a good man must do.

STEAMED FISH WITH PA­PRIKA, GIN­GER AND BASIL

Serves 1

In­gre­di­ents

4 pieces firm fish (I used rawas) fil­lets 1 tsp smoked pa­prika

1 tsp juli­ennes of gin­ger

1-2 tsp soy sauce

5-7 basil leaves

Salt to taste

Method

Coat the fish with smoked pa­prika, soy, salt and gin­ger juli­ennes. Place in a mi­crowave steamer with wa­ter. Mi­crowave on high for 2 min­utes. Let stand for 30 sec­onds. Gar­nish with basil and serve hot.

Our Daily Bread is a col­umn on easy, in­ven­tive cook­ing. Sa­mar Halarnkar is the author of The Mar­ried Man’s Guide To Creative Cook­ing—and Other Du­bi­ous Ad­ven­tures.

@samar11 Livemint.com/our­dai­ly­bread

Steamed fish with pa­prika, gin­ger and basil.

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