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Basic Cooking Tips

My basic cooking tips page is a collection of cooking tips and hints some of which are quite general and apply no matter what type of food you are cooking and some are a bit more specific to Indian cooking.

As I started writing recipes I discovered that an 'Tips and Tricks' page would be very useful so that I don't have to keep repeating the same stuff in every recipe. There are many basic cooking tips that I have picked up over the years, you probably know some of them yourself. This is a page that I will be adding to as I think of useful things to write about.

You can read through the page if you like - I'll try to make it interesting - but it's mostly meant to be referenced from other pages. Or if you are looking for a particular tip I will eventually get round to doing an index for this page.

Basic Cooking Tip #1 - Roasting Spices

There are number of whole spices which should be lightly roasted (or toasted as it is sometimes called) before being ground. This is to release the essential oils in the spices and bring out the full depth of the flavour and fragrance. Ground spices do not need to be roasted if they are reasonably new, but you can roast slightly older spices for about 10 seconds to rejuvenate them a little. (Spices over 6 months old about as much use as sawdust - throw them away)

The simplest way to roast spices is to heat a dry frying pan and toss in the spices to be roasted. The pan should be quite heavy and the heat should be set to medium hot.

Advise on how long they should be heated for varies quite considerably, I don't think of it in terms of time, it will vary from pan to pan and depending on the heat. You should them until they go just a shade darker, and once the faintest wisp of smoke starts to appear they are done. If you roast them too much they develop a slightly burnt taste. Once they are done they should be tipped out of the pan to prevent then from roasting further. Shake them about a bit in the pan as they are roasting and let them cool before grinding.

Different spices need slightly different times so if you are being a perfectionist then you should toast each spice separately - not really that necessary.

Amongst the spices that benefit from toasting are :

Poppy seeds

Sometimes when making Garam Masala, I do not roast the seeds leaving the taste fresher.

If spices are to be used whole in the dish they can be roasted in a little oil.

Basic Cooking Tip #2 - Peeling Tomatoes

Generally I use tinned tomatoes for my Indian food. Apart from the fact that you can buy lots of tins and stock up the larder for use at any time, this is also partly a personal thing - I am mildly allergic to raw tomatoes and I can't eat them in salads but I can eat them cooked, and I particularly like plum tomatoes. As a consequence, I rarely buy fresh tomatoes. I buy whole tinned tomatoes and chop them up myself (I noticed that in tins of chopped tomatoes they leave all the stalks and nasty bits in)

You can buy really good quality fresh plum tomatoes these days and these are excellent in Indian food. They do, however need to be peeled - if you don't peel them, the skins will fall off when you cook them and you will have nasty bits of tomato skin in your dish.

To easily peel tomatoes; cut a small 'X' just through the skin at the base of each tomato, dip them in hot (near boiling) water for about a 30 seconds then transfer them to cold or even iced water. These changes in temperature will make the skins just come off in your fingers. For stubborn specimens, simply repeat the hot-cold thing again.

If you also want to remove the seeds then cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze the seeds out.

Basic Cooking Tips #3 & #4 - Pans

A couple of tips here. Firstly a great many recipes call for a heavy bottomed pan, this is important for even distrubution of heat and to stop the heat being too intense causing the food to stick to the pan. The karahi (or karai) is one of the main Indian cooking pans and is traditionally made from cast iron - it is like an Indian wok. I have used a cast iron sauce pan for my Indian food for many years and this works fine.

If you do not have a pan with a good heavy base, then a neat trick is to put a frying pan on the stove and your cooking pan in the frying pan

Next, there are a number of recipes that require slow simmering in a pan with a tight fitting lid so that no steam escapes. Biryanis are the classic example where the rice and meat have to cook together slowly without any loss of liquid.

Not all pan lids do fit as tightly as required - but panic not. You can make a seal for your pan lid using flour and water. Just mix flour and water together to make a dough, then roll out into a long snake. Fit this round the edge of the pan and put the lid on to get a really tight seal.

Basic Cooking Tips #5 - Coconut Milk

You can buy tins of coconut milk, they even come in two thicknesses. You can also buy creamed coconut which is a fairly solid block of coconut. You add hot water to this to make coconut milk adding more or less water depending on how thick you want it.

You can also make coconut milk by adding boiling water to desiccated coconut, leave it to stand for about 15 minutes and then squeeze the liquid out through a sieve.

Basic Cooking Tips #6 - Peeling Garlic

This is so easy! The trick is to crush the clove of garlic with the flat of a knife before peeling it; do this quite gently so that you just here the merest crack. It won't really crush the garlic but it loosens the skin. Then cut of the top of the clove and most of the skin will come away with it, cut of the bottom and the rest will come away. Takes about 5 seconds.

You can also put cloves of garlic through a garlic press with the skin on; the flesh will come through the press but the skin won't.

More basic cooking tips to follow

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