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Think cooking for one is too much of a bother? We come to your rescue with 8 easy cooking tips for solo Indian women!
By Anne John
Cooking for a large gathering definitely requires superior culinary skills. Nevertheless, cooking for one is no less challenging, as any woman living by herself will tell you. With an increasing number of Indian women moving away from home and with the rising age of marriage (or many choosing to stay happily single), the number of women living alone is steadily increasing; with this comes the problem of cooking for one.
Initially, when I started living by myself, I relied on ready-to-eat meals or take-away because all that chopping, sautéing and washing up for the sake of just one person seemed like too much trouble. However it soon became clear that for the sake of my health, my taste buds and my bank balance, I had to start cooking at home.
Here are some easy cooking tips for Indian women based on my own experiences in living and eating alone!
Obviously, the culinary journey doesn’t start in the kitchen itself. If cooking for one is a daunting task, shopping for one is an even more frustrating one! While in the US, several of my colleagues used to head to the wholesale stores such as Costco and they’d offer to take me along. After a few trips I realised that this hardly made any sense for me. While wholesale stores help you save money when feeding a family, for the single person, it is really a waste – unless you want to keep eating potatoes for an entire week, you have no need for that humongous bag, half of which will probably end up in the bin.
Instead, I decided that I’d just head to the nearby grocery store and buy stuff as and when I needed it. This ensures that your fruits and vegetables are relatively fresher and you buy only what you need and what you will consume. Making a simple meal plan and drafting a shopping list will also help you shop wisely.
This is somewhat related to the above point. Unless you are a diehard foodie who believes in cooking everything from scratch, there is no harm in taking advantage of the shortcuts that your supermarket offers you. Sure, you can call me lazy but there is no denying the fact that pre-cut veggies can save you from drudgery in the kitchen. Usually, pre-cut veggies are slightly more expensive than whole ones, and they might burn a hole in your pocket if you have many mouths to feed. If you are cooking for one however, one box of chopped greens will last you for quite a few days. Plus, I tend to avoid picking up vegetables like cabbage or pumpkin simply because they are too big for a single person to consume. Buying them pre-cut in smaller quantities helps me eat a larger selection of vegetables without wasting half of it. Further, have a set of quick weeknight meal ideas in your repertoire.
I remember, when we used to order chicken biryani from Indian restaurants in the US, there used to be these huge, chunky pieces of chicken in the rice. It was just too much for a single person to eat – plus they were rather bland. One of my friends came up with this great idea of repurposing this chicken. She ate as much as she could of the biryani and used the remaining chicken pieces to make a basic onion-tomato chicken curry for the next meal!
Repurposing is a nice trick that ensures you don’t waste food and still have different meals instead of eating the same thing over and over again. Some ideas: If you make rotis and sabzi for dinner, and if you feel that kneading dough for a measly 3 rotis is difficult, make a couple more rotis and use them to make rolls for breakfast. Or when cooking rice, if a quarter cup of rice looks pathetic in your rice cooker, make a little extra and use it to whip up a quick and tasty fried rice. If heating up the grill for one lonely chicken breast seems unattractive, grill a few additional ones and use them for grilled chicken salads or wraps for your next meal.
One sure-fire way to keep the boredom out of cooking is to experiment in the kitchen; and one of the major advantages of cooking for one is the freedom you have to try out different things. There is no pressure to cater to anyone else’s tastes or preferences. Don’t be afraid to play around with new cuisines or new ingredients – you might just be surprised with the results!
I think this is a great way to keep yourself motivated to cook. Once you cook something, tell the world about it. Instead of restricting your cooking to just one person, expand it to make it a communal activity. Share your experiences with others, let them ooh and aah over the delicious pictures, let them try out your recipes and give you their feedback. Over time you will form a small clique and this will benefit you in two ways – one, you will be inspired by other food bloggers to kick it up a notch in your own kitchen and knowing that there are people out there who look forward to reading about or trying out your next dish will motivate you to keep cooking.
Blame it on the large-heartedness of our ancestors but certain dishes like biryani or sambar simply cannot be made in small quantities. So, go ahead and make them in as small a quantity as possible, eat what you need and freeze the rest for another meal. This approach is a great time-saver for busy Indian women and a life saver on those days when you are too tired to cook but still crave some comforting home food.
Remember how your mom always packed an extra treat in your lunch box so that you could share it with your friends? Sharing is never out of fashion! On those days when cooking for one seems particularly unappealing, don’t cook for one. Cook for more and invite some good friends over or take a little extra to work and share it with your colleagues or give some to your neighbours. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it!
Make cooking for one less of a chore by enjoying your alone time in the kitchen! Pour yourself some wine, play your favourite music, sing along at the top of your voice as you sauté and shake a leg as you wait for the sauce to thicken up! Sometimes, I pretend that I’m on Masterchef! Sure, you might seem mad to an observer, but hey! There’s nothing wrong in being just a little crazy, right?
*Photo credit: Arinas74.
Anne John plays with words for a living and would probably do the same even
I follow #6 as a matter of course. When I do cook I always cook for more than a meal, often two or three. A big batch of rice can be made for the whole week ahead (7 portions?) and then stored in individual boxes for easy reheating. Likewise, chapattis lightly roasted on the tawa keep for a week if properly wrapped and stored (again, 7 individual portions?); they can be reheated on the tawa before eating.
I always have boiled dal in the fridge. It takes a minute to add tadka+5 min to boil together. I occasionally make and freeze homemade sauces, fried onions, pesto etc — they all come in handy when I need to motivate myself to step into the kitchen.
These are really useful tips, I especially like number 4 and number 6. I think experimenting is what makes cooking more interesting. And I love cooking a big batch of meat sauce for spaghetti and then freezing half of it in individual containers. That way, I can simply cook pasta the next time around and just reheat the meat sauce.
Useful tips and good advice for folks who are not too particular about cooking methodologies that have been followed for generations!
Good tips Anne! Specially the first. After buying groceries for a big family most of my life, when I became single it took almost a year for me to get over the habit of reaching for the big bag of food, stop going to the vegetable mandi or stop buying fruit by the kilo. As you so rightly pointed out, being single means you can be truly innovative as the only person whose needs have to be pandered to are your own. This can be liberating.
Amazing tips! #3 is especially helpful since I always end up with loads of left over and without repurposing them I end up eating the same food for breakfast, lunch and dinner which is totally boring! Thanks for making my solo cooking more interesting 😉
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