“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child
Wedding Bells and Curry Spills… TV blaring in the background, pressure cooker whistling, incoming work emails, dryer 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 flavors, 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 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 anytime soon. When my MIL 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. The Husband 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 few 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.
I’m often asked what was the first thing I cooked for The Husband, and as much as I would love to say Chicken Dum Biryani, Butter Chicken or Aloo ka Paratha, it was not. The first meal I cooked for him was a simple staple that many Desi’s (South Asian’s) grow up on: Dal Saabzi. In our house dal (soupy lentils) and saabzi (a vegetable side dish) is always a part of dinner. When I had first asked The Husband which dals he preferred his answer was “the yellow one… oh and black”. That didn’t really help much as there are at least 3-4 different types of “yellow” dal. I decided to make my favorite yellow dal, Toor ki dal (also known as Tuvar dal, split yellow pigeon peas). Jeera Aloo saabzi, cumin roasted potatoes, 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. Toor ki Dal & Jeera Aloo has now become one of our favorite quick go meals.
I would be grateful to someday influence my children the way my mother 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 flavors, and enjoy family moments while cooking.
Toor ki Dal
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
Wash lentils with water. Pressure cook lentils or boil in deep pan with ginger in a pressure cooker with four cups of water until cooked and soft (approximately 2 whistles if using pressure cooker). 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.
3-4 medium potatoes
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
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 fresh cilantro.
A version of this article was first published in Masala Mommas magazine, an online magazine for today’s South Asian mothers and moms-to-be or moms with a South Asian connection. You can check it out here.
***Reminder that today is the last day to enter in the giveaway. See here for details. I will be revealing the winner the week of March 12th – once I’m back from India! Until then, good luck!***