Tag Archives: American Cooking

“Hot, Fresh, Sweet”

This post is dedicated to our DEAR FRIEND D who said last night, “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow…  I even know the title” and who was sad that a few posts ago I referred to him as “our neighbor D” and thus felt demoted in relationship status.

As many of you probably know, Hurricane Irene blew through New England on Sunday. It also happened to be my birthday. We spent much of the weekend sitting around the apartment with Mamu and Daddy talking about what a hurricane is, and how they are different/similar from/to other weather events. I think they were both a little nervous and a little excited—they were curious to see what a “hurricane” was like, but worried that something would maybe happen to them. Mamu would stand near the window watching the trees bend and say, “Hurricane is coming…”

We had some gusty winds, but never lost power (although it seems a lot of other people around us did), and didn’t have the same flooding problems as other places an hour or two drive north or west of us. By evening the weather calmed enough for us to even go out for a little birthday dinner and cake.

After Irene blew through the weather cooled off, so I thought I would experiment with some “American autumn” inspired food. Always on the lookout for foods that I love, that I could try and introduce to Mamu and Daddy, during our pre-Irene grocery shopping I snuck a bag of brussels sprouts and a butternut squash into our cart.

Attempt #1: On Saturday I decided to pair the sautéed (in olive oil, garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper) Brussels sprouts—or “baby banda” (cabbage) as I called them—with the vegetable curry that Mamu made. P and I were practically fighting over the sprouts… but I saw Daddy push a few around his plate, and eventually toss the two or three half pieces that he couldn’t manage to eat into the garbage before washing his plate. I guess the “baby bandas” were a “fail”–my guess is that they were still too “raw” (crunchy) for their taste, but overcooked brussel sprouts are really bad and bitter, so “what to do?

Attempt #2: Again Mamu had some taarkari left over from lunch, and made a pot of rice, but I decided to whip up a quick butternut squash bisque. I sliced up the butternut—

“Is it a pharsi? [pumpkin]” Daddy asked.

“It’s in the pharsi family, it’s a butternut squash” I explained.

When I sliced open the round bottom part of the butternut and scooped out the seeds with a spoon Daddy said, “It is a pharsi! Look at the seeds!”

“Yes,” I responded, “pharsi family different type.”

—then sautéed some sliced onions, garlic, salt and pepper, added the butternut, and then a few cups of water and some veggie bullion. I let it boil, covered, for about ten minutes until the butternut was soft, and then poured the whole soup into the blender and pureed. Lastly I heated the pureed soup with a bit of whole milk mixed in for creaminess, and then brought it to the dinner table in a serving bowl.

I turned back to the kitchen to grab bowls for everyone but before I returned to the table Mamu and Daddy had already ladled my “pharsi soup” on to their heaping piles of rice—“like daal!” Mamu exclaimed.

“Whatever gets you excited about it” I thought.

I returned the bowls to the kitchen, keeping one for D and myself, since we both elected to eat my soup like soup.

While we ate I asked Mamu if she liked the dish. She smacked her lips and declared, “I like… hot, fresh, sweet!”

D started giggling… “I know what C’s blog post will be about tomorrow” he said, “I even know what the title will be!”

Mamu, Daddy and P had a few more spoons of “pharsi soup—like daal” on their rice while I finished up my large bowl.

Finally an American culinary win!

I’ll take it, “like daal” or not!

Musings on Food

I was sitting in my office during my lunch hour, munching on some leftovers, trying to think of something to write about, when I got an email from S. He and R live a few hours drive away from us, on a main route that P and I take all the time to visit relatives or other friends. They have become a major pit-stop on any road trip that we take, and now it is hard to drive that stretch of road and not stop, even if just for a cup of tea! Anyway, they know that we are staying at their place tonight so S said, “I figured we would make momo in honor of your blog” yesss!

Yet I have already written about momos, so I figured I would expand on the topic of food.

Green Dot- no worries for me!

Green Dot- no worries for me!

I feel really lucky. South Asian food, in general, is delicious, not to mention there are a lot of vegetarian dishes for me to choose from. When I studied in India it was incredibly liberating to walk into most restaurants in Delhi or Jaipur and see half a menu of vegetarian options, or entire restaurants where I could close my eyes and pick something at random off the menu and know with complete confidence that it was veg. I was a huge fan of Indian packaging with the “green dots” for veg food and “brown dots” for non-veg. I didn’t have to read labels or second guess. It was wonderful, and very depressing when I came home to the States and ate at a restaurant only to find I had two choices on the menu.

