In most Indian households, a large meal is cooked for a family. In my own house at least 25% of the food that is cooked daily, ends up in the fridge! For that matter, most people save their leftovers in their fridge for later consumption. In my house, leftovers are mostly gone the next day. But then there are times when a 'dudhi ki sabzi' lies in the fridge for over 3-4 days to eventually be laid to rest in the bin.
I've been cooking food along with my mother since I was a child and from all these years of being in the kitchen, I have been trained in how to preserve food in the refrigerator and how to figure out if it's gone bad. The shelf life of a food item is based on the way it is cooked and stored pre consumption and post-consumption.
In our case, most of the food is cooked in the morning. Tiffins are packed, and lunch is kept in containers for everyone at home. What's left post lunch is then set in the fridge and is eaten in the evening for dinner. In a city like Bombay where the humidity is high and summer heat is scorching, bacterial activity in food is bound to happen if left outside the fridge. And practising this for more than a decade has given me a sense of when food in my fridge is no longer fit for consumption. So here are a few tricks and tips I picked up from my own kitchen and kitchens across the city.
When it comes to Curries made with Mutton, Chicken or any sort of meat, consume it within 2-3 days of cooking. Cooked meat is the perfect playground for disease-causing bacteria and all sorts of carcinogens! So trash that week-old butter chicken that has been lying in your fridge. You can’t eat it.
With dal, it is really important that it be properly stored. All types of Dal can turn rancid within one hour of cooking! It is important to keep dal in an airtight container and refrigerate as soon as possible. This way, the Dal lasts for about 4-5 days before it starts developing acidic properties. Another trick I learned, from a hearty chef in Goa, is to half cook a large batch of Dal with just salt and turmeric and store it as a thick paste in the fridge. The paste lasts for over two weeks and all you need to do to prep it is add a bit a water and a nice tadka while boiling the mix. Whenever I have dal in my fridge that is about to go bad, I end up making a delicious batch of Dal Khichdi filled with the goodness of sweet fried onion, green chillies and tons of garlic.
A golden rule that most home chefs and even some professionals go by is to never let a roti sit for more than 24 hours. There are two main reasons that make Rotis inedible after a certain period of time. Rotis get dry and hard after a while, losing all their taste. Also, because of the high humidity in India, there is a major risk of microfungi growing on rotis a day. Eating stale rotis is no fun but a good hack is to crush it into tiny pieces and sauté it with chopped onions and spices. The hardness of your roti will determine whether you end up with a Poha like dish or crunchy Chivda! Another trick is toasting stale rotis with a dab of ghee to make them super hard and flaky. You can later crush these rotis in a bowl and top it off with chilled milk and honey! Homemade cornflakes anyone?
But these hacks only work with home cooked food. In case you’re ordering in, its a whole new story. Saving restaurant cooked food is the worst thing you can do! Most Indian restaurants and eateries source their produce from wholesale markets and stockpile them for days and even month. Meat is frozen in restaurants for weeks sometimes. While these items don't go bad in storage, the moment they are cooked, the tier begins. It’s better to consume them within 12 hours. Because of the poor storage conditions of most of the Indian restaurants, their foods have a high risk of going bad and is basically a hub for all sorts of disease-causing bacteria and viruses.