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I am a grown-up man who has developed an interest in the art of cooking. I have been spending time in the kitchen with my wife and mother-in-law to learn their ways of cooking. Here are the questions I don't seem to be able to get definite answers from them.

1. How do I ensure that a dish has the same consistent taste every time I prepare it? These women don't use any measuring cups/proportions (it an art and not a science!) and use whatever spices/things at hand. I am worried that their method is not going to help me in ensuring a consistent taste.

2. How do I determine the minimum number of things required to get a certain taste? My wife adds at least 10-12 condiments /spices in her curry. My questions is are they all required? What all spices we can avoid and still get the taste I like? Just adding everything from the Masala Dabba doesn't make any sense to me. It is about efficiency for me.

Also, is there a book or website that can help me get the answers to these questions?

Thanks

closed as too broad by paparazzo, Cos Callis, Erica, Cindy, Catija Apr 21 '18 at 1:31

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Welcome, you have asked a very broad question which (IMHO) boils down to "How do I become an expert without first being a beginner". Pick a very basic recipe and try it...then if you need specific help, come and ask. You might review our FAQs and even read some of the other questions here to get a better 'flavor' for what we offer. – Cos Callis Apr 17 '18 at 18:01
  • maybe i'm off-base, but i thought Indian cooking is supposed to be "inconsistent" compared with other cuisines; just-in-time spices, tradition over recipes, no measuring, many hands, etc. – dandavis Apr 19 '18 at 3:18
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Perhaps you couldn't get definite answers because there aren't any...

  1. You can't get a consistent taste every time: your basic ingredients won't be the same (different stage of development for vegetables, possibly different varieties, not always the same freshness, etc.), and neither will the fresh spices like ginger and garlic, or things like yoghurt. With experience, you can somewhat correct for this, but never completely.

  2. You probably don't need all the 12 spices, but they each add something to the final taste (or appearance: turmeric and dried sweet pepper come to mind). Leaving out some of the minor ones won't do much harm, but might make you wonder what's missing.

Also, the same spice might get added twice: e.g. cumin: once whole, and fried in the hot oil, then ground just before the simmering stage. And that will give two different "notes" from the same spice.

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It's all a question of experience; you can't do a recipe for the first time and have it taste the same as someone who's done it hundred of times, especially if there are no written recipes.

I suggest 2 things:

  1. Get a proper simple recipe with a good ingredients (spices) list; try it as is; taste it, try to describe how it tastes and what ingredients in the recipe brings to the end result. Now, try again by either removing one ingredient (spice) from the recipe and see how it affect the result, is it more/less salty? more/less spicy ... adjust then the quantities or add or remove it from the recipe and make it your own.

  2. Ask what your wife and MIL and ask them why they do this or that, do they skip one spice because it gets things bitter ? or too spicy ? or anything else ?

  • Thanks guys. I am not a total beginner. I can cook at least 10 dishes independently. I have survived for 2 weeks with my own cooking. My issue is not being able to achieve a consistent taste. – user66634 Apr 17 '18 at 21:15
  • @user66634, once you understand how each seasoning contributes to the flavor, you'll learn to judge how much to put in a dish without measuring. – The Photon Apr 18 '18 at 3:45
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(perspective of a non-indian indian cooking enthusiast)

"Adding everything from the dabba" makes more sense than it appears to make, unless we are looking at a large dabba with many optional things that are really specific to some preparations (eg black pepper, kasoori methi, methi seeds, very mild or hot additional pepper powders, anardana, szichuan pepper, ajowan, nigella seeds, star anise, fennel seeds, khus, foreign dried herbs ... all of these COULD upset the wrong recipe seriously.)

Mark.

A small 7 way masala dabba is typically filled with these:

  • Chile powder (Lal Mirch)
  • Coriander powder
  • Garam masala
  • Cumin seeds (Jeera)
  • Black/brown mustard seeds
  • Turmeric powder (Haldi)
  • Assortment of whole spices - green and black cardamom, cloves, tejpat, cinnamon sticks

These are ingredients that you will find in almost every "curry" preparation (apart from the mustard seeds and some of the whole spices being omitted in some).

Other typical ingredients found in most of them:

  • ginger, garlic and green chilies - each chopped, or ground in a mortar, or bought as ready made paste.
  • oil and/or ghee
  • chopped onion and tomato
  • salt, sugar, vinegar, lime juice to adjust the taste profile (not the aroma profile)
  • yoghurt and/or cashew paste and/or cream

Now here is the thing: You could make several very good sauces employing absolutely ALL of the ingredients listed after "Mark." - the ratio of amounts used, and WHEN the ingredients are added, being the only difference.

OMITTING any of them - without knowing exactly why you are omitting them -actually has a higher chance of upsetting the basic formula than improving it.

  • Two notes: Garam massala is itself a mixture of spices, with a lot of variations possible. Also, India is a rather large country, with different climates, and thus very different uses of spices. – remco Apr 18 '18 at 7:31
  • I myself now wonder what about the question made me assume that the question was about north indian style - as I said I am an amateur at that myself. The core of what I wanted to say was: sort essential from optional, and "safe to add anyway" from "this can spoil things easily". – rackandboneman Apr 18 '18 at 8:37
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Almost all food, especially Indian food are different. You're correct in saying "it's an art not a science" Try to get the basics of Indian food and try more simple recipes and build up to how she cooks because she's more comfortable with the ingredients.

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Welcome to the world of cooking.

First of all, cooking is both a science and an art.

Secondly, as others have said, try some simple dishes before you jump in at the deep end, to really learn and understand how food behaves when it is being cooked.

And lastly, if you want to have a go at the food your wife & MIL makes, then observe and write everything down. This might take a few, or several, tries where they cook and you observe, but it would be worth it. Write down the ingredients, how much are they using, if it's a pinch or spoon or something else, do they just pour from the container? If the latter, "Wait, stop!" and get a measuring jug or set of scales out. It might annoy them at first, but it will be for the best for everyone in your household.

And same with spices, try making food without some, and see how you get on with the flavours. Treat new recipes like science, where you follow the instructions to the letter (Regarding your Q1), and when you know what you're doing, you can treat it as an art(Regarding your Q2)...

EDIT: And document everything you do, no matter how minuscule. I keep a cookbook in my kitchen where I document changes I've made to recipes, which heat I used, how long I let the cookware heat up, which spices I substituted and so on. That way you can recreate your best dishes, and you get a feel for which spices are needed and which aren't.

For some recipes I have two columns of ingredients; "Required" and "Would be nice to have"...

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