LOCKDOWN MASTERY

INTRODUCTION

I studied literature as my major for 3 years in college. Plus, I was always into books, like you’d find me sitting in a corner with a book in my hand because, yes, that is what I resonate comfort with.  I don’t believe in factual boundaries when it comes to churning out knowledge, so as and when I was reading a poem, I’d certainly read about the history of that particular time. 

So, when I was reading Shakespeare for one of my papers, I could understand that Shakespeare is way more than just romance, heartbreak and couplets. Some of Shakespeare’s best works were written during the bubonic plague. Read Venus and Adonis, and you’d know exactly what I am talking about. There is pain, love and longing, but along with that, there is an overpowering concept of death and separation. Even if you do not want to get to the brink of poetry analysis, you surely do not want to live in that time. 

Cut to November 2019; the covid 19 pandemic hit the world. No one was prepared, and clearly expecting a pandemic to hit people so harsh in the 21st century was never on the deck. Even after 730 sunsets, the people are still trying to adjust to a virus that disrupted the world’s entire discourse over a few months. We still don’t know what to expect today or tomorrow, but the lockdowns allowed people to introspect a lot on the bright side. 

Cut to November 2019; the covid 19 pandemic hit the world. No one was prepared, and clearly expecting a pandemic to hit people so harsh in the 21st century was never on the deck. Even after 730 sunsets, the people are still trying to adjust to a virus that disrupted the world’s entire discourse over a few months. We still don’t know what to expect today or tomorrow, but the lockdowns allowed people to introspect a lot on the bright side.

People all across the globe found themselves getting back to their hobbies, changing careers, starting up a business, spending time building relationships, and so much more. I mean, we finally got some time out from the rat race of this cruel, cruel life. 

My birthday was on the 11th of April, just 2 weeks through the first lockdown imposed in India. I couldn’t go out for sure, and I found myself having fried rice and chilli chicken which I absolutely hate, but I couldn’t object since it is a Bengali celebratory dish for people who hate fish on their plate. I realised that I needed to do something about it. Otherwise, I will just be frustrated for the rest of the days this virus decides to stay around us (jokes on me). 

In the following days, I found myself cooking almost every single day because what else was there to do? I am a foodie; I love to order in and go out for dates, and all of that was just not possible. 

 

 

Here is a small depiction of how i was panicking in real on social media. 

Day 1

I am about to reveal a big secret, so please don’t roll your eyes, because i started off my culinary expedition with Maggi! My Maggi is not a two-minute instant noodle; it takes about 45 minutes to assemble and prepare, only 3 minutes to eat and wipe the plate. So, in a nutshell, you would need some toasted peanuts, capsicum, onions, egg, lots and lots of green chillis and Maggi.

In a pan, scramble some eggs and then put that aside on a plate. Then, sautee some onions and capsicums, put them aside as well. Now, add water as per the level of soupy-ness that you want, chop some green chillis and let it boil in the water. Your eyes would burn, and you would sneeze a few times. But that is how you will get the hot chilli flavour. Then add the Maggi along with the masala, finally add the fried veggies, eggs, peanuts. Give it a good mix, and then serve! 

 

Day 2

I have a habit of taking big risks. So, on the second day itself, I found myself eyeing this lip-smacking butter chicken recipe on YouTube. Having spent about 18 years in Delhi, if you ask me what the definition of love is, then I will tell you about how the creaminess of the butter chicken gravy is precisely the kind of smooth relationship I would look forward to having with my partner (hah, daydreaming). So, I went to the market, got the magic ingredients like fresh cream, Kasuri methi and boneless chicken. After coming back home, my grandmother told me that the chicken needed to be nicely marinated for 5-6 hours to enhance the flavour. Hence, day 2 butter chicken didn’t really happen. So, for the marinade, I added hung curd, coriander powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder, ginger garlic paste and garam masala, along with some lemon juice. 

