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A quick Chinese wok through a sweltering spring

An early summer is no reason to abandon the kitchen. Instead be smart and swift about what you cook

Bok choy and mushroom stir-fry.
Bok choy and mushroom stir-fry. (Istockphoto)

It isn’t supposed to be, but it is most definitely summer—an amped, climate-change and El-Niño-driven season in a sweltering city also reaping the effects of mowing down 80% of its trees since the 1970s.

As the few remaining jacaranda, Cassia siamea, Pongamia, gulmohar, canon-ball and giant rain trees blossomed, spring temperatures in normally balmy Bengaluru crossed 36 degrees Celsius, hotter than Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai and Jaipur.

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Of course, these cities will eventually surpass us as the real summer kicks off, and it promises to be a scorcher in what may well be the hottest year in recorded human history. But it’s been a shock to our tender systems. Bangaloreans (no, we don’t say Bengalurueans), you see, are soft folk, softened by the eternal breeze, the clouds and the thundershower when it gets too hot.

There have been no clouds, little breeze and no sign of rain. So, we do what we do best when the elements are against us—we shrink and we complain.

A sample of some complaints I have heard: it’s too hot to go out; it’s too hot to sleep without air conditioner; it’s too hot to cook (this is Bengaluru, so it is never too hot to drink).

Now, please.

In my view, it’s never too hot to cook.

All through my working life, the summer has galvanised me. I have cooked in the sweaty summers of Mumbai and the searing summers of Delhi, even when I lived on a terrace flat where it was obviously hotter than the ambient air temperature of 47 degrees Celsius.

I flambéd chicken in vodka one summer, the flames leaping off the stove, releasing extra rivulets of sweat. I roasted duck another summer, the heat from the slow, two-hour roast seemingly converting the entire kitchen into an oven, even as a loo, the hot, northern dust storm, blew in from the Thar, the great Indian desert.

I have always said there is something elemental in cooking during the Indian summer. If you can conquer all that it throws at you—the sweat, heat, dust and sense of defeat—and yet turn out a great meal, the sense of victory, however pyrrhic and false, can be monumental.

And so it has been in Bengaluru’s summer-like spring of 2024. After more than 12 years back home, I have grown soft. A hot southern Karnataka March and April is a far cry from the searing summers of north India, but I’m also older, so it is a matter of not just distance but degree tempered by age.

Some of my recent cooking has been quite involved by my quick-fix standards. I spent the cool winter—if you can call it that—taking my time over whatever I cooked.

The early summer quickly returned me to this column’s origins to quick, easy cooking.

I have returned to 10-minute fish curries, bake-and-forget meats and five-minute stir-fries and salads. It’s all very well to feel resilient and unbowed by being sweaty, but as one ages, as I said, the feeling wears a little. So, it’s not that you should abandon the kitchen just because you can feel the heat, you just need to be a little smart about it.

Last week, the family was craving Chinese food, the basic versions of which are quite quick and easy to cook, if you are organised about the ingredients. That’s what I did with the two recipes below. Both took about five minutes each to cook, from flame to finish. Stick to basic soy and oyster sauces, embellished with fresh garlic and ginger. It’s easy to balance personal requirements. For the daughter who likes things meaty but not too spicy, it’s easy. For the wife, who likes to feel the fire in her veggies, a bit of Sichuan is as easy, using local Indian dried chillies and chilli sauce.

A basic fried rice, tossed with beans and carrots was our accompaniment. All three are healthy entrees. As you can see, oil is minimal. Does it take away from the restaurant feeling? We didn’t think so. But don’t take my word for it. Try them and let me know.

Fried rice tossed with beans and carrots, grilled lamb ribs with oyster mushrooms and boy choy stir-fry.
Fried rice tossed with beans and carrots, grilled lamb ribs with oyster mushrooms and boy choy stir-fry. (Samar Halarnkar)


Serves 3


Half kg lamb ribs with fat

1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp oyster sauce

Pinch of salt (be careful, soy sauce usually supplies most of the salt)


Rub ginger-garlic paste, soy and oyster sauces and salt into ribs. Mix well and marinate for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Wrap the ribs in foil and bake for two hours. Open, then grill for 20 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius, taking care to baste the ribs and turn over every five minutes.


Serves 3


250g oyster mushrooms, sliced lengthwise

250g bok choy, torn into two or three pieces

1 tsp sesame seeds

6 red chillies, broken into three (I used Sirarakhong chillies; you can see use Byadgi or any)

1 and a half tbsp garlic, freshly minced

1 tbsp ginger, fine juliennes

2 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp chilli sauce

Salt to taste


Heat oil in a wok, add sesame seeds and chillies until they pop. Add ginger and garlic and saute for a minute. Add mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes. Add soy and oyster sauces and saute for a minute. Add chilli sauce, then bok choy and saute until it starts to wilt. Add salt, then quarter-cup water and toss.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He posts @samar11 on Twitter.

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