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The lockdown has awakened the chef in a number of folk. From whipping up dalgona coffee to making sourdough, the urge to cook has never been greater, finds NT BUZZ

Keep calm and cook

ANNA FERNANDES | NT BUZZ

The past few months have given us plenty of food for thought. And being in lockdown, eventually, thoughts turn to food. With plenty of idle hours on hand and YouTube playing teacher, homebound folk are now getting acquainted with their kitchen and cooking up a storm.

Before the lockdown, self-proclaimed foodie Sweta Korgaonkar relied on eating out and ordering in – and the few times she did cook was when she made herself a bowl of Maggi noodles. So when restaurants pulled down the shutters, she decided it was time to grab an apron.

The it-drink of the lockdown, dalgona coffee was first on her list. The recipe called for equal parts of instant coffee, milk and sugar stirred together 400 times. “I was doubtful at first whether it would turn out the way I expected. And I used a manual whipper so it was tiring to get the foam fluffy. But surprisingly, it turned out well, and I felt like I achieved something great,” says the Calangute resident.

For Korgaonkar, cooking was never on the books, as it “required a lot of time and patience”. “But lockdown gave me all the time and patience in the world,” she says, adding that she cooked some lockdown recipes popular on the internet such as the Maggi omelette, Spanish omelette, and Kylie Jenner’s flaky French toast. “Since then I’ve been cooking a lot and experimenting with food. I look for recipes on YouTube and prepare dishes,” she says, emphasising that cooking has given her comfort that no amount of ordering food online can offer.

And being unable to step out of the house, Mapusa-based Mahima Rane turned to cooking as well. “I was starting to get frustrated with the situation, but cooking helped me cope with it – trying out new recipes and experimenting with them. When a dish turns out tasty, it’s a different kind of

euphoria,” she says, adding that she then began uploading the cooking process on social media. And when her family appreciated her efforts, it was extremely satisfying, she says.

As images of dalgona coffee began to flood social media, Rane followed suit. “I made dalgona coffee and it was so creamy and tasty,” she says, adding that she began following other trends as well. When the homemade panipuri trend began, she decided to try it out. “It obviously didn’t taste like authentic street panipuri, but making it from scratch was fun,” she maintains. Rane also tried her hand at making different types of pancakes: oat pancakes, banana pancakes, and even mango

pancakes.

Apart from following social media trends, she also started to experiment with simple and authentic Maharashtrian recipes such as zunka bhakar and mirchicha thecha.

“While it wasn’t my first time cooking, my skills were raw; I wasn’t able to cook a whole recipe without my mother’s and Aji’s (grandmother) help. I was never able to figure out the amount of salt or spices to be added. But now I can do it all by myself,” she says proudly.

“Cooking is not limited to following a recipe; food styling and food photography are all a part of the process. It’s about the taste and also how you present your food and how appealing it looks. I am still learning, improving, taking online classes on food styling and photography. This lockdown helped me to grow and to learn new things,” says Rane.

Being a lawyer, running a company, studying for a PhD and taking care of two kids usually left Shalini Menezes little to no time to cook. With lockdown in place, Menezes found time to hone her skills in the art of baking bread. And to do this she read a lot, experimented with recipes, and finally tweaked them to suit her needs. “Baking bread is an art and a science. Science is in the ingredients, the temperature. Art is in your creativity, what you add to it, how you make a recipe your own,” she says.

She reveals that she started baking bread ten years ago with a bread machine and then graduated to an oven. “But it was my first time cultivating a sourdough starter and baking with it during the lockdown,” she says.

Since then, the resident of Kadamba Plateau has made different kinds of bread with success. “I made sourdough bread –  plain, with seeds, seeds and raisins -,  oatmeal muffins, banana walnut, chocolate bread, oat crepes, pão with sourdough starter instead of yeast which I stuff with lovely things like salami, mozzarella, chorizo, cinnamon and sugar,” she says, as she puts a tray of pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread made with sabudana flour) in the oven.

“I love the process of baking, of feeding my sourdough. There is something very meditative and soothing about feeling the silky flour, the dough crumbles and the whole dough then coming together as one, rising and baking. Like science experiments going right! You feel so accomplished slathering butter on that slice,” she says.

There’s something therapeutic about it, concurs Caralise Mascarenhas who was also driven to bread-baking during the lockdown. “The whole process of kneading the dough and it rising, shaping it into its form and then taking the beautifully baked bun out of the oven is true satisfaction. Forget the carbs, homemade bread is true bliss,” she says. The Dona Paula resident reveals that prior to the lockdown she cooked once every blue moon – but now, it’s an everyday thing.

Cooking with the family has also proved to be a great bonding session, she adds. “It’s a great way to spend the extra free time and so much fun,” she says, adding that her cooking skills have definitely improved since the lockdown began. “Coming from catering college, my mother has always guided me on how to go about everything in the kitchen. But YouTube and its plethora of videos on every dish is very helpful,” adds Mascarenhas, who experimented in making a variety of dishes during this time. “I was fortunate to have a house stocked with a variety of ingredients. And since we couldn’t order in, we would make anything and everything such as sushi, samosa pie, quiche lorraine, pulled pork brioche sliders and a lot of pizza.”

For Rohit Prabhu, a mechanical engineer from Ponda, it was all about satisfying cravings. “I decided to engage myself in the kitchen so that I could prepare some new dishes – in particular, dishes I was missing out on while in lockdown,” he says.

And although he wasn’t a newbie in the kitchen, during the lockdown period he managed to sharpen his skills. “I tried many new dishes, both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian. I also realised that cooking is not as easy as it seems. Initially, my mother taught me how to cook rice, dal, chicken xacuti, etc. After that I started learning and sharpening my skills by watching online tutorials,” he says.

As for Zarino Jésus Dias, a junior resident doctor from Margao, the lockdown was just a fortnight as he was deputed for COVID-19 duties at Goa Medical College. Dias had a lot on his plate, but during the time he had at home, he began to fine-tune his cooking skills – by recognising that science has a place in the kitchen. “I learned the science behind the various techniques to cooking, practices about various spices, studied loads of recipes from the internet, and worked for the first time with whole grains such as bulgur, etc,” he says.

And instead of riding high on cooking trends, he decided to take this time to learn many Portuguese delicacies, bread, make healthier versions of savouries he loved and perfect the

restaurant-style biryani.

With the availability of essentials limited, Dias worked with locally-available produce and eventually started growing produce in his balcony.

“The best dishes that I made were multi-grain bread, hot cross buns for Maundy Thursday, my version of the Portuguese classic feijoada, and a zero-oil technique to make KFC-style chicken,” he says. Using recipes from the internet as a base, he also made fusion recipes such as chicken chouriço spaghetti, baked beans ‘desi’ twist, amaranth parathas, and so on. For Dias – and so many others – mastering the art of cooking during the pandemic, helped make the best of a difficult situation.

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