8 simple hacks to add a gourmet touch to your ghar ka khana
Even if you struggle to make an omelette
At this moment, I’ve got a bowl of homemade pizza dough in my kitchen that I’ve set to rise in time for my dinner. This bowl is easily the most exciting part of my day, which says as much about my social life as my passion for pizza in particular, and home cooking in general.
Like most home cooks, I’m not a qualified chef, nor do I have unlimited time and money to spend on making fancy meals without getting fired from my day job. Instead, I’ve picked up a lot of shortcuts to add a gourmet touch to food that would otherwise be same-old ghar ka khana. Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your friends, or your own picky family who embark on a chorus of complaints every time they see bhindi-roti set out on the table, it’s easier to upgrade your home cooking than you might think.
We can’t all know our way around the kitchen like the nation’s favourite uncle, Sanjeev Kapoor (catch him on The Icons with Twinkle Khanna.) But if you want to make every meal feel a little bit special, these simple hacks are big on flavour while being low on effort and cost. The might even get you looking forward to home food as the most exciting part of your day.
Delicious in theory, mushrooms often end up disappointing when you’re cooking at home. Damp and tasteless, with an unappealing slimy texture — the last thing you want in your hakka noodles or polluting your slice of pizza. Take heart, fellow fungus fiends. You can cook up tasty mushrooms every time at home, and there’s no rocket science required.
Don’t want to spring for the exotic enokis and eye-poppingly expensive shiitakes? Save your money. Like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, you’ll transform ordinary white mushrooms with a simple trick that will bring out their flavour.
Avoid salt when cooking mushrooms, as this is the fastest way to a watery grey mess. Instead, preheat your pan on the highest flame and throw in sliced, quartered, or chopped mushrooms, depending on how you want them for your dish. Skip the oil, and don’t crowd them. After a few minutes you’ll see caramelised brown spots and hear a squeaking sound when you stir the mushrooms. This is how the mushrooms proclaim their intensely toasty flavour aloud. After this, use them in any recipe, from risotto to navratan korma.
Upgrade your Chinese cooking and you’ll never have to go to the thela down the street again. But Hotchaa is so much more than a side for fried rice or a dipping sauce for momos, though it serves both of these functions admirably. This chilli oil goes beyond any single cuisine and has become a certified hit in the Tweak office.
Laden with crunchy bits of fried garlic and onion and bursting with the fresh flavour of GI-tagged Byadgi chillies from Karnataka, this isn’t a hot sauce for the faint of heart. It’s spicy and flavourful, with just a hint of sweetness. Plus, it’s made with rice bran oil instead of the nameless grease used in street-style schezwan sauce.
Mix it with mayo for a french fry dip to remember, or drizzle it over a pizza. It can upgrade your home cooking, from a methi thepla to khichdi, as easily as a prawn dimsum. Hotchaa is currently sold out but will be back in stock in about ten days. It’s worth setting up a calendar reminder, as well as the ₹375 for a jar.
We already know that tetrapacks of tomato puree are a godsend when you’re making a quick rajma or pasta sauce. Take it to the next level with tomato paste, a thick concentrated product made from tomatoes that are cooked down into an umami dream. The best part is that you don’t have to get out the chopping board or plan ahead on groceries for tons of tomatoey goodness to upgrade your home cooking.
A couple of tablespoons will give your sauces and soups depth as if you’ve been simmering them for hours — which is technically true, since the tomato paste itself is reduced until all its luscious flavours come out. No one has to know it wasn’t your own hard work that caused you to upgrade your home cooking. Pro tip: saute your tomato paste to make the most of it.
At the end of the month when your fridge is bare and your Swiggy wallet is spent, you can still whip up a pasta dish that’s restaurant quality. Boil the pasta you have on hand al dente, and save a little of the salted pasta water. Soften a finely chopped onion and plenty of garlic in olive oil, then add the tomato paste and let it fry for a few minutes. Stir in the boiled pasta and a little bit of pasta water until the sauce is glossy and coats the pasta. Drizzle with olive oil, chilli flakes, and grated parmesan cheese to serve.
Maggi bouillon cubes
This is the adult version of relying on Maggi noodles to save you when the hunger pangs strike. These unassuming flavour bombs are loaded with salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG), so adjust the salt in your recipes accordingly. They’re available in chicken and vegetarian varieties, and both add a punch to your otherwise basic recipes.
There’s no need to be unduly afraid of MSG. This tasty chemical occurs naturally in everyday foods like soy sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms, and many types of cheese. It gives them a savoury, finger-licking flavour — the same thing that keeps you dipping your hand into a bag of potato chips that’s laden with artificial MSG.
