Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kitchen Part 1- Pantry

Typically Desi kitchens are the most crowded part of the house. Mine was no exception. I started out with one suitcase full of cookware and things and ended up filling shelves after shelves of things and food. This post is focusing on pantry and Ingredients.

Cooking Indian food from scratch is an elaborate affair. Typical recipes require upwards of 15 ingredients. My food blog is here. Initially when I began cooking regularly, predictably soon after my marriage, it was daunting to make grocery list, plan and shop. But it fell into place after a while. Then came the over drive.  Being a foodie, I wanted to try new cuisines experiment with my recipes therefore ended up shopping for new ingredients from all corners of the world. Initially I did not realize how problematic it was. For instance, getting carried away by Quinoa, I got a bag of Quinoa a couple of years ago. I am yet to finish it. In the United States, it is very difficult to find smaller bags of ingredients. Packages seemed to grow bigger and bigger. Had I got a small bag say a few Oz of Quinoa instead of the 2 lb bag that I always found in stores, I would not have been sitting on a pile for two years. My list of similar experience include Bonito flakes, Nori, Craisens (thankfully almost done with this one), Peanut butter, oats, cereal etc. Since I regularly shop at Costco, my little boy ends up liking one or the other eatable he gets to try there and a huge bag follows us home! After eating it twice, the novelty wears out and he refuses to finish the whole bag. And there I am left with something I do not want to eat, so does anyone else at home. Also I realized that I was mindlessly piling my cart at the Indian store to stock up on ingredients I might use only occasionally.This part of the problem was because of my sheer laziness. It was always easier to pile you shopping high than plan for each meal your family was going to have for the week or two. All I had to do to solve this portion of the problem was paying more attention to what was a priority in my kitchen. The non-priority ingredients could be brought occasionally when it is absolutely essential.
In an effort to make my kitchen more efficient while cutting down on non-essentials, I started  tracking my cooking pattern and my typical shopping cart. I decided to leave my canisters empty till I genuinely needed the ingredient a few times. At that point, I used to put it down the ingredient on my running list of grocery. Doing this for several months, I think finally I am happy with the status of my pantry. There still are a few of those things I mentioned earlier. Perhaps I will find a way to use them up soon.

Also my kitchen is rather on the smaller side and I do not have a butler's pantry or a store room. I just have one spare shelf  to pile my remaining part of a bag of say peanuts after filling the canister.Having a space constraint is in a way good because I am always aware of having to make room for stuff if I go way out of the way.

Here is a summary of my pantry. With these ingredients I have cooked meals from scratch for 40-50 people.  This is indeed a well stocked "Desi" kitchen. I also follow certain rules.

Rule 1. If I can 'derive' an ingredient from another ingredient I already have on hand, I am not buying that particular ingredient. For instance, if I have whole peanuts, I am not buying either roasted peanuts or peanut butter. The only exception to this rule is Tea and Coconut. I typically stock loose Tea leaf as well as Tea bags. Tea bags for my better half- 'Honey' and loose tea for times when we have people over and need to make a big batch of tea , which is quite often. Having loose tea every day drives Honey nuts and making a gallon of Tea with tea bags just does not cut it. Coconut is sheer convinience given that I hail from the coconut belt while living miles away from fresh coconut source.

The list of ingredients include:
Top Tier: Rice Flour and whole red chillies.
Middle Tier: Vermicelli, dry coconut, Coconut powder, Split Channa dal /Kadalebele, Sooji/Rave, AP flour/ Maida, Channa dal roasted, Gulkand (slurp), Empty canister (still figuring out the ingredient I need the most and don't have in my kitchen), Peanuts and Kasuri methi.

Bottom tier: Toor dal (our staple), Moong dal, Rajma, Chickpea, Horse gram, Urad Dal (washed, for Idlis and Dose), Alasande/chori, Whole Masoor dal and split washed Masoor dal.

Rule 2: If I do not use an ingredient for two months, most likely I will not need it. Rajma is falling into this category. I have not made Rajma in a while and no one is missing it. So Rajma is now on the chopping block.

Next come the more complicated part. Spices et al.
Top Tier: Ragi flour, Beaten Rice, Chickpea flour, millets( one of those impulsive buys at the grocery store the other week), Chutney pudi made by MIL, Saaru pudi, Huli Pudi

Middle Tier: Ghee, Tea bags, Tea bags(sigh! Sleepy Time tea, which my little Sunny boy insisted I buy after a sampling session at Costco, god knows when that will be done), loose leaf tea,Horlicks (taste of childhood!), Badam milk powder (will be eliminating this from my kitchen once this particular batch is done), Tamrind, Jaggery, Coffee powder, Rasam pudi, Organic cane sugar from Costco and salt.

Rule 3: Never skimp on spices. Spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. My cooking is also very spice intensive. But I do apply rule 1 here. Since I buy whole red chillies, I do not buy chilli powder. I make my own. Same applies for Coriander, Cumin, Pepper.
Bottom tier top row: It is all about spices. These bottles are at the bottom tier because I typically use them very frequently. Mustard seeds, Cinamon, Cloves, big cardamon, Star Annise, Cumin, Ajwain, Marathi Moggu, Cumin powder(home made), Amchoor, Shahi Jeera, Garlic powder,Garam masala (home made)
Bottom Tier bottom row: Coriander powder (home made), Javitri, fennel seeds, dried mint, ginger powder, fenugreek seeds, Kalhoovu (a strange looking lichens of a spice), Chilli powder, bay leaf, sesame seeds, nutmeg,whole corinader seeds and Pepper corn in the mill.

My third rack is full of knickknacks. Typically I do not need this rack while I am cooking but have some snacks and other ingredients that I use a few times a week.
Top tier: Craisins (almost finished an entire big bag from Costco. will not be refilling because of rule 2), raisins, almonds, bonito flakes (perhaps I will never use it though it took me weeks to find one), Cashew nuts, Quinoa, Tutti-fuiti (seasonal item, baked a fruit cake this past holiday season)

Middle tier: Nutella (seasonal purchase), Vanilla, Rose and Kewra, Honey, local Honey, Chawanprash, Fish oil capsules,One a day women (nutritional supplements on the way out)and pumpkin seeds (harvested from a pumpkin a friend gifted and sun dried).

Bottin tier: Hot cocoa, thick Phoa (on the way out), gummy vitamins, biscuit, Pasta and some snacks.

I also have big vats of rice, wheat flour not seen in the photographs above. Apart from the produce in my refrigerator, this is all the ingredients I have in my kitchen.

Rule 4: Be fearless when using substitutes. For instance I easily substitute soy sauce for fish sauce, and I feel it is ok. . .

With these paints in my palette, hopefully I don't have to stop painting!

No comments:

Post a Comment