Like every good Indian kid, I claim that my mom is the bestest cook in the world. This may be an exaggeration, but several of my friends and family members concur that she is among the best home cooks they know of. Her food is mostly simple home-cooked fare, the kind of food that’s cooked every day across millions of homes in India. But it’s confoundingly delicious.
When I moved out of Mumbai last year, Mom narrated some of her recipes to me which I typed into my laptop or tapped into my phone and saved on Evernote. Dishes like gobi aloo, rajma and even chutney. She often began by saying, “There’s no recipe for this”, but when I insisted, she thought it through, and today the couple of dozen of my mom’s recipes that I’ve acquired are an absolute treasure.
In a foreign land, her recipes help me recreate the experience of her home. The colourful spices in my stainless steel masala box (bought by Mom) have a pride of place on my kitchen counter. As per her instructions, the cumin sputters in hot ghee for the tadka and the onion browns for a long, long time for the gravy base. Aromas of roasting besan and fresh coriander chutney waft around my home today, while sounds of sizzling mustard seeds and knife-on-chopping board echo around my kitchen. It’s just like my childhood, except I’m the one creating food memories. Like with this sweet corn soup:
Of course, my food is nowhere as good as Mom’s. The flavours in her food are much more nuanced, and the textures much more balanced. She cooks with passion, love and lots of fervour, which means there’s a method to her madness. While there may be a big mess on the kitchen counter, the menu and ingredients are all sorted in her head.
I’m still trying to learn her “secrets”. She claims there aren’t any, but I beg to differ. From what I’ve observed in the past few weeks (when she was visiting me), this is what I’ve learnt. And there are many more to go:
How to make curd/ yoghurt: This is practically a science and it was an important part of my daily diet growing up. But I’ve been spending our hard-earned money on buying supermarket yoghurt. After various attempts with different starter cultures and milk brands, Mom finally hit the right formula that works for me. So it’s fresh dahi everyday! I can’t even explain how grateful I am.
Kheer and phirni: I’m not a big fan of Indian desserts, or even desserts in general, but these two dishes were an absolute delight when she cooked them. So yes, I’ve noted them down already though not attempted them yet.
Patience: Each dish requires a certain amount of time to be cooked, and if you don’t give it that much time, it just won’t be right. Patience is key here, whether cooking Indian food or otherwise.
Oye Punjabi: Punjabi food, especially Amritsari food is a very distinct cuisine. I’ve got some command over the basics of Punjabi food now, but there’s so much more to learn. But beyond the dishes, Mom’s demystified some exotic-sounding ingredients like aamchoor (dried mango powder), ajwain (carom seeds) and anardana (dried pomegranate seeds).
Reinvention: Now that S has banned sugar at home, we’re using stevia. Mom had never even heard of it, but now cooks with it and sometimes skips a sweetener altogether though her original recipe called for it. And even though all Indian ingredients aren’t available here, she adapted some recipes to cook delicious meals without them.
Attention to detail: Don’t forget to sprinkle of black pepper powder at the end, or to garnish with fresh coriander leaves. Or that this curry needs fewer curry leaves than the other one. These tiny touches make all the difference.
Happy Mothers’ Day!