If you or your family members find vegetable soups or stir fries impossibly boring, a Maggi cube can help get your greens in. Plain old rice can be advertised as an exotic pilaf when you cook it with a cube, a pinch of turmeric, a pat of butter, and some dried herbs. Generally, if your sauce or gravy is tasting bland, crumbling in a cube will instantly liven things up and make you seem like an accomplished cook. Especially when you run out of an essential spice or sauce, it’s Maggi to the rescue to upgrade your home cooking. Buy a pack of ten cubes here for only ₹35.
The pungent smell of this traditional fermented cabbage will come Crash Landing Into You. You don’t have to love Korean dramas to appreciate this spicy, tangy condiment (but if you do, here are some late-night Korean snacks to go with your K-drama binge.) Full of funk and flavour, it’s the perfect pairing with rice. Ladle a fried egg on top, and you’ve got a satisfying meal that’s comforting and cost-effective.
Not to mention it’s good for you. Kimchi is a good source of gut-friendly probiotics, especially when you eat it raw or lightly cooked. Stir some into a Korean-inspired kimchi jjigae stew with tofu and mushrooms, or serve it as a side dish for noodle soup. You can even use it to dress up a cheap and cheerful package of instant noodles.
Apart from these traditional applications, kimchi is literally ripe for experimentation. Kimchi butter fried rice, kimchi scrambled eggs, as a topping for your salad or wrapped in a paratha — fusion cuisine is on the menu. This kimchi by Bombucha is fermented the authentic way, with Napa cabbage and no vinegar, for ₹450.
Smoked paprika powder
You can identify a good Punjabi dhaba by its mouthwatering dal makhani, slow-cooked in an earthenware pot. Besides the creamy texture, there’s the unmistakable smoky aroma of a ghee poured over a hot coal and left to infuse the black lentils. In an apartment kitchen with no tandoor in sight, when all you’ve got is an unromantic nonstick pan, this earthy flavour is all but impossible to recreate — unless you know a shortcut.
Smoked paprika can approximate the taste of a good coal dum without any of the effort or mess. For vegetarians who want to mimic the smokiness of bacon or ham, a pinch of smoked chilli powder can make a fine substitute. It’s a must if you like Mexican food, too; a blend of smoked chilli, cumin, and cinnamon in refried beans calls to mind chipotle seasoning.
Mumbaikars can get theirs from Smoke by the Sea, a homegrown business that sells naturally smoked chilli powder with a kick of spice. For those outside Mumbai, Urban Platter offers a jar of Spanish smoked paprika for ₹500.
There are few phrases that conjure up dopamine as quickly as “bread basket.” From the rustic simplicity of a cottagecore supper to the posh Italian restaurant or the assortment of naan at a wedding, there’s nothing quite as satisfying to the stomach and the soul. And a carb’s best friend is lashings of butter.
Add a baguette slathered in garlic butter and sprinkled with cheese, and yesterday’s tamatar ki shorba is transformed into a worthy meal. Don’t stop at garlic; fresh green leaves like dill or basil, lemon or orange juice, dried herbs, and chillies infuse butter with delicious flavour. You can even go sweet with honey and cinnamon.
All you need is butter that’s been left out to soften, and finely chopped herbs and spices of your choice. Mix with the butter and let it set in the fridge. Even if your culinary repertoire consists of chai and Maggi, compound butters will make you feel like a certified chef. Spread on potatoes, toss into a pan of eggs, or use as an easy sauce for grilled chicken and sauteed veggies. When you’re too lazy to make a tadka, a spoonful in your dal chawal is the lunch hack you need to upgrade your home cooking.
The beauty of a sundried tomato is how it can turn the simplest of dishes into a meal that tastes like a lot of effort has gone into it. In reality, the greatest labour on your part will be opening the jar. Like tomato paste and hot sauces, the work has been done for you in terms of drying fresh tomatoes to concentrate their taste, and then preserving them with olive and oil herbs for even more complex flavours.
Although sundried tomatoes can be a pricey ingredient and are often imported, a jar will last a long time. For one thing, it’s preserved, so it’s not doomed to rot in the crisper drawer like your fresh groceries. Because the flavour is so intense, a little goes a long way, and you can think of it as Italian achaar.
Stacking a cheese sandwich? Add a chopped sundried tomato and your snack has gone from basic to bombshell. A standard aglio e olio is deceptively easy to prepare, requiring only chopped garlic and olive oil along with some chilli flakes (make it even quicker with this garlic press and 14 more budget kitchen tools.) A few sundried tomatoes will even convince nana-nani that pasta can be a proper dinner. Pick up this jar of Italian sundried tomatoes in olive oil by Urban Platter for ₹500.