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Are you a working woman in a hurry or a mom who needs to cook many meals for kids? At such times it helps to have prepped food items ready to cook a quick and tasty meal!
It’s evening! You are going back home from a tiring office day, or you are a housewife having afternoon tea or you are a working mom returning home thinking about your kids. Among other thoughts, one thought in your mind would be “What to make for dinner tonight?” And I bet, most of us have been through this scenario quite often. The reason why this thought most often sparks during evenings is that late afternoon or early evening is the most relaxing time and the mind is free enough to plan about dinner and next day breakfast as well as lunch. However, we all would agree that for any cuisine or course, a recipe which requires multiple processes and high levels of preparations is a big turn-off for the everyday cook in us. These are best left to be in the list of weekend recipes, ideally for a brunch or a big family lunch.
So, instead of worrying over it, getting into kitchen could be more motivating and exciting if some ingredients are readily handy, thanks to versatility of some food ingredients and certain frozen methods. Yes, we can add some smart prep ideas into our smart cook tips index which do not only make our life easier but also ensure healthy and tasty eating habits.
Here are some items (with useful notes) which one can pre-cook, stock and use later by keeping them well refrigerated or frozen, and they need no preservatives. Boiling several items altogether like potatoes, beans, lentils, other roots, tomatoes etc. in one go will save both – time and gas or electricity.
The foremost ingredient which we need more often! A versatile, widely eaten and one of the most accommodating ingredients, potatoes contain good levels of Vitamin B, C and several important minerals. Contradictory to a general belief, potatoes do not work as a fat agent if used with some specific, fat free or fat reducing items such as herbs and spices. Have some boiled potatoes ready in the fridge and in no time you can prepare a curry, starter, snack, salad, soup, or even super easy and popular parathas.
Note: Always boil potatoes unpeeled. Even better is to use them unpeeled too. Try using oven-baked potatoes for more nutrition values.
While storing puree will not be a good advice due to risk of early deterioration in terms of taste and smell, boiled tomatoes is a big help to make a puree in a minute or two when any recipe for a curry, soup, sauce or dip calls for it, as a source of nutrition, natural sourness and a red tint of color.
Note: Use boiled tomatoes as early as you can to maximize on its values.
A great resource if you are looking for a variety in a routine sabji-chapati menu. Unlike curries, Daals go well with both – chapatis and rice. They are rich in protein and several minerals, and can easily replace vegetables for once or twice a week. So, it encourages protein in-take, adds a variety and ease up cooking. Boiled lentils can be stored in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days, in warm weather.
Note: Throwing the stock left from the cooking process, means wasting those vital nutrients released from lentils. Instead, use this stock in further cooking of lentils or in making soups.
Some beans like Mung beans, black eyed beans, moth beans, Vaal (Lima beans) etc. needs no soaking so they can be used quickly, whereas certain beans such as kidney beans, chick peas, black peas etc. need minimum 5 to 6 hours of soaking before cooking them. In case of emergency, soda bi-carb do a good job to cook these beans without soaking, but again, it is not advisable because of two reasons; one, it depletes the soluble nutrients and the broth is of no use due to presence of soda bi-carb.
Note: US Dry Beans Council has some very interesting and useful information here. Like avoid to add salt in soaking water, soak beans in refrigerator when the room temp is hot etc.
Many snacks, spicy appetizers and even Indian roadside delicacies like Usal Misal demands sprouts, as a key ingredient. Making sprouts at home needs minimum of 20 hours in warm weather while in cold regions, it takes more than 30 hours to grow up half an inch. A salad, appetizer, soup, snack or any other dish or cuisine you name, sprouts make up a real-pro choice globally.
If you and your family are fond of relishing on creamy, rich and mouth-watering Punjabi gravies, then red gravy is a good bet. Made with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chilies, ginger and some regular spices, red gravy is something you should prepare and store whenever you get some free time. Have some cooked or boiled veggies and cook them with red gravy anytime, without bothering about frequent peeling, slicing and dicing of gravy ingredients. I myself have tried this, and I promise this will never keep your senses waiting when they call for North Indian and Punjabi taste. Red gravy remains good and in perfect taste for minimum 5 to 6 days.
Years back, when one of my office colleagues brought in Mango Ras with lunch tiffin in the month of December, I was totally surprised to know that her mom had frozen fresh Alphanso Ras for use in non-summer months as my colleague was very much fond of homemade Mango Ras and her momma knew that her daughter could crave for it at any time of the year. (Mom’s love sees no limits!) At least homemade frozen items are beyond any comparison for hygiene and purity, and don’t include preservatives. Likewise I visited one of my family relatives and she advised me that freezing was not a bad idea. However, one needed to be cautious in the process. Basically, if you have number of vegetables loaded in fridge and you want to use them later on, then just chop, grate, dice or slice them the way you do in routine and keep them in boiling water, for sterilizing and slight cooking. Keep them until they become tender, yet retain their original color, freshness and crunchiness. Then immediately take them out, wash with cold water so as to stop further cooking. Drain, dry and pack them in ziplock bags. They are ready for storage.
Indian savoury snacks are always incomplete without a popular Indian condiment called Chutney. Chaat, vada, bhel, golgappa, vada paav, dabeli, samosa – name any snack and it will need an extra element of zing that comes up with Chutney. The most popular and useful chutney with almost any snack is Tamarind-dates chutney. It has a very long life because a) both the ingredients are grown in wild environment and have high resistance against getting rotten, and b) the chutney is cooked by simmering a mix of tamarind, dates, jaggery, water and spices on a low flame for long, with a view to extracting the real sour and sweet taste of tamarind and dates. Cooking this chutney from scratch takes much time, therefore, stocking it up for future use is a real time-saving trick. Garlic chutney is also better to store for later use. Salsa, ranch and mayonnaise – are globally popular dips which one can prepare at home easily and store them in glass jars for long time.
Note: Storing green chutney is not a good idea because green chutney is best used in fresh form due to high contents of green ingredients and loses freshness in less than 3 days.
I have stored sugar syrup for more than 50 days and even jaggery syrup can also be stored for minimum 10 days. A problem with jaggery syrup is that in comparison to sugar, jaggery is less refined and so is prone to natural fermentation and mould creation. However, no such problems occur with sugar because it’s in processed and refined form. While sugar syrup is used in many sweets and sweet snacks, jaggery syrup is also used in many flour-based sweets and sweet chutneys.
Want to get rid of making dough every time you make chapattis or parathas? You can keep wheat or all-purpose flour dough ready and refrigerated for 2 to 3 consecutive meals at max. However, it’s better not to be greedy because these flours contain high amounts of glucose which will cause fermentation sooner. However, making dough on alternate days is relaxing enough, isn’t it?
Image source: an Indian meal by Shutterstock.
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