Opinion | No excuse for not cooking: 2 minutes is all you need
Indian men do not believe a man's place is in the kitchen. A microwave can help change his fossilized mind
I am sick of it. No, really.
The sniggers, the do-not-expect-regular-people-to-be-like-you grins and the general condescending air that floats around me when some folks cite this column, and the dubious book I have written, to make me out to be some sort of freak.
I guess I am though—and that is this country’s tragedy and missed opportunity. The fact that I cook is often considered somewhat freakish, as if real Indian men will somehow diminish in stature if they lean in to the kitchen. When I try to explain how it really is not that difficult to cook, that if I can do it, anyone can, that it keeps you happy and healthy—try cleaning up a kitchen after a dinner party, you will know what I mean—and that India would be a different country, if more men cooked, I get one of these reactions:
“My wife is happy when I stay out of the kitchen. I am also happy!"
“I agree with you, but I must first learn to boil water."
“Boss, too late for me."
“There is no time."
You get the picture.
Every excuse that the middle-class Indian male—with honourable exceptions of course—offers for not cooking is a sad reflection of how he has been brought up, and how he really could not care, beyond a point, about the women in his life. A reasonable number of women will hotly contest my views on the primacy of the Indian male, but I am afraid they are victims of the Stockholm syndrome and do not know any better.
I know this sounds harsh, but, as I said, I am sick of the excuses and see no reason to be viewed as this man who is doing something exceptional—or freakish. I have said it before, and I say it again: I suspect the main reason I write this column, and indeed was published as a cookbook author, is only because I am male.
I have been given an opportunity that many women will not get. I am an ordinary cook, and millions of women who keep the home fires burning would outdo me in making a chapati or dal.
My main redeeming quality as a provider of food is that I cook quickly. Years of experience, experimentation and an impatient, hungry family have taught me how to short-circuit culinary methods. These techniques are not the stuff of particle physics or rocket science. Everyone can learn them, and that is why I have less and less patience with those men who make cooking out to be an insurmountable obstacle that mainly women must climb. As I cook, I learn and adapt, and that is my message to you today.
For instance, last week, I was particularly hard-pressed for time. I had less than half a day to catch up with office work. I had to pick up my eight-year-old from school at 3pm and catch a flight to Mumbai. And, yes, I had to make lunch, and pack a snack box for her. It was, as you might guess, a particularly challenging day.
The easy thing was to grab some bread and leftovers, which I often do. I asked myself, surely I could do better? Could I come up with something in 2 minutes? Two minutes is a holy grail of modern life. If you can do something in 2 minutes, you can do anything. But could I make fish in 2 minutes?
Now, there was a challenge.
I did not feel like frying an egg or microwaving leftover soppu (spinach). I did have fresh fish, however. The microwave, I might add, is perfect for disabusing yourself of the I-just-don’t-have-time excuse. We often use the microwave to make healthy vegetables—carrots and beans—for the eight-year-old who, like her father, is limited in her culinary preference for things that were not living creatures. Sprinkled with herbs or soy sauce or light spices or lime, these 2-minute vegetables are family favourites.
I mulled over the same approach with fish. Steamed fish is rare in restaurants in India, but I have come across a few sterling examples. Steaming is how we make those 2-minute veggies—in one of those small microwave steamers—so it stood to reason that I could do the same with fish, which cook as quickly.
I quickly and lightly marinated the fish, placed it in the steamer and in 2 minutes I had a healthy, satisfying lunch before racing out the door.
Eggs are even quicker in a microwave, taking about 30 seconds, although I do them on full power and, occasionally watch them explode. I strongly recommend a microwave to the Indian man—it is so easy to use that the results might change his fossilized mind.
There is much you can do to weave cooking into the daily fabric of your life. Time is not an excuse, and—frankly—neither is competence. You learned to cycle? Swim? Run? Then you are good to get into the kitchen—give others a respite, do the best you can, and do what a good man must do.
STEAMED FISH WITH PAPRIKA, GINGER AND BASIL
4 pieces firm fish (I used rawas) fillets
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp juliennes of ginger
1-2 tsp soy sauce
5-7 basil leaves
Salt to taste
Coat the fish with smoked paprika, soy, salt and ginger juliennes. Place in a microwave steamer with water. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Let stand for 30 seconds. Garnish with basil and serve hot.
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 tweets @samar11