Kitchen Hacks 101

Kitchen hacks for a newly relocated South Indian family to the US

Sujatha R
7 min readJan 30, 2018

Midlife relocation to the US from the comfort zone of Bangalore called for massive refactoring and creative hacking. As they say ‘Necessity is the mother of Innovation’ , there was a need to bring predictability in life, optimise time and effort in cooking without upsetting too much the taste buds and compromising on health..

My design challenges were minimal -try to keep the food fresh and preservative free, microwave free, deep freezer free.. In order to meet my goals, had to reengineer a bit compared to my older augmented cooking style and compared to the typical massive optimisation pipelines followed here.

The process gurus in the tech land say.. In the world of Agile transformation, every obstacle encountered in the daily scrum needs to be brainstormed and weeded out.. Ha Ha.. Here is my first Eureka list for US kitchen.

INSTAPOT BUDDY (IP)

An invention of the last decade, this versatile steel pressure cooker has replaced my big size Indian cooker. It is a lot neater and needs just the inner pot to be cleaned.. Great for one pot cooking like Biryanis, Bisibele bath, Pongal. Useful for trips when the tongue is longing for Indian food.. Use it daily for rice, reheating and steaming.

ROTI LOUNGE

It was the question of getting predictable rotis to our taste daily. 4 days a week Rotis for dinner . Not satisfied with the frozen rotis and making it daily was easy but time consuming. Thankfully we were getting Fresh Rotis in our neighborhood. On Day 2 and 3, I simply steamed it in the IP cooker for 5 minutes over the stand with just spoonful water inside.. Warm moist and dry Rotis were ready BINGO !! I am so happy with myself for figuring it out.

GLASSWARE FOR COOKING

Using Glassware for cooking is so convenient for making pudding and sweets inside the IP as it goes into the fridge directly with the tight lid on. Leftover food too goes into IP as is for reheating. With the traditional cooker, there is too much of mechanical vibrations which eliminates ceramic and glassware for cooking.

BETTER BATTER PIPELINE

Previously I would ferment the entire batter overnight and the taste and consistency would deteriorate in 4 days time. So I set a task of extending the batter shelf life to 8 days at least.

In the Andhra style of batter making, we use store bought Idli rava (Nandini brand) instead of grinding Rice. Only Udat dal needs to be soaked and ground. I use one packet Idli rava directly without measuring each time (roughly corresponds to 4 cups) and soak 2 glasses Udat dal. This was one big time saver.

The ground batter mixed with soaked rava I divide it into 2 portions. Ferment a portion, add salt and use it for 4 days then ferment the next portion and so on.. Mixing it gently not allowing the aeration to escape is also key..

When the batter is almost done, I add some premixed oats-methi-jeera flour and ragi flour, ferment over night and try to extend for another 2 days. This way I use the batter for Idli, Set Dosa, Uttappam, seasoned pancakes(rotti), Idli Popu and punugulu..

For regular crispy dosas I switch to idly rice based batter and use 3 glass rice, 1 glass udat dal, little poha, 1 spoon methi, little chana dal and turdal. Methi helps in fermentation and dals gives taste and thickness.

FLAT IDLI PLATES

Washing the regular idli plates is sometimes a task.. So using flat idli plates (tatta idli) which serve the purpose of cookware as well as serveware and the sambhar soaking in it makes cleaning easier too. 3 birds in one Shot… Great hacking ain’t it?

PAPAD PIPELINE

At our home, no meal goes touched without roasted papads accompaniment. This is the only place where I use liberty of microwave.. Slightly wet the papads on both sides, dab oil a bit for taste and then microwave 6 papads in one batch.. The Andhra style Nuvvulu appadalu (Udat dal papads) comes out very well with this trick.

CACHING MY FAVORITE SPICE MIX

Most of my south indian cooking requires a dab of turmeric, chilli powder, dhania and garam masala. Well I premix all of them in one container. My younger son insists even the glamorous butter popcorn be topped with this masala for the indian flavour.

Similarly, I have a premix of North Indian spices in another container — kasuri methi, turmeric, kitchen king masala, chilli powder, dhania powder and premix for sandwich pizza toppings.

My mom helped me in setting up all the chaat masala powders and Sev, Boondhi in one bento box with multi partitions.. Chaats can be made in a jiffy without much resistance..

SEALING THE BOTTLE CAPS

I was looking for uniformly sized glass storage containers. I used starbuck bottles for the lesser used spices and was disappointed to see the Ball brand glass pickling bottles with open Rim.. We use it for storing pickles and podis. My family does not have the patience for elegant opening of the bottles caps during the breakfast or lunch rush hour. Simple quick fix.. I used quick fix glue to seal the cap mouth to the rim.

