Traditional recipes that evolve to save time and revive memories
How a childhood meal turns into a contemporary recipe you pass on to friends
I was asked in a cooking class last month, “What would be the one traditional dish that you’d like to make for friends at home?”
Now, a tradition in general terms is described as a recurrence of time, effort and product that denotes resemblance to who you are, and where you come from. Tradition represents one’s identity, a mutual coexistence of past and present, which one carries forward (or at least hopes to) to answer the question, “Who am I?”
Especially when it comes to cooking, each one of us has distinct memories of taste and smell, that lay the foundation of what one at traditionally ate at home, growing up. The climate, vegetation, economic resources, livestock, religion, migration, all have a direct relationship with traditional recipes.
Some recipes were exclusive to festivals or birthdays; and some were just made everyday, so simple that they never made it to a guest’s table.
Ironically, these are the recipes that one misses the most after moving away from family and living on your own. The everyday meals, that could be prepared in under 30 minutes — the vegetables would be roughly chopped, the curry could be runny, but when eaten with a piece of roti (flat wholewheat bread), it soothed your hunger that no other meal could.
One such recipe is ‘potato-capsicum-tomato curry’: created by my mother, and one of my favourites from her kitchen. She would make that whenever green capsicum would be in season, and serve us over lunch/dinner. The recipe was simple, cooking the veggies in a sauteed onions and cumin seeds, with turmeric, salt, and chilli powder. She would then and water and cook over slow heat for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes softened, turning the veggies over so they wouldn’t stick to the pot.
My fondest memory with it is that except for me and Mum, my siblings and dad didn’t like it. Yet, Mum would prepare a batch just for the two of us, which we would enjoy with fresh rotis (flat bread/chapatis) laced with ghee.
As an adult now, living away from home, I simply do not have the time to make two separate items (roti and veggies) to relive those flavours. So last week, in an attempt to create a healthier version of it, I prepared what I call: ‘Quinoa-vegetable hot salad’. A way to revive the same flavours without spending too much time on it.
I added sliced onions, cumin seeds to a pressure cooker with some olive oil. Once the onions turned a little golden, I added roughly diced capsicum (3/4), cherry tomatoes (6–7), and potatoes (2), green chillies (2) along with turmeric (1/2 tsp) and salt. Once everything was in, I just continued to cook them over low heat for 15 minutes, using a wooden spoon to turn them around so they wouldn’t stick. To that, I added one cup of quinoa, some water and put the pressure cooker lid back. On slow heat, I let the vegetables cook for about another 20 minutes (3–5 pressure cooker whistles), and that’s it.
The end result was close to what I’d hoped. The hot quinoa salad tasted like the meal Mum prepares at home, minus the chapati making effort. Every bite I took helped me go back to those lunches at home, when the aroma of cooked capsicum would welcome a starving teenager back from school on her bicycle. Mum would smile in a familiar manner, knowing the effect that meal had on me. She’d acknowledge it and well that meal wouldn’t last enough for dinner.
I sat with the meal to realise that this would be the answer to that question. A traditional meal that I would want my friends to try: a simple dish that they could adopt and enjoy. Traditions needn’t be passed on genealogically; if anything they should be passed on when friends sit together, and can enjoy a meal that undergoes evolution to become a product of this time. A meal that represents the diversity of our present relationships, where each one of us has a part in shaping the way we live.