 

 

The next day, I took the marinated chicken out of the fridge and fried it till it looked smokey and crisp. Now, for the gravy, I roughly chopped some tomatoes, onions, ginger garlic paste and sauteed them in the pan with the same spices I used while marinating the chicken and some cashews for the nuttiness. As the recipe said, once the vegetables looked good, I had to grind everything to get a smooth paste out of it. Now, the pan was empty, and I added 3 big spoons of ghee (no butter) and some red chilli powder; once it started crackling, I added the paste. What do I tell you about magic? It is not pigeons coming out of a hat or ribbons coming out of a T-Shirt, it is the nutty butter chicken gravy on ghee and the aroma it leaves you with. I gave everything a good mix, then added the chicken and some fresh cream and Kasuri methi! I covered it for 25 minutes while I prepped some naan!

The moment I opened the lid, I was in 2007, waiting for my father to come back from the office as he was getting butter chicken from Zaika, a quaint restaurant next to my father’s office in Gurgaon. 



PS: Since then, I have never ordered butter chicken from a restaurant because, hey, lockdown mastery!

Day 3

Just like everyone else, I was spending a lot of time on the internet, watching the most random videos. From ASMR videos, to dance videos, to cows to mars to pillows- everything. You cannot be a YouTube addict with a good taste if you don’t like pasta recipe videos. Hence, I was addicted to the crackling sound of garlic, the splurge of cheese and that tingling sensation that you get while the pasta is being mixed with cream and cheese! So, the next pit stop was to make pasta! 

I had this amazing Pesto Pasta at this Park Street restaurant during Christmas 2018, and the goal was to replicate that. A lot of people do not like greens and the texture of pesto. But do I care? No. Am I sharing my food? Never. So, I went to the market looking for basil leaves and pinenuts. I couldn’t find either of them for an hour. Finally, I found this one man who had all the exotic vegetables. I got a bunch of basil leaves and just got some almonds instead of pinenuts! 

The best thing about pesto is that you can store it for at least a month and use it as and when you like. The recipe is super easy- in a grinder, add basil leaves, nuts, olive oil, garlic, green chillis and some pepper. Keep it running till you get a smooth paste, then taste it! Boil your pasta, add some veggies if you like and then mix it with the pesto while adding some of the pasta water. Finally, add some parmesan cheese and some extra cream to enhance the texture! 

Day 4

I might splurge a lot of money on pizza’s and burgers, but my heart lies in North Indian food. There is nothing that can make me happy as much as a good plate of Pao Bhaji. My father loved to cook, and he was always satisfied when I ate and burped. Probably that is exactly how you know a man loved his daughter to bits. 

Anyway, Day 4 was about figuring out the right kick of Pao Bhaji. I checked the recipes online, and to my surprise, you just need to mish mash the vegetables together and the Everest Pao Bhaji masala. So, I just had to go out and get some coriander, lemon and the ready-made spice mix along with the Pao. 

Again, it is another easy recipe where I just had to fry all the vegetables along with the spice mix and then add an adequate amount of water. To make it super healthy and delicious, I added tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, green peas and lots of green chilli as usual. Then the ginger garlic paste is a common ingredient everywhere, along with the Pao Bhaji masala. Finally added some water and cooked it on simmer for 5-7 minutes. Once the bhaji was done, I tossed a dollop of butter onto another pan and seared the buns. Finally, everything was on my plate, then just to finish it off, I added some lemon juice and sprinkled some chopped coriander on top!

PS: I never ordered Pao Bhaji again from a restaurant because why would I when I can have 9 Pao’s alone when it is home-cooked. 

Day 5

The only reason why I waltz my way into a cinema hall is because of the caramel popcorn. Now, after a few days, I could rustle up savoury dishes with ease. But I have always had a turbulent relationship with sugar or sweet things in general. 

YouTube was my best friend at that moment. Hence the popcorn recipe was watched and rewatched again and again. Everything looked simple, as I just had to add a cup of sugar, some baking soda and mix it really well till it was caramelised. Once done, just the popcorn had to be coated properly. 

But I ended up burning the caramel as well as the non-stick pan. I coated the popcorn, but it was a disaster. 

I pledged to never cause havoc like that ever again. 

Conclusion

But somewhere along the lines of failing, winning and creating, I learnt a lifelong skill during this pandemic. In just a few months, cooking became therapeutic to me. I remember being swamped with work and exams this one day, and I just took a 45-minute break so that I could make a plate of Maggi for myself. It really helped to cut down the stress. As I finish writing this blog at 00:13, I cannot wait to switch off my laptop and go make a bowl of Maggi again!