PERFECTING THE ART OF YOGURT MAKING

The first few months of our stay at US, we had a hard time with the curd. It was either dripping or not of the consistency that we cherished for. A good friend came to our rescue and since then it has been perfectly predictable. Around evening 6.00 pm I heat milk in a big steel milk vessel for around 1 hour over low flame (little more than the least option, milk does not spill even if left for 2 hours). In the night when the stove is free from any activity, I warm the milk to the needed lukewarm temperature add around 2 spoons of curd and churn the milk. Leave it overnight for the setting.

Apparently the act of slow heating helps in setting the milk protein. 2% or full fat milk does not matter. Lasts for about a week and consume it from one side.. The water tends to separate out and the curd gets thicker. We consume the watery residue and the kids enjoy the thick curd.

Home made curd is healthy as it contains active culture and no GMO and pectins unlike store bought curd.

FRESH CHILLIES AND CURRY LEAVES

Wash curry leaves and chillies with water and drain the water by drying in a colander. Do not keep for too much time outside as it tends to become dry and blackish. Discard the stem of chillies and Curry leaves. In a box, place folded cotton napkin or kitchen roll tissue. Store the curry leaves and chillies in the box and top it with another layer of cotton cloth or paper towel. Stays fresh upto 3 weeks. In between if moisture seen, place a kitchen paper or cotton napkin on top..

WRAP THE GREENS

A trivial trip.. trimming the edges and shaking the coriander leaves with hand separates the dried leaves from it. Wrap the greens in a cotton cloth or kitchen paper towel to extend its shelf life.

TRICKS AROUND ROTI MAKING

I have shared this tip with so many people and this is not a recent US hack.

For the dough making — coarsely mix atta and water spreading your fingers like claws of an eagle and leave it aside for the glutens to set.. If you have wet grinder with atta attachment, use it. After 10 minutes, add some more water and knead to a soft dough using lower half of the palm.

For making perfect round rotis rotating by them selves .. yes.. you dont need to lift and rotate.. the trick is when you use linear force to roll the flour dusted roti, one hand gives an automatic tangential sideward push.. This keeps the roti rotating by itself and has uniform thickness. It sort of comes with practise.

And some simple parathas that need no stuffing — mix atta, little besan, salt, chilli powder, ajwain, oil and chopped methi / shredded lauki / shredded mooli. Add very less or no water depending on the veggie added make a rough and smooth dough.

HUMMUS HACK

When ever I soak and boil chana for dinner — be it chole, rajma, panch kuti dal or black chana — I set aside some for the next day.. Blend the boiled chana with little set yogurt, jeera powder, pepper, olive oil and hummus ready for 2 days..

PITTA BREAD PIZZAS

Kids have great craze for Pizzas no matter how many times they eat. So had to find a quick hack for giving healthy pizzas for lunchboxes.

I make a mix of cheese, pizza sauce, spices, corn. For small sized pita breads, make a cut along the periphery and slip these mix into the pocket and grill it in the bread toaster. For roti size pita bread, cut in into halves and fill the mix inside and grill it with little olive oil or butter in panini maker..

TANDOORI POTATO MIX

Another Indianised pizza filling hack. Make a marinade with little set curd, tandoori masala, chilli powder, pepper, jeera, boiled and mashed potato and paneer pieces.. Goes great with regular pizza topping or Pita pizza.

FRYING VEGGIES WITH LESS OIL

My kids love bitter guard, okra pieces, dondakai (gherkin) slits to be shallow roasted or deep fried.. Adding a dab of rice flour and very little wheat flour helps in reducing the moisture, gives the crispy texture and does not absorb much oil. Similarly adding spices and rice flour to boiled potato chunks makes shallow frying easier.

RAVA HACK

I use rava in a lot of dishes to improve texture and reduce the greasiness. Hack passed on by mom and sister. Adding a bit in batura dough, obbattu dough, wada batter, onion pakodas, fish marinade to rolling pizza base over rava.

GINGER GARLIC PASTE

I get the organic ginger garlic from Costco and make a paste. I use it sparingly only for North Indian dishes. It is amazing that it comes for more than a month without change in taste.

GRAVY ALTERNATIVES

A dab of corn meal can be added instead of corn flour for thickening gravies. Almond flour can be added for better taste..

As Bhagawatgita puts it.. It is our offering, It is the sacrificial fire in the kilns of our stomach. For realising our final destiny we need this Anna that gives us prana or life..

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Sujatha R

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Music, Linguistics & Patterns