Can't Cook? Relax!

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My daughter sent me a recipe for making chicken tikka masala wondering if it was right. I do not know much about recipes. I learned how to cook by experimenting, and believe that fretting over recipes kills the joy of cooking.

When I first arrived in Kansas City as a graduate student in chemistry from India, I knew nothing about cooking. Kitchen was not a place for boys. I survived the first few months on Whoppers and Big Macs - I was not a vegetarian then. But I longed for the tastes from home.

Friends helped me get started. They drove me to an Indian grocery store where I picked up some spices, but I had no idea of how to cook with them. So, I tried them in different ways to see what worked.

One thing I quickly learned was that stove-top cooking is very forgiving. If you start with good ingredients the result will be good. You really can't spoil the dish, except perhaps by burning it. It may not look or taste quite like what you had in mind, but it is still edible. And if you pay attention to when the different aromas are released, what characteristics different spices impart, or how soon the vegetables soften, you will learn to cook exactly the way you like them.

I fondly recall a time when my parents were visiting. My mother was horrified at my unorthodox style of cooking eggplants with pine nuts and dried cranberries, and vehemently argued with me. My wife and my father stayed out of the fray as I pleaded with my mother for her forbearance. In the end, though, everyone, including my mother, was pleased with the outcome.


My word to my daughter, and to all those who fret about cooking: "Relax." Just get started with perceptive senses, and let the experience teach you. Take pride in your creation and have fun cooking.

With a Perspective, I am Ripudaman Malhotra.

Ripudaman Malhotra is a retired chemist. He lives in San Carlos.