In What Would Nigella Do we explore the basics of cooking and being comfortable in a kitchen. The title is a hat-tip to our favourite home cook who approaches cooking with resourcefulness, practicality, and most importantly, a sense of humour. Although this is a series that may appear to be directed at beginners alone, it is also for that cook who makes the perfect pavlova, but never seems to get that pot of rice right. In the time of MasterChef and molecular gastronomy, we are sometimes a little sheepish to ask the seemingly obvious questions. When faced with such a dilemma, we ask ourselves, What Would Nigella Do?
I’ve lived in three cities (and a small town) in my 20s. There are very few things I love as much as moving to a new place and getting to know a city. Growing accustomed to the way the city sounds, discovering its many nooks and crannies, figuring out where to get the best coffee, these are all things that make me secretly want to live in as many cities as I can before I have to pick a home.
I recently moved again, a few months ago, and this time it was different because I was going to be living on my own. I was faced with setting up a kitchen for the first time, and although I am the proud owner of a 4-piece Falcon baking set, I owned little else by way of kitchen essentials.
Even though I did spend a month boiling pasta in a pressure cooker (with the lid off, of course), I finally feel like my kitchen now has the basic wherewithal to feed myself interesting, albeit simple meals in a way that won’t make me want to order take-out everyday.
If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer variety of pots, pans and kitchen tools that a simple Google search reveals, this list is for you. Recently, I noticed that I reach for the same few pans and tools over and over again. I am here to tell you that it is possible to cook versatile meals with a few well thought-out utensils and tools. A note on the sizes of the pots and pans – I generally cook for one or two people, unless I’m cooking for the week, in which case I make bigger batches of food. The sizes of the pans I suggest below assume that you’re cooking for two. If you have a larger family to feed, or more space, you would do well to buy a size bigger than the ones I mention here.
In Your Kitchen Drawer
A silicone, heat-resistant spatula – It might not seem like an essential, but it is the one kitchen tool I use every day. Whether for scrambling eggs, making curry or sautéing vegetables, this is my go-to tool. Since it is flexible, it lets you get into the corners of the pan. When transferring food from pan to plate, it gets every single drop off the pan, which also makes washing up easier.
Chef knife – The chef knife is a versatile, multi-purpose knife that is perfect for a variety of tasks – mincing, slicing, and chopping vegetables. It is also useful for slicing and disjointing large cuts of meat.
Paring knife – Also a versatile knife, the paring knife is smaller than a chef knife and comes in handy for finer knife movements like peeling fruits and vegetables.
Tin opener – There really is nothing more filling or quick to throw together together than a tuna sandwich or salad. For days when I don’t want to make too many decisions about my meals, a tin of tuna is my go-to option. The first time I made a tuna sandwich at home, however, I had to open the tin with paper scissor, which taught me the importance of a tin opener.
A big ladle – For soups and gravies, a big ladle saves serving time (ensuring that you get to drink your soup hot!) as well as reduces mess.
A deep pot – I have a stainless steel pot with a non-stick lining, that has an 8-cup capacity, and it is the perfect pot to make soups, stock, as well to boil pasta. If you’re having people over, it’s also the right size to make enough ghee rice to feed 4 people.
A round-bottomed medium-size pot with lid – This one is a work-horse that comes in handy for making curries and stowing away for the week. It’s also perfect for that quick fried-rice. A stainless steel non-stick pot with a capacity of 4 cups works really well for every-day use.
A frying pan with lid – This is what you would use for sautéing vegetables, searing meat, cooking eggs and basically anything that needs to be lightly fried. I have a non-stick 9-inch pan because I find it makes the perfect quantity to feed myself on a hungry day, but I have my eyes on a cast iron skillet!
A saucepan – Perfect for heating up milk, making quick sauces, or reheating a little bit of dal for lunch. I use one that has a 2-cup capacity.
Tava – For those of you who want to make crispy dosas for breakfast and rotis for lunch, this one is indispensable. My mother would frown if she knew that I suggest using the same for both, but for now, it will just have to do.
I wouldn’t call baking integral to feeding yourself well, but suppose you find yourself with an oven on your hands, don’t let the baking blogs intimidate you. It is possible to be well on your way to being a baker with a few basic pans.
A baking tray – I don’t know about you, but the prospect of roasting chicken for dinner every week is the most exciting part about owning an oven. This tray is also perfect for roasting vegetables, fruits, making cobblers and even brownies.
9-inch/8-inch circular baking tin – This is the standard size for cakes, and most cake recipes will recommend you use either of the two.
Loaf tin – Absolutely not a necessity, but I leave you with two words: banana bread.
Aysha Tanya is the co-founder of Goya Media. When not working at Goya, she enjoys reading and marvelling at the wide range of mustard types available in the supermarket.
Illustration by Tasneem Amiruddin.