Sunday, August 11, 2013

Trials and Errors in the Indian Kitchen

(For Valentine's Day 2011, I cooked husband-ji Mirchi Bhaji, Tomato aloo curry, and my famous Kheer)

As many of my readers know, I learned how to cook from my beloved husband-ji who is an excellent cook. Yes, when I met him, I couldn't even turn the rice cooker on! In the past 7 years we have been together, husband-ji and my MIL have become my cherished cooking gurus.

The difficulty with Indian cooking is that many dishes contain lots of different vegetables (each which take their own time to cook) and lots of different spices (many look the same color). It has definitely been a challenge for me, with many trials and errors - but  I can safely say I've gotten to a point where even Indians cannot tell that it is cooked by a non-Indian!

Husband-ji is not known for his organizational skills. And I don't know what spice is which unless it has a label on it (how OCD Western woman of me!) Sometimes he puts other spices in a jar forgetting to change the label. For example, one time I decided to cook Dry Aloo Curry and I reached for the chilli powder, not knowing that husband-ji had put the Rasam powder into that jar, and forgot to change the label (they are the same color of red). So I went on with my cooking...making the Aloo with rasam powder instead of chilli powder. When husband-ji went to have dinner, he spit the whole thing up!!!! "What did you DO to it?" he said, horrified. Then we had realized what happened. Of course, I wasn't able to tell the difference, so I got to eat the whole dish happily! Rasam powder Aloo curry...a new Whindian invention! (I know all my Indian readers must be either laughing or gagging...

Even after 7 years, I'm still the worst chopper. My knife skills are really borderline retarded. And husband-ji likes all the vegetables cut extremely small, of course. That, I cannot do. I'm really too A.D.D. in the kitchen to cut the vegetables that small without cutting my finger is impossible. So it's either sacrificing my finger...or husband-ji will just have to force himself to chew more! I think it takes me twice as long to cook something because I take so long chopping. And chopping an onion... forget it! My eyes are extremely sensitive to onions to the point where I HAVE to wear onion goggles and gloves. I'm not being dramatic. When I chop an onion, I start crying like crazy. And when husband-ji is cooking onion chutney, I literally walk around the house like a blind person for like, 3 days. Oh, the sacrifices of an Indian wife...

For some reason I'm always hungrier than the average person - and post-pregnancy I'm crazy hungry (moms, you know what I mean). I always have to make sure I eat something before I start cooking an Indian dish, or at least have some nuts to snack on...or else I'll have a complete world class meltdown. I get "hangry" - "hungry+angry" very fast!!!

It's harder when my MIL is visiting because she spoils all of us by doing all the cooking. It makes both me and husband-ji totally lazy where we are just eating ALL DAY. The two last times she was here I didn't learn a single thing except how much food I can stuff in my mouth, in one go. All of my friends were like, "What the hell, you should've video'd her cooking so you can learn the dishes!" but I was too busy being a spoiled, lazy Indian wife/DIL!

Luckily, Indian food is great for leftovers too, whether it be the next day or a few days after. If you have any leftover rice you can make a pulao or pudina rice (aloo mint rice).

It took me about a good 4 years to learn my way around the Indian kitchen. As well as learning from my two guru's, I also took 2 Indian Vegetarian Cooking classes by Tahera Rawji, which really helped. I love to take cooking classes, as I learn better visually. That is where I learned my famous Kheer dish, in which three of my Indian girl cousins have asked for the recipe (you know it's a hit when that happens!) I also like to pick up cookbooks on my trips to India, like Tarla Dalal's Dal cookbook. The Indian cookbooks in the West are either full of meat dishes, or too fusion-y - I guess because it's geared to what Westerners would buy. Everybody in Vancouver is crazy about Vij's cookbook which is basically fusion food. I can't stand his cookbook - it's like Indian food for white people (you'll never see an Indian eating in his restaurant...sorry Vij, but it's true...)

Interestingly enough, even though husband-ji is South Indian, the majority of the dishes I know how to make are North Indian dishes. I have no idea why..?

(I'm absolutely crazy about Mirchi bhaji - how Hyderabadi of me!)

