For 2024, Perzen Patel is taking a less hurried approach in the kitchen.
This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.
It’s that time of the year when strangers on the internet make me jealous with their “words of the year”, a single word that reminds them of everything they want to do or be in 2024. Because choosing a single word to summarise an entire year feels as hard as choosing my last meal.
For the purposes of writing this newsletter, I persisted. Three minutes of reflection in the bathroom while my boys asked me 84 questions from outside, I had my word.
As someone who sells curry pastes to make dinners easy, I’ve made it my job to stir together something that is cheap and nutritious, that my children will also eat, and that doesn’t take longer than 20 minutes to put together. My Instagram search tells me I’m borderline addicted to #quickcooking, #15minutemeals and #instantdinners.
So for the first week of embracing “slow”, I couldn’t think of anything except for the slow-cooker languishing on my garage shelf.
We’ve all enjoyed the creamy, smoky dahl makhani I made after months. And my slow-cooked hoisin pork shoulder performed like an index fund investment, helping me make rice bowls, burgers and fried rice. At the pot-luck last weekend, my let’s-call-it-Tuscan bean stew that we scooped up with crisp lettuce shells went down a treat too. But with work starting properly this week, I’ve found myself packing away the slow-cooker again.
I did some more reflection (again in the bathroom) and have come up with three things I plan to try instead to incorporate more “slow” into my kitchen.
Long and slow onions and tomatoes
As an Indian, I use so many onions and tomatoes that I often find myself chopping up onions and opening a can of diced tomatoes before I’ve even decided what I’m cooking.
While I can’t slow-cook all my food, I’m going back to using my weekends to caramelise my onions and cook those tomatoes low and slow. Caramelising onions adds a deep base of flavour of sweet, savoury and extra oomph to curries, stews and my favourite mid-week treat, pies. When it comes to tomatoes, I’ve long known that slow-roasting them in the oven helps mellow their acidity until they are deliciously sweet.
What I didn’t know until recently is that you could do that to canned tomatoes too! While both of these ingredients stay good in the fridge for a week, my plan is to take advantage of the cheap summer prices for both and freeze a bunch of it for my weekday curries. Who knows, maybe I’ll go a step further and then freeze those curries too for an endless supply of yum.
Cooking with family
After seven years of being a mum, I have relatively low standards for what makes me a “good mum”. But one of the dreams I still hold dear is raising boys who love spending time in the kitchen. Problem is, they currently have a mum who swats them away impatiently because it’s faster and less messier if I cook by myself!
But something’s changed this summer with them turning five and seven. We’ve been practising our numbers by counting the chocolate chips for our pancakes and learning to spell by writing the grocery list. Last Friday the boys “made” their own pizzas for pizza night and as I write this, we’ve spent the morning rolling up and freezing spring rolls I can fry for their lunchboxes once school begins. Cooking together is now more fun than it is messy and I’m already dreaming up things we can cook together.
Cooking the unknown
Easy, familiar and healthy often sits at odds with exciting. Which might explain why I’m bored with all the meals I end up cooking. I could make my meals exciting by adding piles of cheese or cream to everything I make like Facebook urges me to constantly. Or, I could stop treating my growing cookbook collection as bedtime reading and actually cook some of the recipes hiding in there.
My challenge to myself this year is to take inspiration from the Instagram creator Jake Dryan (@plantfuture) and take a deep dive into regional Indian food à la Julie & Julia, cooking something new from the recipe books weekly. I’m hoping that not only does it make mealtime easier but it also provides fodder for my weekly essays on Beyond Butter Chicken.
It remains to be seen how many of my slow resolutions I put into practice. What I can say is that a couple weeks into my year of slow, I seem to have reignited my love for tootling around the kitchen, even if I’m not very productive. Maybe this word-of-the-year palaver has some merit after all.