Rice loving South Indians worship the pressure cooker. There is no doubt about that. But until recently, most households used the pressure cooker only to boil rice and lentils. However, a closed group on Facebook has changed all that.
Welcome to the world of paneer butter masalas, dum briyanis, chicken gravy, methi malai muttar, venn pongal, sakkarai pongal, kali, sambar, rasam, pasta and wait for it… tea, to come out of a pressure cooker. The One Pot One Shot (OPOS) cooking style is a patented technique owned by Ramakrishnan, who is the administrator of the Facebook group 'United by Food'. OPOS is also a copyrighted term.
Spearheaded by the rebellious cook who dares to defy every single rulebook there is in the culinary world, OPOS, as the name suggests, uses one pot (a 2 ltr pressure cooker generally), aligns the ingredients in a specific way, uses standardised equipment and sticks to standardises recipe cards so that the results don’t vary significantly.
The OPOS way
For a successful Facebook group, the community does not have huge numbers. It has around 5000 members and maintains the numbers diligently. Spring cleaning is always around the corner and non-participants are shown the door.
The group thrives with people posting their experiments on their way to standardisation. And these experiments, repeated attempts help achieve perfect results. For example, when the team suggested Mysore Pak with a pressure cooker, naysayers and even the believers laughed and thought it was a bluff. But within a few months, the perfect Mysore Pak was achieved and the group was flooded with photos of the royal sweet.
The group has a very South Indian focus but they branch out beyond Tamil Nadu's Venn Pongal, Kerala’s Mezhuguperatti, Karnataka’s Bisebele Bath, Andhra and Telangana’s Gutti Venkaya Kurra to pastas, bhapa doi (a soft Bengali cheesecake), North India’s Methi Malai Mattars and much more.
The group has members from all walks of life. The standard recipes that have been proven to work by hundreds (literally, 100s of people try out these recipes) within the group. So, even before you start off with your induction stove and cooker, you know what the possible outcomes and shortfalls could be.
Busy mothers who have toddlers, jobs and minimal help from others find that their kitchen time has come down drastically. Breaking free from the stove is something the group promises and delivers. When you have a toddler who searches for electric sockets to mess with when left alone for a minute, it’s a boon to cook hands free. You assemble the cooker and leave the kitchen while the magic happens.
If you have busy schedules, you can always prepare the previous evening (chopping vegetables, marinating etc) and go the OPOS way. And within half an hour, you have breakfast to eat right away and lunch to carry.
With summer almost here, South India looks for ways to get out of the kitchen as much as it can. Deepa who works in Mysuru, away from her family cooks for herself on most days. "I use OPOS to make quick khichdi, pongal, and upma. I'm a Telugu woman who loves her biryani and I use OPOS to make just enough for one person."
The average Indian man unfortunaltely does not cook. But given the convenience of the OPOS , many male members have taken to spending time in the kitchen. Remember, those who don’t participate in the group are thrown out, so there is an incentive to keep them going. The group encourages men to cook more than just Maggi noodles and omelettes and men from across age-groups, from young professionals to aged grandfathers experiment with dishes.
Venkat, a consultant who divides his time between Hyderabad and Singapore says he makes a mean biryani, thanks to OPOS videos and recipe cards. For a bachelor who lives in serviced apartments and hotel rooms for extended periods of time, it’s easy to recreate home food with OPOS. "I hate pre and post cooking chores but with OPOS, there’s less to prepare and less to clean up," says Venkat.
Apart from the layperson who cooks every day, there are also well known stalwarts and seniors of the culinary scene who eagerly participate in the forum. And they are happy to lend their recipes to be ‘OPOSed’. Chithra Viswanathan, a septuagenarian famous for her culinary app ChitVish, is part of UBF and encourages newbies to cook.
‘Kannamma Cooks’, a successful Facebook page on South Indian recipes embraces OPOS and posts videos of OPOS recipes, too.
OPOS equipment, all of it, can fit into a small suitcase. If you plan on a month long trip, don’t fret about having to eat out every single day. You can carry your kitchen in a suitcase. All you need is a 2 pin socket for your induction stove.
Charanya Kannan, who’s been in Chennai, Mumbai, Korea and now in Boston doing her MBA says that she would have never tried Mysore Pak or paneer butter masala without OPOS. Today, she cooks confidently not just for herself and her family but for friends who drop in. If only someone finds an instrument to chop Indian vegetables, she broods!
The fine print
The recipes read like instructions for a chemistry experiment. So, you need to follow the time, measurements and number of whistles specified. Or, you end up with a burnt cooker bottom. Sometimes, attempts go haywire and you do have fiascos in the kitchen. For example, Anjali from Bengaluru has tried making ghee from butter twice with the OPOS recipe card. But the recipe has failed her. And she’s had to clean the kitchen of the greasy mess both the times. That’s the catch. Butter differs between brands. Sometimes, our flours and other ingredients are different and the standardisation fails. So, when you try a recipe for the first few times, you need to brace yourself for failure. And you need a backup plan for lunch/dinner.
Hema, a cooking enthusiast from Bengaluru, is an encyclopaedia of authentic Kannadiga recipes. She says she is a "purist" and that this is the reason behind her eternal inertia to try OPOS. "I need the foreplay of cooking, the steam all around my kitchen, the aroma, the sound of mustards crackling around. That is how much I love cooking. OPOS is not for me." Anuradha, an IT manager from Chennai exclaims, "I don’t like that I need the exact equipment to try OPOS."
Suguna Priya runs Le Cinq, Madhapur in Hyderabad. She says, "OPOS works for dal, khichdi and pongal but not for pastas. Vegetables and spices need to be cooked at specific temperatures to get the right flavours. Peppers and broccoli, when cooked with garlic lose their flavour. Peppers have to hold on to their crunch. Overcooked herbs lose punch. I would much rather make my sauces beforehand and toss pasta in the sauce if I need to operate in a quick service restaurant where time is paramount."