How to cook like a human — The cooking basics

Anusha Murthy
6
Min read

Some cooking essentials, that’ll elevate your dish.

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Thanks to the shelter-in-place restrictions, a lot of us have been stepping into the kitchens a lot more. For some of us, this might be the very first time as well.

As a new cook, while you’re learning to cook, there are often some roadblocks that we run into. Salvaging those, needs Google, our favourite cooking expert on Facetime with the recipe video running, all at once.

If cooking something is as easy as following a recipe, we’d all be great cooks. But that’s seldom the case. And it’s not just you. Recipes are just directions and at best, approximations of what ingredients to use. And very few recipes focus on inexperienced cooks. Sometimes, recipes aren’t even tested before they’re published on a website. But recipes rarely teach you why are you doing something.

Knowing enough cooking to make tweaks to a recipe, takes a lot of practice and preparation. But knowing where you’re going wrong could help you accelerate your knowledge.

Here are some basics that you can watch out for in your recipe to make sure you take your dish to the right note and it turns out successful.

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Understanding doneness
“Saute the onions until they turn golden brown.”

If you consider a recipe as a set of processes and grasp where one process ends and another begins, it solves half your cooking battles. Often, we don’t know if something is cooked enough or sometimes we end up overcooking something.

To avoid this and make sure your dish turns out consistently well, layering ingredients is key. Don’t wait until an element is cooked completely — think about how long it’s going to be in the pot, cooking alongside other ingredients.

The basic rule, make sure you add harder vegetables first — they typically take longer to cook and you can time the rest of the ingredients as you go. This rule is applicable mostly, but sometimes runny, watery ingredients like tomatoes may be added earlier — watch out.

We tend to look for visual cues when we’re cooking something. Knowing how brown or what texture something should be is super important while cooking. Colours are one way to know this. Black in most cases, is a no-go zone. And knowing “how brown” are your onions needs some getting used to.

But here’s something you can do: While you’re watching a recipe video, stop it at key points and make a mental note of how the dish should look. This would help you learn if you’re there yet and know what visual cues you should watch out for.

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Difference between 2 and 4, could be a game-changer for your dish. Source: Notacook.com

Understanding Heat:
Heat makes or breaks your dish.

Firstly, read the recipe thoroughly to understand what heat source is being used. Depending on what type is used, your cooking times will vary. Always remember that good cooking is a factor of time and temperature.

Low, high, and medium heat are basic things to make sure your food doesn’t burn. When in doubt, always stick to the lower temperature.

And having the right pan or pot matters as well. In most cases, you only need 3 major items: A small frying pan, a medium-ish pan with a lid, and a medium-sized pot. (Unless you’re cooking for a huge crowd, then borrow)

Understanding measurements
What’s a pinch of salt?

Cooking is a balancing act.

And often we tend to get measurements wrong. If you’re a beginner, invest in a set of measuring cups and spoons, until you get good enough to eyeball measurements. Read the recipe closely to see if the ingredients are measured before or after chopping.

The type of ingredient the recipe uses is also highly important, especially for something like salt. Try using a different type of salt and watch your entire dish jump out. Also, when a recipe calls for a pinch — is it a two-finger pinch or a single finger pinch? Is the salt rock or powdered? The jury is still out on that one, but most food writers are changing the way recipes are made.

Most recipes are quite forgiving when it comes to cooking, but if you’re baking, make precision your friend (oh and also please buy a weighing scale).

💡Helpful links: How to measure

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Most universally, a pinch of salt

Understanding consistency.
Make it jammy but not runny.

Consistency here could refer to both thickness and the act of staying the same. How cooked should something be? How runny is your pasta sauce or stodgy is your risotto? This can be determined by seeing and also tasting while cooking something. Plus, ask yourself what are you eating with the dish — rice, bread etc.

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Stir carefully and watch over as you get the perfect creamy consistency of risotto

When it comes to repeating your dishes often and making sure it looks or stays the same. Bookmark your recipes and add notes to yourself there — so you make a better version of the same recipe as you go.

Closing the loop: Always taste as you go

Thankfully we’re humans, and we have a great feedback loop ala our taste buds to tell us how something tastes. Taste as you go and adjust seasoning so you get a great balanced meal. Too spicy? Add sugar or acid (lemon juice), too salty? Add baking soda (a great absorber which soaks up everything). Fixing your dishes is simple, but first, you have to taste and then Google frantically to fix things.

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Always taste as you go

What goes behind cooking like a human is a series of not-so-complicated steps that require the beautiful blend of both science and art. So go ahead and perfect that dish!

Some resources:

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Here at Nymble, we are learning to cook while teaching Julia, our smart cooking robot, to whip up nutritious and fresh meals for everyone. The four basic building blocks we spoke about are what make our proprietary technology for making Julia a great cook.

Julia consists of a multiplicity of sophisticated sensors ranging from visual cameras which help Julia “see” changes happening to the food, to load and thermal sensors which measure weight and temperature of ingredients being cooked. These have helped Julia develop cooking chops that rival the best in the business.

If you’d like to take Julia for a trial run and join our early access waitlist, drop us a note.

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