Home-cooked food has a special charm and everyone loves to cook unique dishes or experiment with flavours in their own kitchens. However, complex recipes with too many steps may throw one off, and they end up cooking a dish which looks nothing like the one in the pictures. Often, the measurements mentioned in some recipes may not be similar to the ones that we are familiar with.
Measure the ingredients
The set of instructions or measurements of ingredients are different in each country. While some recipes measure ingredients in grams, kilograms, tablespoon or cups, some others use ounce, pounds, gallon, litre or millilitre.
In the olden times, Keralites used unique measuring vessels and had their own special ways of weighing objects. Rice was measured using a special technique called the uri. Naazhi, the smallest measuring vessel, iru naazhi, munnazhi, naalu nazzhi and idangazhi were some of the popular measuring units in which rice or paddy was measured in Kerala. Para, a bronze measuring vessel, was the largest measuring unit which were used to measure rice.
Milk was measured in thodam, iruthodam, munnazhi or naazhi. Other items like tapioca were weighed in rathal which equals to a kilo in modern measuring standards. Kerala was the largest producer of copra or the dried kernel of the coconut and coir which were both weighed in mannu. These measuring units have, however, given way to litres, grams, and millilitres and kilogram in today's world.
Earlier, recipes had measurement of ingredients as 'a fistful of, a bit of, some or a thigh of the lamb or a large chicken.' In 1896, Fannie Farmer, an American culinary expert, in her famed The Boston Cooking – School Cook Book, introduced the concept of using standardized measuring spoons and cups. She is also considered the pioneer of level measurement. Liquids and drinks were termed in volumes, meat was done in counts, eggs in numbers and vegetables were used as per their weight.
The taste or flavour of Indian dishes wouldn't change much if the measurement of ingredients alters a bit. However, it is important to weigh or measure the ingredients properly while baking. Baking recipes usually have ingredients measured in grams, kilo, litres or millilitre. As per the international standards, the temperature for baking is termed in degree Celsius. Baked goods turn out perfect in taste and texture if the ingredients are measured or weighed correctly.
Read it right
When we decide to cook a dish by following a recipe, it is important to read the entire recipe before beginning the actual cooking. A picture recipe would be easy to follow as the pictorial representations give us a better idea of the dish. Before beginning to cook, it is important to ensure that all the ingredients that are required to make the dish are already available in our pantry. Recipes generally use internationally accepted culinary terminology which may be difficult for home cooks to follow. Such terms could be googled or searched on the internet to understand their meanings and the ways in which they are used.
Terms like slice, dice, chop or julienne are the various culinary knife cuts in which food items are cut into different sizes and shapes. The particular ways in which the ingredients are cut can result in the appropriate textures or flavours of the dish. These days, the recipes, especially the online ones, also include a section where those who have already cooked it can comment or post a review. Reading those comments and reviews will give us an idea about the areas where they may have gone wrong with the recipe. This helps us to prepare the recipe easily by avoiding mistakes.
Mis en place
The most important factor while cooking is 'mis en place' which means preparing the cookware and ingredients before service in a professional kitchen. Keralites usually look around for ingredients only after they start cooking. This laxity may even lead to the dish being over or under cooked. Arranging all the ingredients and vessels right next to your cooking counter will make cooking efficient and effortless.
Test the taste
A recipe must be tested a few times before cooking it for guests. It is definitely not wise to cook an unfamiliar dish when you are hosting guests at your house. Test cooking a recipe will help to rectify the mistakes and cook a dish perfectly. The cooking or preparation time mentioned in the recipe books may vary when they are actually made in our kitchens. The ingredients and equipments used by the authors of the recipe books may be different from the ones that we are using.
For instance, the ingredient that took the author 5 minutes to saute may only take 3 minutes on our cookware. So it is important to use our senses to determine the cooking time and react according to the situations. The intensity of the heat or the quality of the vessels may not be same as mentioned in the recipe. So instead of relying completely on the recipe, a dish could be cooked by using our reasoning sensibilities as well.
Taste at every step
Many of us taste a dish for seasoning only after the dish is completely cooked. However, it is important to taste at every step of cooking. Salt, sugar, sourness or spiciness of a dish could be altered at any stage of cooking, if it is tasted. The flavour of an ingredient would be extracted well if they are added at the right time. If the dish is tasted only in the end, then it won't be possible to add any more ingredients in it as it will either ruin or alter the dish. Seasoning a dish perfectly would elevate the flavour and taste of it.
Amateur chefs or those who are just beginning to cook should try out simple recipes with less steps and instructions. Dishes may turn imperfect if complex recipes are cooked when you are just starting out. Many would lose their confidence and interest after a few failed dishes. So beginners should always choose an easy recipe to practice and make your craft perfect.
It may not be possible for an inexperienced cook to possess an incredible palette which helps them distinguish between flavours or replace an ingredient with another which has the same flavour or taste. Trying out an easy recipe with simple steps a few times would make you confident to experiment with complex recipes, ingredients and culinary techniques.