Cooking is tough these days because people are leading increasingly busy lives. In India there are not many time- saving conveniences available, unlike America where frozen vegetables and instant foods are common, safe, and available at the nearest grocery store. In America, however, we do not have the luxury of cooks and maids! eee938a0adca51984d821970565346b2-1

Recently my friends were discussing the pros and cons of cooking in India vs. America. Although there was no consensus, it was recognized that folks resort to simple cooking, simply because it is faster and easier. Many find cooking a burden. Creativity can come to our rescue. Instead of doing things the same way over and over again, we can challenge the idea that past traditions have instilled in us.

How do we simplify a complicated cooking style? One way is creating simpler substitutes for complicated cooking processes. Another way is to use more instant or ready-to-eat items.

Working as a senior engineer in the wireless software industry, I have very little time to prepare elaborate meals for my family. Over the years I have recreated my mother’s recipes using time-saving substitutes for convenience. The food turns out delicious even though the cooking time has been cut by one-fourth. These dishes win lot of praise during potlucks and people are amazed at the little time required. Here are some recipes that I use in my home.

Puli Kolambu Tamarind Sambar
This dish can be served with rice or used as a side dish for idli and dosa.
¼ bar of tamarind
1 tin coconut milk
2 cups vegetables (okra, white pumpkin, eggplant, bitter gourd)
1 big onion
1 cup peeled garlic
7 red chillies
2 tablespoon sambar powder
1 teaspoon asafoetida
2 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoon cooking oil

Soak the bar of tamarind in 2 cups water and heat in microwave for a minute. Repeat the same after 10 minutes. Squeeze the tamarind to extract the tamarind concentrated water. Filter and remove the extra fibers and nuts, if any.

Cut the onion into one-inch long thin strips. Fry the onion and the red chillies in oil. Next fry the peeled garlic. Next add the vegetables and fry for 2 minutes.

Add the tamarind water, and then another 4 cups of water, sambar powder, salt and bring to a boil. Let it boil for 15 minutes.

Add the coconut milk. Reduce heat and let it boil for another 3 minutes.

Serve with steamed rice. Serves 8.

Time saving: 60 percent from traditional method. This method does not involve scraping the coconut from scratch. It also does not involve grinding them as in the traditional method. It is especially advantageous because this dish can be used for up to four days after cooking.

Moar Kulambu
South Indian style kadhi
This dish can be served with rice or used as a curry.
3 cups buttermilk
1 tin coconut milk
2 cups vegetables (okra, white pumpkin, eggplant, bitter guard)
1 big onion
7 red chillies
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
2 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoon cooking oil

Slice the onion into one-inch long thin strips. Fry the onion and the red chillies in oil. Next add the vegetables and fry for 2 minutes.

Add four cups of water. Add the buttermilk, cinnamon powder, salt and bring to a boil in medium heat. Let it boil for 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk. Reduce heat and let it boil for another 3 minutes. Serves 8.

Time saving: 60 percent from traditional method.

I make idlis and dosa every week that are special to my friends and relatives. The advantage is that the batter can be prepared ahead of time and used over several days.

Idli
4 cups of parboiled rice
4 cups of idli rice
2 cups of whole urad dal
4 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon oil

Mix the two kinds of rice together and rinse with water. Soak the rice by adding extra water. Set it aside.

After two hours rinse the urad dal and soak in water.

After 30 minutes, pour the urad dal along with 4 cups of water into a wet grinder or a blender. Most of the blenders purchased in the U.S. need enough water for proper grinding. Grind the soaked urad dal, until it is ground to a soft fluffy paste.

Remove 80 percent of the wet urad paste from the grinder. With the remaining urad paste in the grinder, pour the soaked rice along with 5 cups of water into the wet grinder. Let it grind for 50 minutes. If you are using a blender, blend till you get a smooth consistency.

Remove the wet flour and mix the two to make one common batter. Add salt and mix by hand thoroughly. Set aside for eight hours.

After 8 hours stir the dough thoroughly. Wipe the dips of the idli plates with oil and fill with the dough. Steam cook for a few minutes on high heat until steam comes out and another 7 minutes on medium heat.

Serve with sambar or chutney.

Dosa
Use the same batter and spread a thin coat on a nonstick pan. After a minute, reverse the dosa on the pan, and let it remain in the pan for another minute. Remove the dosa from pan and serve hot with sambar or chutney.

Time saving: You can store the batter for up to 4 days in the refrigerator without losing the taste.

Note: The wet grinder needs more time to grind than a blender, but the advantage is that it does not need your presence while it is grinding. Also, the quality of the idli and dosa is excellent. Idlis will be very soft and dosas will taste very good. It is possible to buy the wet grinder online in the U.S.

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