I used to think I was a foodie, till I met my significant other. I cook, he cooks. I enjoy eating good food and so does he. But the difference is that he started cooking out of what one can conveniently label as ‘interest’ while I had to do it out of necessity. For him, cooking is a stress reliever. And he is someone who is ready to spend a fortune on a good cookbook. I? I cook only when I feel too lazy to go out or if I’m broke (which happens more frequently than the former). I cook all the basic items: rice, dal, all kinds of sabzi (fried, steamed and boiled) and of course, pulav (believe me, it’s the best option when you don’t want to wash too many dishes).
No, I’m not a vegan. No, I don’t cook non-vegetarian dishes (except perhaps omelet and bullseye). But, I eat anything that moves. My love for animals and birds has never stopped me from enjoying a good meal. He is good with non-vegetarian dishes. He is known for his excellent skills in cooking meat. I have had the privilege of tasting his mutton which was apparently some difficult Arabic thing. Oh yeah…he is known for cooking/experimenting with foreign recipes. Arabian, Italian, Mexican, Persian…(he has probably tried Asgardian recipes). I, who have always been proud of my cooking skills, felt like a total loser when I met him. He became that one person who would never ‘need’ me for my cooking. Why would a guy who can make his own Mexican omelet need a woman who boasts about her dal makhani and bhindi aloo (for those who haven’t read my post about aloo, I cannot imagine a single dish without it)?
But, I was not totally right. Once, he called me up from his cousin’s place. He told me that he was cooking for his cousin’s kids. Apparently, they got bored with his pasta and other alien stuff. They wanted a proper Indian meal. So, Mr.I’m-the-best-cook-in-the-world had decided to make rice and dal. The problem was he didn’t know the rice-water proportions. I felt so ‘superior’ at that moment. I had finally found something to tease him about. Of course, his dal came up pretty ‘edible’ (that’s what he claims…I never really got a chance to ask the kids). But he often tells me that the dal I make is quite ‘unique’. Of course, it is. Nobody knows the recipe. Not even me. I have never really tried following a recipe. I started cooking when I was thirteen and I used to invent my own recipes. Soon, it became a habit. My ‘invention technique of cooking’ was a secret for a long time…
My parents had gone out and I was at home with my (then) two year old sister (and I was fifteen…that’s not very old). Suddenly, my sister had a craving for something sweet. I searched the entire house and there were no chocolates or toffees. And she, in her toddler’s voice, tries to be very mature and says, “It’s okay. I can wait till Mom and Dad return.”
Ouch! That hurt. A lot. Suddenly there was a surge of this ‘I’m-the-elder-sibling-who’s-ready-to-starve-to-feed-my-little-sister’ emotion. I told her that I would make something for her (though I had no clue what). I went into the kitchen and looked for things that would give me an idea. There was milk, sugar, ghee, raisins and there were lots of carrots. I gave my sister a victorious smile.
“I’m going to make gajar ka halwa.” I told her. (I hate people who call it ‘carrot pudding’).
She was excited. She said she would like to watch me making it. I made her sit on the dining table and started peeling the carrots. She stared at me in amazement. For her, somebody who can use a knife without cutting their fingers must have appeared like a genius. I felt like an adult. When I started cutting the carrots into small pieces, she began her protest.
“That’s not how Mom does it. She uses that ‘thing’ and rubs the carrot on it. The carrot becomes like a powder and falls on the other side.”
I never knew kids were such keen observers. I didn’t want to tell her that I didn’t have the patience to grate the carrots. I told her that I was trying a different recipe. Thankfully, she was too young to doubt it. I put the pieces in a pressure cooker, filled it with milk and left it on the stove. My sister looked worried. Probably she wanted to say that Mom never used a pressure cooker. I didn’t have the patience to leave it on a kadhai and wait for the carrots to get ‘cooked’ in milk. After three whistles, I took it down, transferred the contents into a kadhai and started mashing it with a potato masher. My sister gave a horrified expression, which I chose to ignore. Now, all I had to do was add sugar, ghee and cook for some time (I had no clue how long). When I was done and was adding the cashew nuts and raisins, my sister whispered,
“Mom fries these things before putting them in the halwa.”
I made up some theory about too much ghee being bad and that cashews and raisins, when mixed raw in the halwa, enhance the taste. From her expression I could make out that she didn’t believe me. A few minutes later, she scrutinized the ‘orange paste’ in her bowl and muttered that it didn’t look like halwa. I must admit, it didn’t. In fact, it looked a bit…well…de-appetizing. She put a spoonful in her mouth, while I anxiously waited for her response. Her face lit up with a smile and she told me that it didn’t taste ‘as bad as it looked’. That was more than a compliment.
When my parents returned, I gave a bowl of ‘the halwa’ to my mother. She made a face. She asked me what it was. When my sister told her it was ‘gajar ka halwa’ she was horrified. I thought she was going to throw it at my face, but thankfully, my sister intervened. She urged my mother to taste it, telling her that it tasted good and that it was easy to swallow, unlike the normal ‘gajar ka halwa’ which sticks on the teeth. It was my lucky day. My mother loved it. She started popularizing the recipe among neigbours, calling it ‘gajar ka halwa’ for children and the elderly.
From that day, my ‘invention technique’ has been an open secret. Whenever I cook something good, my mother doesn’t ask me how I did it. She knows I’d have no clue. This technique doesn’t always work with the main course, but always works with desserts. And when I say ‘always’ I mean ALWAYS. My boyfriend will probably be scandalized when he gets to know this secret (yeah, he’s a puritan when it comes to food). But he can’t deny the fact that I make excellent desserts to complement his Arabian (or Persian, or Italian, or Mexican or Asgardian) dishes. I guess, for that very reason, he’s never going to desert me.