Monday, 11 March 2013

An Aha Moment about Beginnings of Salt Pepper and Spice

Last evening, a chat with a friend about food (yes, what else?!) brought on the realisation of learning to cook that I have always believed in but never phrased before.

So he was telling me about his attempt to cook by experimenting with thai green curry and tofu.

Ah! my aha moment! I have heard of quite a few people having this experience; they won't cook generally and when they feel like learning to cook they will start with something really fancy or foreign and since it won't turn out to be good most of the times, they will be turned off from the experience of cooking.

My experience of cooking and what I have heard of from people who love cooking around me has been of starting with traditional foods. My first experiences of cooking were when I was eight years old. My grandmother's legs weren't functioning too well, but she still would cook; so she would turn on the stove, put all the vegetables/ dal with the tadka, come and sit outside in her chair in the living room and then open the magic box, the masala box as I saw it. I would stare at her in awe as she measured out these small mounds of masalas with just her fingers (yes she never used any measures but was always so perfect in her measurement!) and then ask me to go add them to the dal and the vegetables and keep an eye. These magic powders started to hold me in amazement because of what they did to those bland vegetables and dals. I started being able to name all these powders, distinguish them by what they did to the foods and what flavours they brought. Once I started understanding this alchemical process, I could enjoy it more and as my basics strengthened, I started to have the confidence to try my own recipes.

Another important thing with traditional food is that you know so well what it is supposed to taste like at the end and there is someone with a lot of experience to guide you about how to get there, to get it to taste just right! This voice of experience and guidance is one of the most important things to cooking according to me. This someone can explain the new  and old spices to you, what do they do to the food and how to get them to create magic and not a mess! I may have sometimes taken for granted the ease and the confidence my grandmother was able to instill in me about cooking from a very young age, but I never can forget her contributions to my love for cooking. A good guide, be it your mother, grandmother, your friend or anyone (gender-neutral anyone) can make cooking a wondrous experience for you.

And once the comfort level with the basics is established, it becomes easier to move on to new creations with these familiar tastes and then adding a novel taste or going to more foreign dishes. This comfort could make cooking more than just a necessary chore!