I spend a week in Delhi every quarter, but for now I am in lockdown at home in London with my wife. It has been almost three weeks since the lockdown began here. The first week was stressful, because there was a bit of panic buying. Looking at empty shelves in shops was definitely scary. But now, about 95% of the produce is available, in enough quantities for everyone. Most of the supermarkets also stay open an extra hour only for people in the essential services.
We step out once in 10 days for groceries, but otherwise stay home. We are one of the lucky ones who have a garden in this city, so we can still enjoy the outdoors. My wife and I have always enjoyed cooking together, and we continue to share the duties.
One of the challenges for everyone at the moment is adapting our eating habits to the new normal, to this more sedentary lifestyle — be it by eating smaller portions, cutting down on proteins and carbs, or increasing our intake of immunity-boosting foods. I, for one, have been eating smaller meals. It took just a few days for my stomach and appetite to shrink and get used to it. I have also made a list of everything I have in store and put it on our fridge, so we can make a point of using the older goods first.
We cook a wide variety: I would say about 60% of our meals are Indian, and 40% a mix of Italian, Mediterranean and European grills. We are making a lot of one-pot meals these days, like khichdi, which lets us use up any vegetables that may be getting old. And also a lot of one-pot stews and wholesome soups.
Happiness bowl (serves 4)
- Comprises chickpea salad, cauliflower rice, broccoli and quinoa, Tahini dressing, roasted peppers and marina mango
- Ingredients for chickpea salad: 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil; 1 tbsp lemon juice; 250 g cooked chickpeas; 2 medium carrots (ribbons); 2 tbsp grated fresh coconut; 1 tbsp chopped ginger; 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves; sea salt
- Ingedients for cauliflower rice: 250 g grated cauliflower; 1 tbsp olive oil; 1 tsp lemon juice; sea salt; ground white pepper
- Ingredients for broccoli & quinoa: 200 g broccoli florets blanched in salted water; 125 g cooked quinoa; 50 g baby spinach leaves; 2 tbsp pomegranate; 1 tsp olive oil; 5 tbsp sweet corn; Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Ingredients for tahini dressing: 2 tbsp tahini; 1 small clove of grated garlic; 1 tsp lemon juice; 3 tbsp warm water; 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil; sea salt
- Ingredients for marina mango: 1 salad mango sliced in wedges; Kashmiri chilli powder; 2 grilled red peppers
- Add any/ all of these: Black olives, Cheese, Avocado, Baby plum tomatoes, toasted Pumpkin seeds, Sesame seeds, Walnuts, Salad leaves
- Method: Toss all the ingredients of the chickpea salad and set aside. Heat one tbsp olive oil in a non-stick pan and toss the cauliflower rice for one minute. Transfer to a plate, add salt, pepper, lemon juice and mix well. In the same pan, heat one tsp olive oil; add the sweet corn kernels and grill until lightly charred. In a bowl add blanched broccoli, cooked quinoa, charred corn, pomegranate, salt and pepper to taste. For the ‘Marina’ mango, which always reminds me of home: dust the mango wedges with chilli powder and salt. Mix together all the ingredients of the tahini dressing and whisk well to emulsify, set aside. Portion the chickpeas, cauliflower rice, broccoli, mango, red peppers into four bowls. Drizzle tahini dressing over the broccoli. Add other accompaniments of your choice, switch on your favourite music and enjoy your happiness bowl!
- Recipe by chef Alfred Prasad
The Tuscan ribolita stew has been a favourite, and our comfort foods include pepper chicken, chicken biryani and the classic Indian Chinese dishes like chilli chicken with veg fried rice. Dinner is usually the lightest meal of the day: a simple salad, or a soup made wholesome with quinoa or grains simmered into it. We make soup with miso from a packet in hot water, and add some ginger, vegies and tofu. Our consumption of ginger has definitely gone up because of immunity-boosting properties — we also have it with tea, or just make a traditional drink with hot water and lime so that we remember to drink it and hydrate ourselves.
Hydration is important in times like these. It gets left behind, and we often don’t realise it. We are also having more high-water, seasonal produce like gourds and cucumber, and healing spices like cinnamon and turmeric.
Here’s a useful tip to reduce workload in cooking. One of the most basic masalas in cooking is sauteed onion and tomato cooked into a paste, with or without spices. This can be cooked and frozen in ziplock bags and ice trays. It can be taken out and used later whenever you want to, as a base sauce.
We are not just cooking for ourselves, either. During this lockdown, we put up a notice in our neighbourhood group (which comprises about five streets each to the North, South, East and West), asking if there are any elderly or vulnerable people who are unable to cook and would like some free veg meals. Two elderly people got in touch: a man and a woman each living by themselves. They were probably dependent on their neighbourhood restaurants for a few meals each week. So twice a week, we keep by their doors packs of the same food that we are having that day, in enough quantities to last them at least two meals. We haven’t met them yet, since we just ring the doorbell and leave, but we have made new friends, and will be meeting them when all this is over.
In this series, India’s popular chefs and restauteurs share their lockdown cooking habits and recipes with us.
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