So here is my Indian cooking resume (OMG I sound like a matrimonial ad..!):
Other than my excellent chai, I can cook Kheer, Aloo jeera, most Pulao's, Rajma, Aloo masala capsicum, Tomato Dal, Spinach dal, Rasam, Aloo gobi, veg Pakora, Mirchi bhaji, Bhindi masala, Aloo mutter, and Beetroot masala. I am still in the process of learning how to make idly, veg biriyani, and Pudina rice...(not perfected yet) As you can see, husband-ji's favorite vegetable is Aloo - so as long as I serve him aloo, he's happy (which is pretty easy to handle, for a lazy Indian wife like me!)

Usually in a South Indian home, a meal is: a curry (or 2), rice/chapati, sambhar/dal, and rasam. Dessert is usually not required, but if you are having a dinner party, it is. Most Indians will be shocked to know that I can't cook Sambhar, as that is a staple in a South Indian house. But husband-ji manages just fine with his Rasam instead, thank god

Maya has inherited her father's Indian taste buds and she loves food with a lot of flavour. She likes spicy things and lemon/lime tasting things. At 14 months old, she's crazy about rice mixed with Mango pickle (what an Andhra girl!), idly, and any spicy aloo, just like her dad! She really has the best of both worlds...


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8 comments

  1. Interesting parallels between you and my wife-ji at home :) And she gets "hangry" too....how weird is that?!

    My older one used to like mango pickles like Maya but that was a few years ago when my parents were here. I am a big fan of Andhra pickles but I don't encourage anyone else at home to get hooked to it, since, after all, the nutritional content of most Indian pickles is probably close to zero :)

    I am assuming you are vegetarian? We are but it is hard to find other Whindians in that sub-category :)

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    1. That's so funny! You better cook the food fast for her before she gets hangry! Hahaha..
      OMG I didn't know Andhra pickles had no nutritional value, of course that's why they're so addictive, makes sense now!
      Husband-ji doesn't allow me to cook non-veg in the house (I don't know how anyway) but sometimes I take chicken/fish outside. But I eat less since I'm used to eating vegetarian all the time.
      My husband is a strict vegetarian, no egg or yogurt even, no alcohol, like a good Brahmin boy..lol

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  2. Hahaha speaking of Errors in the Indian kitchen, I was cooking Kashmiri Dum Aloo the other day, and the recipe said "Heat 4 tablespoons oil in another pan. Add bay leaves and asafoetida and sauté for 30 seconds." and then the next step was "Add 1/3 cup water". Well, having barely any experience, I added 1/3 cup water to oil. And what happens when you add water to boiling oil? Apparently the whole thing catches fire. Next thing I knew I had a four foot flame coming out of my pan (gas stove apparently didnt help)! Ahhh... Scary, luckily no one was hurt, and nothing was ruined. Dont know if I'll ever try that recipe again.

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    1. OMG how frightening! It's hard to concentrate when they're are so many different spices and vegetables...I have ADD in the Indian kitchen, lol

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  3. My sister-in-law (with whom I was staying in Hyderabad before our wedding) once told me to add the spices to the rasam she'd started on the stove since she had to go visit her daughter's doctor. She asked me several times whether I thought I could handle putting the masalas in and I assured her it'd be JUST FINE. After she left and I was alone in a strange kitchen where spice jars obviously had no labels I reached for what, judging from the smell, I figured was rasam powder.

    While we were eating my sister-in-law kept telling me the rasam tasted funny. I later showed her the jar I'd used for the rasam powder. That's when she told me it was sambar masala. (I seriously could not tell the difference and I did not consider the incident to be a major faux-pas, but she took it as another example of "nonexistent cooking skills by her white to-be sister-in-law". D'oh! She's come around since then tho.)

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    1. OMG hilarious!!!!! Yes, they all look the same, dark red powders, smelling ever-so-slightly different with no labels at all! Hubby thinks that I am sooooo anal putting labels on everything but I seriously need them!

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  4. Just this past weekend I had my husband label ALL of our Indian cooking supplies - spices, powders, and lentils alike. Previously, I would have to text or call him and ask him what the specific item looked like and what kind of container it was in. For everyone's taste-bud safety, I think labels are the way to go. :-)

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    1. Great idea, I totally agree - you HAVE to have them labeled! I have gotten in so many fights with my hubby just for phoning him at work and him trying to explain which bottle is which, he thinks I should be able to know by smelling it!!! Like, hello, they all smell spicy and fragrant!!! I dunno!!! LOL!

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