There is something special about home cooked food. Though we may enjoy eating out in 5-Star eateries yet it is mom’s food that we crave the most. Made of simple, fresh ingredients and redolent with love, it is truly manna from heaven. Back in college, I remember my dabba being usurped by hostelite friends who salivated after mum’s cooking even if someone else’s. These days when I entertain friends, I love to cook for them. Yes, it takes more time and effort than ordering food in. But there is nothing that beats the happy expressions of satiated eaters.
What I do avoid is slogging for hours by planning in advance. There are shortcuts to preparations that don’t really deduct from the taste. When cooking for friends, these tips go a long way:
- Plan the menu down to the smallest detail.
- Make chutneys, dips and dressings in advance.
- Cut vegetables for salads ahead of time and chill them in the fridge. Mix the dressing at the last moment and serve.
- Make curries earlier. They become tastier as the flavors permeate.
- Keep meats marinated so that you can just grill or bake them at the last minute.
- Keep desserts ready.
- Avoid phulkas as they go dry when stored. Make lightly oiled parathas or phulkas with ghee smeared to keep them soft.
- Making rice dishes in the rice cooker allows you to cook it perfectly and also keep it warm, just perfect for serving. You can make pulaos in the rice cooker as well.
- Make sure all your crockery and cutlery is taken out and delegated to various courses. Having everything in place, sparkling clean makes plating and serving easier and stress free. It also ensures that you are not running around to clean plates at the last minute.
- Plan for drinks and cocktails. Keep everything ready and just leave the mixing for the end. Ensure you have a lot of ice cubes at hand.
- If you are doing a one-pot meal, then just leave the cooking for the end. Ensure everything else has been taken care of.
- Cut down on your work of cooking, heating and reheating by using cook and serve utensils. Cook in advance, plop in the fridge and then reheat when required all in the same trendy dishes.
- Plan your décor. I am a perfume person. Hence some flowers from my garden dispersed in a clear crystal bowl on the dining table and a diffuser to spread my favorite lavender tones are just about perfect.
- Keep all your serving dishes clean and ready. I prefer using transparent dishes as they show the beauty of food in all its glory.
Keeping these handy tips in mind, I planned for a homely North Indian vegetarian meal for a couple who had recently moved to Bangalore and were missing what else – home-cooked food. Getting everything ready by some smart planning and generous help from the husband, this was the sparkling menu:
Steamed vegetarian momos: These dumplings were made in advance and steamed when the guests arrived. Piping hot momos made with minced cottage cheese, ginger, hint of green chilly, some soy sauce and herbs was a huge hit. The fiery red dip that went with it was store bought.
Masala papads: Amritsari papads roasted on fire and served with a luscious kachumbar of finely chopped onions, tomatoes, raw mango and green chillies garnished with a generous helping of chaat masala and freshly-sprinkled lemon juice were loved by all. They went very well with the drinks.
Beer, Cocktails (Orange juice with margarita mix and vodka), fresh lime soda and soft drinks. Pretty transparent glasses were perfect for serving these!
Amritsari chhole: Plump, black chickpeas gleefully floating in the aromatic dark smoothness of thick black gravy. The sinful delight was cooked in advance happily soaking in the spicy flavors bursting with nutrition and taste waiting to be tucked into. Garnished with ginger julienne, onion rings, chopped coriander and lemon slices, it was a delectable delight.
Paneer kadhai: A typical North Indian meal is incomplete without paneer. Thus, I conjured this recipe of succulent little poems in white – fresh paneer peaks in a rich, tomato gravy heaven. They were given graceful company by crunchy slices of bright green capsicum and a distinct kasuri methi embellishment.
Aloo gobhi: Simple and homely, bursting with the freshness of cauliflower and baby potatoes and the subtle seasoning of ginger and cumin; this was a simple treat.
Fresh salad: A mélange of colours and wholesome natural goodness cajoled as farm fresh lettuce, plump cherry tomatoes and creamy avocados from my own organic garden played hide and seek with crunchy capsicum, onions and roasted walnuts. Just before serving, they were doused with an olive oil-garlic-freshly ground pepper, and oregano dressing to tantalize the taste buds.
Boondi raita: To cut down on the spices of the main course, precious little balls of boondi were swirled in rich liquid extravagance of sweetened yoghurt enticing to dig into its mild sweet and salty bliss.
Plain parathas were made with wholewheat flour. They were stored in my cloth roti container to keep them moist.
Steamed basmati rice: Soaked for half an hour before boiling, plain steamed basmati rice left a heady aroma in the entire kitchen. It was left bubbling away in the rice cooker just when the guests arrived. It was done to perfection with each delicious, long strand well cooked and waiting to be doused in chhole nirvana.
Rasmalai: Bought from the nearby Bengali sweet store, these comforting dollops of chenna goodness were left soaking in sweet saffron milk studded with rich and colourful pistachio and almond slivers in the perfect serving dish, ready to be unveiled to the guests.
Malai Kulfi with fresh mango: I love to serve fresh fruit with dinner. And mangoes being in season, I wanted the guests to experience the honey-sweet goodness of Banganpalli mangoes from my mother-in-law’s farm along with original malai kulfi – rich, creamy and luscious.
These were the perfect climax for a delightful home cooked meal cooked with care and served with love. Borosil cookware was my trusted friend in this effort. As the friends went away happy and content after an evening of fun conversations and delightful food, I basked in the glow of their compliments!