THE BLOG

Learning to Cook Like My Mother

03/12/2013 05:46 EDT | Updated 05/12/2013 05:12 EDT
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colorful mix of spices on stone ...

TV blaring in the background, pressure cooker whistling, incoming work emails, dyer buzzing away, all while trying to prepare a wholesome and delicious meal for your darling(s) at home. Sound familiar? This is the scene I grew up with, the same craze that occurs in our house today. A scene that as crazy and hectic as it may be, gives me great comfort.

This chaos however, wasn't always as comforting. Growing up my parents were always experimenting with food, farming and flavours, I reaped the benefits of homemade, wholesome dishes on a daily basis. I never truly appreciated the art of cooking until I got married. When my husband and I first got married I would rush home to cook dinner -- something fresh, something fabulous, something to "wow" the foodie husband of mine, and often found myself struggling. It would take me hours to cook a meal, I would run out of ideas or become frustrated with why my food was not tasting like my parents'. (I've come to terms with the latter and accepted that there is always the special ingredient of love in parental cooking that pushes it over the top.)

Another thing that frustrated me was recipes. Where were all of Dadima's/Nanima's passed down recipes?! I remember asking my dad for a kebab recipe one time and he told me that there are no recipes, it just comes to you. Well, it certainly wasn't "coming" to me any time soon. When my mother-in-law and I would have our weekly chats it always would start with what I cooked for dinner or what was for lunch. The pressure was on! Frustrated with my kitchen failures, I made a food diary. The first thing I did was make a list of all the spices and what their translated names were. I knew ajwain was ajwain, we never called it carom seeds. My mom and I made a routine to speak in the evening while cooking dinner together via telephone and I would ask her to guesstimate spice measurements for recipes.

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Healthier Indian Takeout

HD was also a great support in my culinary growth, he was patient, never rushed me, and insisted that I give myself a break and accept that some days are leftover days. Over the past two years I have learned so much and sometimes even impress myself. I remember when I made jalebis for the first time, yes, JALEBIS (something even my mom didn't make) I was over the moon! For some this might not seem like such an accomplishment, but for me it was the "ah ha! I *can* do this" moment. Last February I started a food blog, my culinary adventures, a place to grow and share. I'm often asked what I first cooked for my husband and as much as I would love to say that the first meal I cooked for him was Hydrabadi Dum Biryani, Butter Chicken, or Aloo ka Paratha, it was not.

The first meal I cooked for him was a simple staple that many South Asians grow up on: Toor ki Dal and Jeera Aloo (a stew of split yellow pigeon peas/lentils and cumin roasted potatoes). In our house we always have some type of dal (lentil stew) with dinner. When I had first asked HD which dals he preferred his answer was "yellow... oh and black." That didn't really help much as there are at least three or four different types of "yellow" dal. I decided to make my favourite yellow dal, Toor ki dal.

The Jeera Aloo was the perfect accompaniment, his love for potatoes and my love for something quick and simple. A meal that now takes me no more than 45 minutes to prepare took me over two hours that day. The result, well the plates were clean so they spoke for themselves. This has now become one of our favourite quick go meals. (See recipe below.) I would be grateful to someday influence my children the way my mom has done for me. Growing up, she seemed to do it with such ease & finesse, juggling household chores, chauffeuring us between activities, all while filling our tummies with nutritious and tasty meals. She has inspired me to get comfortable in the kitchen and feel confident in becoming a working mother. Once I become a mother I hope to find a balance in our lives so that I too can involve my children in the kitchen with me, have them experiment with flavours, and enjoy family moments while cooking.

Here are some of my recipes for "go to" meals:

Toor ki Dal

Ingredients:

1 cup of Toor Dal Lentils (Split yellow pigeon peas/lentils) 1 tomato (chopped)

1 teaspoon of Jaggery (crushed) or brown sugar

5-6 curry leaves 1 teaspoon red chili powder 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger (crushed) 2 teaspoons coriander powder 2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon raw mango powder 1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 small green chili

4 cups water

1 tablespoon ghee vegetable oil

Method: Wash lentils with water. Pressure cook lentils with ginger in a pressure cooker with four cups of water until cooked and soft (approximately 2 whistles). In a separate pan heat oil on medium heat. Once hot add green chili, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and cumin seeds. When the mustard and cumin seeds start sputtering add chopped tomato and jaggery (or brown sugar). As the water begins to release from the tomatoes add red chili powder, coriander powder, salt, raw mango powder, and turmeric powder and mix well. Once mixture becomes paste like, add to the soft lentils and bring the stew to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes. Garnish generously with chopped coriander/cilantro leaves.

Jeera Aloo

Ingredients:

3-4 medium potatoes (thinly sliced)

2 teaspoon cumin seeds 1 teaspoon red chili powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder 1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Method: In a wok or deep pan heat oil on medium-low heat. Add cumin seeds. Once the seeds start to sputter add the potatoes and cover for 15-18 minutes, mixing every 5 minutes. Once potatoes begin to soften add the turmeric, coriander powder, red chili powder, cumin powder, and salt. Fry for 10-15 minutes until potatoes are cooked. Garnish with chopped coriander/cilantro leaves.

By Nisha Vedi Pawar, follow Nisha @lovelaughmirch

Read more about recipes and South Asian food on Masalamommas.com