Before email, before blogs, before cooking shows, before reality cooking shows, before columns like this one there was, in every family, the great kitchen king. This was the person to whom we all deferred in culinary matters. This was the person who made it all seem so easy. This was the person we called whenever we were stuck.
n my family, the burden of being the great kitchen king (queen somehow doesn’t fit the bill) fell on my eldest sister, Sangeeta.
Perfect match: The stuffed chicken rests best on a bed of crisp veggies.
This was not an easy burden.
It meant she had to cook when everyone else was lounging around on a holiday morning, all because someone suggested she “make that roast mutton when daddy got tight” or “the baked fish when the napkin caught fire”.
I have to say that Sangeeta never really minded being in the kitchen; well, at least that’s what we like to believe (I’m not asking her). She never said no to any request and cheerily turned out grand meal after grand meal, whether it was just family or friends added on.
Her mother was a fine cook herself but under-appreciated because she handled the daily meals. Sangeeta was the holiday star. What has always stood out is her ability to cobble together a fine meal with whatever’s at hand. This is something I’ve learnt from her and is possibly why I am never fazed by last-minute lunches or dinners that quickly swell in numbers.
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Let me hasten to say this does not mean you can or should dispense with planning ahead. It’s very important, really, in the busy lives we lead in 24x7 India. But you can combine planning with being impromptu.
Stock your refrigerator well and cook when you find the time or feel like it. A well-stocked refrigerator runs in the family. The wife, who comes from a buy-consume-and-eat-today family, sighs every time she sees me buying enough produce and meats to last at least a week. She sighs louder when she realizes our two-door 400-litre fridge is probably the smallest in the family. But it’s this well-stocked fridge that lets me do what this column promises; creative cooking (well, at least she thinks so, though I frequently have doubts over my slap-it-together methods). You cannot be creative if you have nothing to be creative with.
And so as I stumble along every week, I remember the great family cook who inspired me deeply. In time, as Sangeeta got married and became a working mother (running the computer reservation systems of a major airline), I lost touch with her fine touch. I do get to sample her wares whenever I visit Bangalore, which is where she lives with her husband (who does not cook) and her preteen son (who, I am happy to note, is trying to emulate his mother).
On New Year’s Eve, I called and found that Sangeeta was doing what she does so well. Since I wasn’t there, I asked her to send the recipe of whatever she was cooking. As always, it is her creation. As you can see, there was a substantial amount of creativity involved. Personally, I would lose the 4 tablespoons of cheese; healthy cooking was never her thing. If you try it, tell me what you think, and I’ll tell her if the greatness is intact.
Stuffed Chicken Breasts, a la Sangeeta
1kg boneless chicken breast
2 tbsp garlic, grated or chopped finely
2 red onions, chopped finely
4 tbsp leeks, chopped finely (optional)
4 tbsp mushrooms, chopped finely
2 tbsp parsley leaves, chopped finely
4 tbsp breadcrumbs
4 tbsp grated pizza cheese
3 tbsp olive oil
Butter, cut into long, thin rectangles
1 tbsp orange marmalade
1 green pepper, cut into squares
10 mushrooms, each chopped into 4 pieces
Salt to taste
Chilli flakes and Italian seasoning (the kind you get with pizzas) for seasoning
Place each chicken breast piece in between wax paper and beat with a mallet to flatten the piece. Place the chicken in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a non-stick pan. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the garlic, onion and leeks and fry till onions are translucent. Add the mushrooms, parsley, breadcrumbs and cheese and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes and keep aside to cool.
Take a piece of the chicken. Add a bit of the stuffing and flatten it on top of the chicken piece. Place a piece of frozen butter on top and roll up the chicken. Ensure that the ends of the roll are enclosed using the chicken. Use toothpicks to hold the roll in position.
Take a baking dish and spread a little olive oil to coat the surface. Place the rolled chicken breasts in the dish. Drizzle a little olive oil. Sprinkle chilli flakes and Italian seasoning on top. Cover with silver foil and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Bake the chicken for 40 minutes.
Sauté mushrooms and capsicum for 2 minutes and arrange on a serving plate. Once the chicken is cooked, drain the excess gravy into a pan and reduce. Add orange marmalade. Leave the chicken in the oven to keep warm.
Place the chicken on the sautéed capsicum and mushrooms, pour the reduced gravy on top and serve hot. You can also serve a tomato salsa with this.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective.
Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large,Hindustan Times
Write to Samar at email@example.com