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Preparing and processing ingredients for a meal can be boring and time-consuming; a few time-saving cooking tips to make this chore a breeze.
It’s the end of a long day and you have just one more thing to do – whip up a little something for dinner. You decide on a quick vegetable khichdi. But even to make that simple dish, there are carrots to peel, onions to chop, string beans to string – half a dozen things to do before you actually start cooking. Frustrating, isn’t it? Now what if all the ingredients are ready, and all you have to do is to bring them all together? Three-quarters of the burden seems to lift from your weary shoulders, right?
With just a little planning and forethought, these time saving cooking tips will make it happen.
A great way to do this is to do all the pre-processing at one go, and store it well, so that you have everything handy when you step into the kitchen to cook a meal.
When you shop for vegetables for the week, set aside an hour that evening to pre-process the vegetables. If you have paid help, great. If your family pitches in, that’s even better. But if you are alone and bored, watch a movie, listen to music, or watch TED talks. You won’t even realize how time has flown!
Wash vegetables, and dry them thoroughly by spreading them on clean towels, until the moisture has completely gone. Then, put them in plastic boxes or ziploc covers, and store them in the refrigerator. You can even peel vegetables like carrots, chayotes, radish, beetroot, ridge gourd, etc, before you store them. They stay fresh for up to a week, except for some vegetables like ridgegourd and cucumber that need to be used quickly. Deseed chayotes, bittergourd and capsicum, and for vegetables like string beans, flat beans and cluster beans, string and remove their ends before storing them.
You can even peel onions and store in airtight boxes in the fridge. It doesn’t smell, and besides, if your recipe calls for only half an onion, the other half can go right back into the box.
Don’t wash greens before you store them in the refrigerator. Just remove the leaves from the stalks, and then wrap the leaves in newspaper before chucking them into ziploc bags and storing in the refrigerator. They keep very well this way, for a week or even more.
Some vegetables can even be cooked and stored. For e.g., white pumpkin tends to spoil quickly even if stored in the refrigerator. So it is a good idea to chop it up and cook in the microwave before storing it. Cauliflowers sometimes have worms in them. So, dunk the florets in water to which salt and turmeric is added, and then after five minutes, wash in clean water and cook the florets, and then store. Chop lady’s fingers, and roast the pieces in a little oil while you process the rest of the vegetables.
Even groceries can be pre-processed to make your work simpler. Dry-roast rava, and cool and store it. So when you want to make upma for breakfast, it is just a five-minute job. Do the same for peanuts. Dry-roasted peanuts keep well, and since they use no extra oil, they are healthier than when you fry them in oil for your recipe. So when you need that peanut powder or sauce, just run the roasted peanuts in the mixer; and if you want some peanuts for your lemon rice or puliyogare, sprinkle these on top. Roasted peanuts also instantly liven up sprouts and salads.
If all this roasting beforehand freaks you out, don’t worry. These are things that don’t need much time or attention. When your main meal is cooking, when you are washing up, cleaning the kitchen, or processing your vegetables, you can have a wok with peanuts on the stove. All it needs is a little stirring from time to time, and since you are anyway in the kitchen, it won’t take any more of your time.
If you make chapatis several times a week, consider mixing dough only once a week, and storing the extra dough for the next time. Even if you prepare phulkas and store in the fridge, they can be made as good as fresh by wrapping them in moist tissue and then heating them in the microwave before serving. They turn out warm and soft. For parathas and chapatis, roll out the parathas and dry roast them on both sides without using oil, and then store. When it is time to serve, put these on the pan again, and this time, use oil to roast them to completion. This saves a lot of time especially when you have guests.
I know a lady who cooks a huge batch of dal, and then makes balls of this cooked dal and freezes them. The next time she needs cooked dal for a recipe, she thaws one of the balls, and is ready in two minutes!
There are two major advantages to pre-processing. One – this concentrated hour or two dedicated to this task will free you up for an entire week! Each time you go to cook, you’ll know that all the ingredients are ready, and your work will be done in no time. And that’ll make you all the more inclined to start cooking.
Two – peeling vegetables and separating greens produces a lot of waste. At one shot, all this waste can be removed, and the next time you cook a meal, you don’t have to deal with a messy kitchen.
If you have any other tips, please leave them in the comments!
*Photo credit: lollyknit (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Shruthi Rao is a writer and editor.
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