Monday, July 2, 2012

Learning how to cook

Picture from here.

I admit it: there have been times in the past where I have sneakily passed off a fake curry as my own. You know, the empty-the-bottle-and-stir-it-in kind, that doesn’t involve any roasting or measuring or waiting and waiting. Look, if they didn’t ask, I didn’t say; and all that mattered is that we were eating delicious things, right?

In the last year, the need to be taught properly has taken up residence in my heart; and so over the summer, I bought a recipe book from renowned Asian cook, Charmaine Solomon, with the resolve that I was actually going to learn how to make a curry the right way, and not cheat my way through Indian cookery forever. My Mum actually owned an earlier edition when she was my age, and I remember her using it in much the same way. Her copy is filled with little annotations and small changes to the recipes to suit her tastes, scraps of paper with hurried recipes and abbreviated measurements, and pages stained with curry splatters or yellowed with turmeric. It was well used, and well loved.

After the necessary gathering of spices and some basic implements, my adventures in real Indian cookery began; and so far, it’s been a delicious resolution.

This is what I have learnt:

  1. The smell of onions, garlic and ginger slowly turning golden in a pot on the stove is a great memory starter; every curry I’ve begun in the last few weeks has reminded me so much of my grandmother Renee, who always wore an apron, made her curries in tall metal pots, stirred with long handled wooden spoons, and hummed made-up tunes as she mixed and added and tasted and waited. My spice cupboard smells like her kitchen too, which is comforting and bittersweet and delightful, all at once.
  2. It’s fun using new ingredients, like the little knubs of fenugreek seeds, silky saffron strands, aromatic cardamom pods, or tiny mustard seeds, which pop and release their flavour in hot oil. There are some ingredients in Charmaine’s book that I’ve never heard of, and I’m so looking forward to experimenting with them.
  3. A kitchen garden is a wonderful thing, especially when it's put to good use. Our coriander is cut every couple of days in big fragrant bunches, and mint has been added to spice basics and whizzed up into fragrant pastes. We're patiently waiting on our tomatoes and cucumber to be big enough to use; and the chillies that we grew last season are finally being thawed and chopped or ground, and added in for necessary heat.
  4. The kids have surprised me with their curry tolerance. Just last week, Lyra polished off a bowl of Alu Gosht Kari, a meat and potato curry that I’d added a good chopping of chilli too. She mopped up the gorgeous thick gravy with her chapati like she’d been doing it all her life, and asked for a second bowl once it was (almost) licked clean. Which is awesome for two-and-a-half, don’t you think?
How about you? Have you ever wanted to (or learnt) how to cook in a more traditional way – perhaps like your parents or grandparents did?



wimcee said...

There is something super satisfying about authentic cookery no matter what its it! And love curries...did the real mccoy myself the other night for the first time in a long time (time being the magic word for curry cookery) and it was so much more satisfactory than the usual bottle job! Wonderful post Nat, thanks for the reminder.

Bel said...

I too need to remind myself sometimes to slow down and go back to basics. My nan was always a great inspiration to, I never ever remember her using a jar or packet of anything. Dinner was always cooked form scratch and it was never a problem. I must admit I have been cheating a little bit and am a big fan of Herbie's spice mixes, especially the Laska its a super quick easy meal but still incredibly tasty (and if you didn't see me get the spice from a packet you might even think it was all from scratch ;)