I learned to cook through a mixture of intentional lessons from my parents and my own interest in eating fresh homemade food. For the past two years, I’ve been meal prepping regularly, experimenting with new recipes, and exploring a lot of basics. But I’ve been cooking since I was 11.
Both my parents know how to cook well and they always involved my brother and I in food prep. They taught us how to cook.
My earliest memory of intentional lessons is when my mom tasked me with making the roti (South Asian flatbread) dough every week – I didn’t like doing it at first and didn’t see why I had to.
Yet, every week, there I was: standing in the kitchen staring down 3 cups of wheat flour, some salt, and a mug of water. Drizzling the water slowly into the flour to make a dough that was first wet and squishy and then elastic and firm. My right arm got a real workout and I naturally started to figure out the most efficient way to knead with the heel of my palm, rolling the dough to the edge of the large bowl and then back, and then to the edge again and then back.
I learned to enjoy it and it taught me how to knead properly and judge the elasticity of dough. I began to appreciate the art and craft of cooking because of that chore.
In the summer of 2004 (or maybe 2005), my cousins were staying with us and every single day my cousins and my brother wanted the same thing: fried egg with crispy buttered toast. I was the oldest so I was lead cook, with one of them helping me. Every morning, I beat 2 eggs at a time in a bowl with a fork, whipping it to a light froth with a pinch of salt and chilli powder before pouring it into a sizzling lightly greased pan. My memories of those mornings are filled with the hiss of the hot pan and the pop! of the toaster as the bread sprung out. That summer, I became an absolute master at making fried eggs and toast.
Then in 2007, my mom and brother flew to Pakistan while I stayed behind with my dad because I was taking an extra summer course. Before she left, mom taught me how to make a version of fried rice (what I call Comfort Rice) and advised me on how to follow a Shan Masala box recipe to make more complicated foods. Of course, Dad did most of the complicated cooking, but I could do some simple cooking and experimented a lot those couple months.
By the time I went to live in a dorm in university, I had an arsenal of recipes I knew how to cook and the confidence to experiment freely in the kitchen. I knew enough to keep my cooking varied and fresh and I wasn’t afraid to find a recipe and try my hand at it.
I’ve met a lot of people who don’t know how to cook or don’t know how to cook well. They feel clumsy in the kitchen and come up with odd concoctions they eat because they have to, not because they want to. I have a friend who lived on boiled chicken and badly cooked rice for an entire year. Another friend managed to burn the pasta he was boiling while he kept watch (I’ll never figure out that one).
There are tons of basic recipe books out there and tons of blogs dedicated to teaching people how to cook simple things online. However, I want to create a series that assumes absolutely no skill or knowledge in the kitchen and teach you how to cook a mix of South Asian (leaning towards Pakistani style cuisine) and Western foods.
At the end of this series, you should have an arsenal of recipes you can rely on that can be mixed and matched and combined in many different ways to give you 50+ dishes you can make – both casual and party-ready. You’ll also have the knowledge and confidence to try out any recipe you want without worrying that you’ll mess it up somehow.
Every Thursday for the next few weeks, there’ll be a new instalment of the Cooking Basics series up on the blog. I can’t post the entire series on the blog itself; I am sticking to a 2x/week posting schedule and my current plan is a 25-part series; posting the entire series would take more than half the year if I published one instalment a week!
So I’ll be making the full series available as an ebook after the 10 parts are published here on the blog. If you ever have any questions or something in particular you’d like me to cover, please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message!