Culinary Travails err Trails of a Non-Foodie Reluctant Cook

A beautiful Sunday morning, so many interesting possibilities and what do I get stuck with – Cooking, since it’s my cook’s day off and my mother is still out of station! I know and can see folks raising the highbrow wondering “what an old fashioned statement to make – why can’t she simply go out for lunch? Lazy to cook and stingy to boot!” Well, with an 83 year old wanting only soft mushy food, the man of the house stating he prefers home-cooked healthy food and the daughter of the house emotionally requesting a DISH from her mother at least on a Sunday, I am not really left with much of a choice!

First things first – most difficult decision of the day (in fact, every day of my life when I have to cook) – what do I cook? Few minutes of thought and I realize the right side of my brain has mal-functioned, while I have answers to all the puzzles in the paper, thanks to the logical left. The logical left also prompts me to flick through the net for some plausible answers. I try it out and am stuck with too many options – all with various ingredients, preparatory stages and multiple recipes! My hubby and daughter list out their preferences, while I think – should I call in sick? After an hour of zero solutions I realize, probably I should take stock of what vegies and groceries I do have in stock and frame the menu accordingly head to the kitchen. Sticking my head into the sparsely populated vegetable basket of the refrigerator, I kick myself for not pushing myself to the market yesterday. But then, the brighter side of the situation dawns on me – I can make do with whatever is available and have an excuse for not attempting anything elaborate. Bitter gourds, carrots, shallots, cucumber and broccoli called out for my attention and I had to deliver a combination of South meets East Indian with hints of high cuisine thrown in. So, with a prayer in mind and all the self-assurance as could be garnered from the Happy Sunday Morning whatsup thoughts, I plunge right in –

I start with placing the rice in the cooker, this being the single essential on plate even if all else fails. Overcooked, undercooked or rightly cooked – all depending on the collective family luck for the day! Next, I placed the dal in the cooker and in parallel chopped the bitter gourds thinly, marinating them with salt and turmeric to remove the bitterness. Rice done, the kadhai takes place of honour on the stove. On goes the oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves and the squeezed out bitters. Quick flicks of the right hand wrist wielding a stirring handle while the left hand held tight to the vessel with a prong and the curry was well-fried, thankfully without any of it jumping out of the pan boundaries. Next, time to season the dal. They say there are countless ways & combinations in which an Indian dal can be prepared, but then I seem to have been left out of that population. Again with a blank mind and too lazy to reach out for the smartphone for searching some options, I decide to go with the logical approach – work with what I have in hand. So on goes the mustard oil into the frying pan, some mustard seeds for seasoning (could not find the cumin seeds), after the splutter, I add the shallots (after I had painstakingly peeled them), fry till golden brown and the aroma comes out, add curry leaves, salt, asfoetida, my mom’s special home-made sambar powder and finally the dal. Gave it a good boil and it was done. Looks easy, well let me tell you it wasn’t without its moments of adventure wherein I had to deftly move out of the way of the spluttering, crackling & flying mustard seeds to prevent grave bodily injuries (ok, admit that’s an exaggeration). Next comes salad, my daughter clearly stating she wouldn’t settle for a simple cucumber salad. Very well, I first chopped the cucumber, carrots and onions into small chunks, threw in a few broccoli flowers, searched for tomatoes to add and couldn’t find any. Poised to add in salt and pepper to taste, I stopped in time to remember the Golden Rule – Salads are meant to be well dressed like ladies (please excuse the feminist stereotype)! Again, going by the basics, I reach out and mix whatever I can lay my hands on – olive oil, honey, pepper, salt, apple cider vinegar and dried basil. I toss the salad with it and lo it’s done. I had also planned for a More-Kuzhambu (South Indian Curd Sambhar) or should I say “Coagulated Milk n Coconut Gravy” to make it sound fancifulJ! I had kept aside some sliced n boiled carrots and soaked some arhar dal, rice, coriander and jeera seeds for grinding later with green chillies, curry leaves and grated coconut. I would have mixed this with sour curd, heated on the stove till it had a frothy layer on top and finally seasoned with mustard seeds and curry leaves. Thanks to a power cut, I was not able to operate the mixer and spared the trouble of completing this dish.

Listed below is the fancy lot that landed on the lunch table:

  1. Ghee flavored small grained aromatic rice
  2. Shallots in red lentil sauce
  3. Tropical salad dressed in exotic seasonings
  4. Stir fried bitters
  5. Black gram fitters (store bought)
  6. Coagulated Milk n Coconut Gravy (well it nearly made it to the table)

Statutory Warning: All That Looks Great Need Not Necessarily Taste Great!

But then, this is only a food blog of a reluctant cook, not a tasting session 🙂 !!!

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