Here's the thing that amazes me. Home cooks and street stalls all over India cook meals in their kitchens from scratch every day. There usually aren't any measurements, not even a weighing scale in sight on most occasions. That is exactly how my mother and grandmother cooked all their lives for us as a family. The best part is every single meal was delicious with beautiful flavours. I hear people tell me all the time how that makes a better cook.
On my most recent trip to India; my friends and I were fortunate enough to be invited to sample Malwani cooking at a local fish mongers home. The lunch event was a grand affair and one that we were least expecting. With a typical Malwani/ Marathi spread; it was cooked by the women of the household. Chucking fresh & dried spices into the bubbling pot of curry seemed like the way of life and when asked how much she had put in the pot her only answer was 'As much as you like' but it really didn't seem like she was following any sort of method or order in which she put the ingredients together. It made me realise how much of the home cooking was based purely on judgement which very rarely could be a risk but on most occasions like when we ate; was a feast where we relished all the 8 dishes freshly cooked displayed out on traditional steel thalis.
Having eaten Indian street food since a young age; street hawkers and stalls follow basic cooking principles with recipes (more like ingredients required rather than a recipe per se) in their head which have worked a treat for years and more often than not measurements usually include a pinch of this and dollop of that! If something works well and is selling well, steering away from the basic formula or changing it in anyway would take them out of their comfort zone.
I always find myself asking - Is putting together an Indian dish or cooking a curry all about precise measurements? Or would we all be better cooks if we relied on being instinctive with a rough guide of sorts to follow?
It's what I know Indians like to call 'Andaaza' or literally translated to approximations. As I like to call it guesstimations - little bit of estimation and guessing with the resulting dish being finger licking good. My mother isn't a professionally trained chef and to be honest was self taught when she got married. But from an early age I fondly remember meal times in our house hold being full of flavour, fresh ingredients and cooking that I know to this date we are proud of. Its these 'hand me down recipes' that I stick to when I cook meals for my family. Even today when home cooks recite recipes to me it's by their sheer judgement as opposed to being really accurate.
You might assume that's based on experience; mind you I have met a lot of newbies in Indian cooking stirring up some delectable curries out there. A lot of my visits back to India meeting up with family and friends revolve around food. Eating out and sampling home cooked meals in equal measure. Apart from relishing the food and enjoying it to the fullest I'm also on the lookout for tips, ideas which form part of my experiences to bring back to the UK. Vying for a recipe is pretty much a scribble on a little piece of paper which needs a lot of work on when I get cooking it to emulate & capture the precise taste and flavour that I have experienced.
I keep coming back to family recipes that have been cooked for generations and are a huge part of our culture.
Even looking through a few cookbooks published in the 1950s and 60s in India measurements weren't always mentioned to the t; they were written were very much based on making the recipe your own.
In a profession where I cook & write about food; testing recipes, sticking to measurements, making sure they are fool proof and judging quantities has become second nature. Though on the other hand I have also cooked up curries a fare few times which have been purely instinctive working a treat and are a firm favourite. I will always enjoy being that tad bit rebellious with my cooking and experiment with flavours & spices; so shades of 'Andaaza' fit in well with me!
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