I sometimes joke with P that if I had fallen for a Korean, a Kenyan, or a Brazilian, I would have been in deep trouble since fish and meat are central to a lot of these communities’ favorite dishes. Yet South Asian food has a lot of variety, of both meat and vegetables, and it is easy for me to find something that I like. Don’t get me wrong, I think P might just die if he gave up chicken, but if we eat daal/bhat (lentils and rice) with saag (cooked spiced spinach), mushroom curry, or chana masala (chickpea curry), he is a pretty happy man.

Learning to cook Nepali food has actually opened up my own interest and experimentation with cooking in general. Now, if you come to our house for dinner (as many often do) it’s possible that you might have mushroom/spinach/gorgonzola pizza or that you might have daal, bhat and egg curry. I’ve come quite a long way from my culinary roots.

I gave up eating meat in stages in late middle/early high school. I was never a big fan of the taste. I had different philosophical, emotional, and personal reasons for not wanting to eat meat over the years, but now it boils down to time. It’s been a really long time since I’ve eaten meat—I’m in the double digits of years now—and I’ve lost an appetite for it, I just don’t find it appealing.

"Don't make me eat it! I'll just take the peas!"

"Don't make me eat it! I'll just take the peas!"

My family is at peace, for the most part, with my decision now (although I still get the “don’t forget to pass C the turkey!” jokes on Thanksgiving). Yet when I was a kid first exerting my interest in vegetarianism, it was a tough uphill battle. I spent many nights sitting alone as punishment at the dining room table long after everyone finished dinner because I refused to pick up my hotdog and eat it.

My parents, especially my meat loving dad, just didn’t get it. For him cooking meat was like a work of art—you grill it and spice it to perfection, you slow roast it to fill the house with its titillating aroma, you savor a good cut, and you don’t overcook it so that you can still taste the deep natural flavor of the meat. I think he enjoyed the process of meat eating as well. He loves to hunt and fish, and I think he felt a connection to the venison burgers he made, knowing that he had been an important part of the entire consumption process. As a kid I was appalled by this, but now I have a lot of respect for his way of thinking. I like that he is a sportsman who uses every part of the deer. He stocks his freezer with cuts of caribou and antelope, and slowly eats it throughout the year, gifting the meat to friends and family along the way. However when I was young this did not help me in diversifying my culinary choices.

Voila... dinner!

Voila... dinner!

We were a real “meat and potatoes” family, and every dinner consisted of a meat, a starch (mashed potato, baked potato, pasta, rice), and a boiled vegetable (corn, peas, carrots, broccoli, asparagus). Sometimes we had a salad as well. When I gave up meat I simply removed it from the equation. I’d have mashed potatoes and corn, or pasta alfredo with broccoli, or just a big salad. I wasn’t paying attention to proteins and I wasn’t really exploring other options, but at the time, especially after throwing veggie burgers into the mix, I was satisfied enough.

My repertoire of dishes might not have grown much beyond mixing pasta and lentils with “Italian seasoning” and olive oil had I not started hanging out with the Nepali gang. A whole new range of spices opened up to me- cumin (one of my favorites!), turmeric, garam masala, red chili and paprika, fenugreek, cilantro, different curry powders, even using garlic and onions like I never had before. Once I had a steady foundation of daals, and veg curries, I started getting creative with salads, soups and casseroles.

When we moved, some of the Nepali women I met asked me how to make American bake goods. My paternal grandmother had been famous for her pies, but other than Betty Crocker cake-in-a-box, I’d never really made my own homemade stuff before. Feeling like a cultural liaison (never wanting to miss an opportunity for east meets west) I asked my grandmother for some of her recipes, and started making cookies and pies so that I could show my new friends how to make these desserts. It was great. Nepali cooking gave me the confidence to cook South Asian, as well as American.

I don’t profess to be a great cook, and I don’t cook everyday (ask P, he will tell you!) but I enjoy the smorgasbord of food we now eat. We make a lot more from scratch (realizing that it’s cheaper and doesn’t take forever to make homemade pizza dough or waffle mix, and it tastes so much better!) and we can eat a greater variety of food.

Yum! I’m starting to get hungry for those momos!