In my days living in the hostel and then in our own place I learned a lot of shortcuts to good cooking. Though I love cooking, I love it even more if I can find an easier way to do it.. The satisfaction of having a good meal without having a state of the art kitchen and a chef's certificate, is indeed immense!! Here are a few things that I do. Of course it does help that we are in the food business so I have access to some things quite easily...like fried onions, fried garlic, ginger garlic paste, etc. But most of this stuff is easily available or is easy to make..
You can start with a hot plate or a gas burner...either works well, though a gas burner is far cheaper as far as fuel costs go. If you are using a hot plate make sure your cooking vessels have a flat base. No round bottomed kadais or woks.
I like to have a couple of good quality non-stick pans, apart from a pressure cooker, a few dekchis/ bowls etc and a selection of wooden or metal cooking spoons/spatulas, etc
You must invest in a small onion chopper. There are really nice ones by Black & Decker….mine is now more than 10 years old and its going strong. You can also buy a ‘stick mixie’ …the ones that look like a longish stick with a blade at one end. These come with a few jars and can do a little more than basic chopping.
And you must have a good knife. I don’t let anyone use mine. It’s a big one, serrated, and it’s a dream to use. Find one that you like and hang on to it!! And you must have a chopping board. Buy an acrylic one…they’re available everywhere. They’re easy to clean and maintain.
Stuff to stock in your pantry...
A basic selection of spices and powders..turmeric, chilli, jeera, dhania, garam masala, pepper, salt (of course!!) and whatever ready mixes you might like...rasam powder, sambar powder, chicken masala, biryani masala, chhole masala, etc.
I'm a great fan of the readymade gravy mixes that are availabe...Parampara, etc. And of course...you must have ginger and garlic paste, you can stock them separately pasted or in combination.
Basic staples like rice, dal, oil and onins, potatoes, garlic pods.
If you have a fridge (which is difficult if you're in a hostel) then the world is your onion :) Stock it well! Stock up on whatever non veg foods you like…fish, chicken, mutton, mince, etc., and have paneer, green peas, frozen corn too.
Most big cities have supermarket chains that sell pre-cut vegetables, sometimes even in combination…Chinese stir fry, sambar vegetables or individual veggies sliced or diced. I have even seen trays of salad!! And of course you do get cut mixed fruits too. These might cost a bit more but they do save a hell of a lot of bother.
As you go along your confidence in the kitchen will improve and soon you’ll be eating well and entertaining too!!