Recently, I had a lot of locally grown carrots from a shoot and they were so sweet and mellow in flavour, I couldn't bring myself to cook with them. Though the likes of carrot halwa and carrot pancakes played on my mind for a long time, I eventually just made this simple carrot salad which we pretty much ate back to back for days until we got sick of it! Then last week, I made it to family barbecue party as a side and it went down in no time.
One hot scorching summer day, some odd 10 years ago, I found myself sitting on my great grandmother's bed while she lay on it. She bore no resemblance to my grandmother but her skin firmer than any other 90 year old I knew, a blessing of porcelain like firm skin that most of my maternal aunts, Ammi and Grandma inherited. She had been living in this tiny hometown nestled in the deep south of Rajasthan all her life and I had never really heard of her from my grandma. I believe, there must be no story to be told. Grandma was a child bride and I imagine she couldn't remember much of the time spend with her mother. But that day amongst the packing up we were to do as our vacation in India came to an end, Grandma dragged me to see her ailing mother with a sudden sense of emergency. I nervously asked her, if there was anything in particular I have to say or do. She gave it a thought, looking out of the auto ricksha at the green farmlands that are ample in this area despite being a desert. She ran her right hand over her eyebrows as she often does when saying something important. "Kiss her hand and just listen to her", she said.
As we walked into the house, we were first greeted by the aroma of freshly sizzled khada masala (whole spices) that got intertwined with the stale smell of medicines, as grandma guided me to her mother's room. I sniffed the ittar that lingered on my clothes to clear the sickness inducing smell of medicines.
My great grandmother lay on a much wider single bed than the standard size, which looked even larger against her fragile, bony structure. The hand woven cotton stuffed thick soft mattress fell slightly off the edges of the bed, while the pillow hard as stone nestled her grey but lush head. I bowed down on the bed, picked up her hand between my two palm and kissed them placing it back on her side. Her hands might have felt like a pile of skin but her greyed eyes tracked my every moment. I took up the chair next to the bed but she immediately in a low murmur asked me to sit on the bed next to her.
I don't tend to write about my father whom we affectionately call Pappa a lot around here. Apart from the fact that we grew up in a household where women solely managed and ran the kitchen, my father and I coherently had opposite views and values when it came to food. He, being a man of small appetite, consciously calculating what and how much he eats, reluctant to try new flavours, in general incurious about food. Whereas I, from the time I remember love food and was a good eater even as a toddler (which apparently my wee one didn't inherit). The first thing my Ammi told me when I got married and moved away was 'I miss cooking for you'.
To be fair, some things do excite him. Fresh caught fish which he would scale and clean himself. Freshly caught wild rabbit that he would slaughter, skin and cut. Free range hen from his friend's farm and mangoes that he would pluck himself from my maternal grandma's farm trees. Considering our lives in Kuwait didn't allow wild rabbit or any of those things often, he was left with only his usualdalrotirequest for meals. Occasionally he would request mutton curry simply stewed with spices, tomatoes and onions for 3-4 hours. That was his guilty pleasure, red meat in moderation he often told us.
Of the many things he doesn't like (creamy curries, noodles, pastas and sandwiches) Indo-Chinese is high up there. And that, if you are Indian family can be catastrophic. Indo-Chinese, much like American-Chinese is a bastardised version of Chinese food, where the only common is use of soy sauce and high heat stir fry method. Sweet, salty, garlicky, laced in oil and umami flavours of soy, Indians can get teary eyes talking about their love for hakka noodles, crispy chili dripping chicken, velvety brownish grey sauces coated manchurians 'curries', dramatically red hued szechwan 'chutney', fried rice, the list is endless. Each state has a slightly different version and has taken different influences from the Chinese. But my favourite is the use of curry leaves and mustard seeds down south in the Kerala-Chinese cuisine. But that's for another day - I have a family recipe from my mother in law which is to die for.
In my late teens, the only time Ammi (my mother) would ever send me in the kitchen was when she was knee deep busy with wedding preparation of so and so cousin. She would call me, with perhaps four bags in both her hands, breathing heavy with harsh summer sun tingling and irritating her eyes I'll imagine. 'Please soak three handful of rice' she would say. How much is a handful of rice? Isn't my hand much larger than your petite and slender hands? But there was no room for questions or explanations. She had to step into another store to buy more things.
Happy New Year everyone! Hope you are onto to your 'January' healthy eating resolutions! While I can almost never make resolutions, I plan to work out (sorely lazy at it) harder than ever because we do eat moderately well balanced food otherwise. One thing that really helps is to have some dips and relishes in the fridge for times I crave something hearty but not necessarily skinny. Last evening snack was this relish and I realised I had this post in drafts for over a year.
It was a cool breezy summer evening in Turkey, some four years back when we first had the relish. Antiochia, the restuarant was busy and buzzing with people, but also had a sort of mystical aura in its setting in the old European district of Beyoğlu. We happened to get talking with our neighbouring table (yes, tables are that close! or at least were that day) a Swiss couple living in Turkey, helped us select items from the menu. It could be their expertise or the chef's perfection but everything tasted beyond delicious. One thing in particular, that won us over mostly because of its cheer simplicity was the red and green bell pepper walnut relish.
When we came to Kuwait some 7 years ago, we lived in a different, much older building that overlooked a busy and bustling shopping lane. Most of my days were spend filling up forms and applying for jobs or cooking up storms with food network always playing in background. You could find me, either mimicking Nigella Lawson while stirring my pot of stew, or practising my British accent every time Gordon Ramsay came on. Those were the shaping years of my cooking style and opened up a whole new world of food for me. I cooked 5 meals a day, dessert included.
One such December day, when whole of Kuwait was enveloped in fog, I starred down at the large hoardings of sales and flickering red and blue lights, keeping cozy with warm, dark and hot chocolate mug in my rabbit fur socks (which are now buried deep into suitcases of memories), while Jamie cooked a Christmas feast on television. I snapped out of my trace, eager to cook. It could be his darling lisp or sheer passion for food, that inspired me to cook a Christmasy feast that day.