Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Indian Cooking Lessons

Two years ago today my former mother in law passed away. I hadn't seen much of her before that after 1998, but I still love her. We didn't always get along well, but we tried. You see, we came from two different cultures, two different parts of the world, and two different generations as well. We had language barriers. We had religious differences. But we had lots in common as well. For example, we both loved her son. And we both loved our family. And we loved eating! Mummy was the one who really taught me how to make Indian food. No matter how much I try I have never been able to duplicate the taste of the food she cooked. I ate Indian food from a lot of different cooks, but I can't say that any of them were any better than Mummy's cooking. I still love Indian food and for the most part, it is my favorite kind of food. There is an Indian restaurant I like to go to when I get the chance, but even there, the food is not as good as what Mummy cooked. I will blame it on the language barriers that keeps me from cooking as well as she did. (NOT--I just couldn't get the hang of getting the spices combined properly.)
When my husband and I first got married and I tried to make Indian curry for him, it usually turned out okay, but this odd shade of olive green. Then I started collecting Indian cookbooks, which helped somewhat and gave me ideas about other things to cook. Our first apartment had a small size stove right next to a wall and when we left that apartment, we also left a yellow/green steam stain on the wall where I cooked my curries. It wasn't until Mummy came to live with us temporarily that I found out how to make my curries the proper color of brown. And it was such a simple thing. She taught me a lot of little simple things that helped me get my feeble attempts at cooking to turn out a lot better. I will never be able to compete with Indian women who have been cooking this way since they were young, but I can make a pretty good substitute when there is nothing else close enough to call a curry.
I really love Indian breads. I can make those pretty well when I have the opportunity. To do a good job I need lots of counter space and I don't have that luxury at this time. One of my favorite memories is watching Mummy making her Roti (Chapatti). She gave me one of her special rolling pins and later her round bread board she used to roll her round Roti's on. I never could use that board. But watching her fascinated me. Her hands moved so quickly as she would roll the dough, then turn the board, then roll again, then turn the board again, all to make her Roti as perfectly round as possible. Next, she would put the bread in the dry skillet, which was not a skillet as we know it. She would fry the bread on one side, spinning it around in the pan with her fingers, then when she knew it was done enough on one side, she would pick it up, again with her fingers, and flip it over and spin it until finished. One day she told me that she placed the finished Roti properly on the serving plate (covered with foil so as to wrap the Roti later) so that the first side cooked was on top. The reasoning she gave was that the first side cooked was nicer looking than the other side and should always be placed on top to make the serving plate look better. Also, the breads needed to be placed on top of each other evenly so as to make it more pleasing to the eye. Shoot, I couldn't even get my Roti to be round the right way. I remember the first ones I made looked like footballs. But, I could make mine puff up like they were supposed to do while cooking. And forget using my fingers to do the frying. I used a spatula.
I still have that rolling pin, round bread board, and even the frying pan. The handle disappeared from the frying pan years ago while we all still lived together. I can't even remember the proper name of the pan. But I remember cooking with Mummy and that is something I will never forget.
Someday soon I hope to put some of the good recipes I learned from Mummy here in this blog. Until then, and until next time....

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