Hacks To Help You In The Kitchen (From A Chef)

Cooking is not a chore – it is an activity to enjoy and sometimes, can be rather therapeutic! “Smart cooking” is the need of the hour Chef Natasha Celmi shares her tips and tricks.

Cooking is not a chore – it is an activity to enjoy and sometimes, can be rather therapeutic! I learnt this only a few years ago and now I strive to share this attitude with all of you. However, life is super hectic for everyone and as a working mum, we have to juggle it all…and that just quadrupled in 2020 thanks to Corona!

My focus has been on making healthy and nutritious family meals quickly but creatively. “Smart cooking” is the need of the hour and this is exactly the mantra in my latest bestseller book, Fast Fresh Flavourful which so many of you have been enjoying. Believe me, with these simple hacks, you will be more efficient in the kitchen and your food will shine without you looking like a hot mess!

If I can do it all with a smile, so can you.

  • Planning is the key – Plan your meals on a weekly or daily basis based on the likes and dislikes of the family aiming to include at least one element from every food group. Think colours and variety in flavour and texture. If you wait till 6 PM to decide “what should I cook for dinner”, it will definitely be a moment of panic!
  • Do your grocery shopping on the weekend for the week ahead, stocking up on fresh and dry ingredients you usually use in your favourite dishes. Then follow the first-in, first-out stock system substituting recipes with ingredients that are handy. 
  • Use the weekend to make batches of chutneys, sauces, marinades, curry bases, masalas which can be refrigerated and used over the next few days.
  • One dish can suit all! Make a big batch of the basic dish, separate some for the kids and spice up the rest for the adults. This is my secret to getting kids to enjoy food and avoiding that tantrum at mealtimes. The kids will feel grown up eating the same food as the adults together on the table. Ditch that kiddy crockery as well!
  • Stock up on good cooking equipment to make your life easy and feel like a pro chef. Invest in a good set of knives and a heavy wooden board for smooth easy chopping. Get a good set of pots and pans and baking equipment.
  • Cut your veggies the evening before for your meal the next day and store in Ziploc bags in the fridge. Wash the bags, air dry inside-out and re-use.

  • Store fresh herbs in ziplock bags or wrap in cloth bags and keep neatly in the fridge. Put wilted herbs in water and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before using and they will be bright and crisp.
  • Freeze nuts, seeds and breadcrumbs to add extra crunch and prevent them from going rancid just when you need them to finish that salad. Use directly from the freezer.
  • Make extra curries, sauces and purees and freeze in ice cube trays, defrosting only what you need per meal. Fresh chicken and seafood can also be frozen so you have it on hand when needed and save yourself the last-minute trip to the local market. Make sure you defrost ahead of time. I freeze burger buns and pizza bases so that they are handy for a last-minute meal when nothing else makes sense!
  • Blend 200-300 gms of ginger and garlic separately in a blender and store in an airtight glass jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Avoid the hassle of chopping and grating these basic aromatics before every meal. ( Tip: To peel garlic cloves easily, soak them in water for 30 minutes and then peel.)

  • Give yourself an hour in the day to cook for two meals at least. With some planning and prep, this is very easily achievable. Cook extra of each dish and use the leftovers the next day with some variation.
    • Aloo gobhi sandwiches with some fresh greens make a great office lunch.
    • Leftover noodles, rice and stir-fries can be combined into a healthy Buddha bowl the next day.
    • Extra chicken tikka kebabs are delicious wrapped in a roti with some salad and a simple drizzle of salted Dahi and chilli sauce or even dunked in a simple tomato-based gravy the next day.
    • Soups make excellent pasta sauces and freeze very well so always make extra.
    • That coconut prawn curry which you had with rice last night, could make an interesting noodle bowl with some fresh herbs, chillies and lime.
  • For plant-based proteins and grains, plan and soak the night before so you have plenty of choice for the next day. 
  • Marinate and salt meat up to 12 hours before and refrigerate. When you are tired after a long day at work, all you have to do is cook it as you like. This also adds bags of flavour.

  • Use the oven as much as possible to roast your meats, veggies, potatoes etc. Use the time and energy to catch up with the kids homework instead of hovering around the stove.
  • Taste, taste, taste and make adjustments according to your palate. Recipes are only guidelines for you to combine with your personal touch and creativity.

Follow these simple guidelines and watch yourself become a ninja in the kitchen. So go on, get those bored kids involved at meal prep times, put on some music, grab your glass of vino and spend some quality time over an enjoyable dinner!


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