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While cleaning the pantry yesterday, I found some of my old forgotten cookbooks and my mom’s handwritten recipe book that I hadn’t referred to in a long time. My relationship with cooking has been somewhat similar to raising a family. Sometimes easy to manage and sometimes testing your patience.
As any new bride, those days my trousseau also contained these three cookbooks, one given by a friend’s mom and two by my aunt. I felt confident and well equipped to handle any recipe but after landing in Boulder, Colorado, my confidence plummeted because my equipment was of no use. There was no Indian store for 30 miles and we didn’t have a car. But we managed, started hitching rides with friends, and thus began my adventure with various cuisines.
Soon every letter from home was accompanied with a recipe or two either written or a clipping from a magazine or newspaper that my mom thought I would like or more likely, my husband would like. This was probably because of the popular quote – A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! Those were days before the world wide web and before the dawning of the awareness that cooking is gender-neutral.
Recipes were all handwritten in a book, index card, paper, napkins, receipts, paper towels- anything you could find! At times not every ingredient and quantity was mentioned or the method understood. A frantic phone call would follow for clarification, verification, and substitution!
Having grown up in a joint family where cooking was handled by my mom, grandma, and aunts, I never learned cooking and my talent was limited to making tea, maggie noodles, boiling eggs, and upma. Cooking was an elaborate process at home, as we prepared for a five-course meal. Rice, chappatis, a dry palya, a kootu or kolumbu or gojju (vegetable in a sweet & tangy gravy), rasam or sambhar, and of course yogurt.
One of My Mom’s Recipes
- 3 – 4 medium size tomatoes chopped
- 1 tsp tamarind paste
- 1 2” cube of jaggery or 2 tbsp brown sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1tbsp oil
- ¼ tsp Rasam powder (any brand)
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- ¼ tsp cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp chana dal (split Bengal gram)
- ¼ tsp urad dal (split and husked black gram)
- 2 dried red chilis whole
- A sprig of curry leaves
Heat oil in a skillet, and add the mustard seeds. When it starts to splutter add the rest of the tempering ingredients and once the lentils turn brown add the tomatoes, tamarind paste, salt, rasam powder, & jaggery and cook till the desired consistency (semi-thick gravy) is reached. Garnish with a tsp of fresh chopped cilantro and serve with hot chappatis.
Adding to the Repertoire
Like any art form, cooking requires patience and passion. There are many who believe in preparing and serving elaborate meals but I have always believed that as long as a dish is palatable, appeals to your tastebuds, and satiates your hunger, it is good food.
Today, even after thirty long years, I am still a novice when it comes to preparing a good, sumptuous meal. It has been quite an experience and a fascinating journey trying to find new and interesting recipes. Recently many new dishes have been finding their way onto my dining table, thanks to the pandemic. Food bloggers, foodies, and chefs have made it so easy to find any recipe. There are numerous YouTube videos, TV channels, social media pages, and groups, where you can find a variety of national & international tried and tested recipes! If you’re looking to try something new, Rajma Chawal is one of my new comfort foods.
Cooking a meal is just a small part of the process. Preparation is time-consuming but what about the presentation? These days Facebook and Instagram are full of photos of food especially since cooking has become fast, easy, and appealing since the invention of Instant Pot.
I marvel at people who can not only cook delectable and elaborate meals but also present it aesthetically and actually make it look like a signature dish. I neither have their patience nor the passion for cooking and presenting. But I do enjoy whipping up good dishes from time to time and elaborate dishes depending on my mood. Cooking is a personal experience and sometimes a single comfort food goes a long way than a few exquisite dishes.
Anita R Mohan is a poet and a freelance contributor who loves to write on various themes. She mainly writes about women, India, Indian life, and culture. She likes to bring everyday mundane objects to life.