Making Time to Cook
My dear friend Michael Halsband is not only an extraordinary photographer but also one of the most committed yoga practitioners and at-home cooks I’ve ever met. When I ask him, “How do you manage, considering your unpredictable schedule as an artist?” he says, “I use yoga and cooking as an investment into my well-being. Many people use the ‘I don’t have time’ excuse to not do the things that are good for them while wasting time on things that don’t matter as much. If you spend less time browsing the Internet and instead do much more rewarding activities like yoga and cooking for yourself, you will still have plenty of time for all the time-wasting stuff we all do when our minds are spinning out of control. The practice of yoga and cooking and living the Ayurvedic way helps me to take care of myself, and then as a result my mind and heart naturally turn outward to taking care of others—this completes the circle of universal love.” If your main excuse for not cooking is “I don’t have time,” consider turning around your mind-set and thinking about preparing fresh meals as investing (rather than wasting) time in your and your family’s well-being. Could you replace an activity that’s gradually breaking down your health with some healthy cooking?
Cooking in less time has a lot to do with developing efficiency habits in the kitchen: first you plan, then you shop, then you cook, and while cooking you clean—you can do all this and find it relaxing, a way to switch brain activity from whatever else you do for a living. I like to balance my quick-cooking mode during the week with take-my-time cooking on weekends, when I can get into trying new recipes and making additional treats. Just as you do before going somewhere, map out the best route to reach your destination, and with a little planning and “mapping” ahead of time, you can fix quick, nutritious meals in minutes. I hope the following tips will help you come up with your own time-savers and make cooking your dance of creativity, exploration, and joy.
- Make the kitchen work for you: Organize it according to your personal cooking style. Which cabinet is most comfortable for you to keep your spices and oils in? Which countertop is your convenient prep station, where you keep your cutting board and knives? Store your cookware according to frequency of usage—the pots and pans you use most often come up front. The same way with your dry pantry—ingredients you use most frequently take front line on the shelf. If you keep bumping into something every time you cook, that something is obviously out of place—store it somewhere else. Give away the equipment you never use.
- Plan your cooking ahead: Become familiar with the recipes, decide on quantities, and get the ingredients and equipment you need.
- Make staples ahead: Ghee once a month, masalas once a week or month; fresh cheese and nut milks up to three days ahead.
- Prep ahead: Chop vegetables the night before to cook them in the morning, especially vegetables that need peeling (chopping vegetables into smaller pieces will speed up cooking time). Portion things out, line up the spices, salt, and oil—have the dry ingredients ready to go.
- When you only have fifteen minutes to fix a meal: Choose quick-cooking vegetables that do not need peeling such as zucchini or yellow squash, asparagus, fennel, cabbage, leafy greens, green beans, and broccoli.
- Begin your cooking with starting a pot or a kettle with hot water: Use it for your soups, grains, vegetables, and teas.
- Prep vegetables used in later steps while your first step of cooking is underway: For example, in the Red Protein Soup, you can peel and chop the beets while the lentils are coming to a boil. In the Stir-Fried Red and Black Rice you can julienne and stir-fry the vegetables during the thirty minutes while the rice is cooking. You get the idea.
- Create a meal in an efficient sequence: Consider soaking time and start with dishes that take longer to cook (soups, stews, braises, roasts) and dishes that need to cool down to be served at room temperature or chilled (many desserts, some chutneys). Leave the faster cooking dishes that are best served steamy hot for last (grains, vegetables).
- If you are taking food to work, prepare your food containers and food bag: Use food thermoses and a thermal bag to keep your home-cooked meals fresh and hot.
- Use a slow cooker: Set it up at night for making breakfast or lunch to take to work the next day or start it in the morning so your food will be ready when you get back home.
- Use a pressure cooker (especially for legumes): It saves on cooking time up to 70 percent.