Mom’s Magic Masala Powders


Indian cooking is both an art and a science. It is as much about mixing and experimenting with different flavours, as it is about precise quantities and ingredients-in-recipes that cannot be altered.

Indian cooking is about flavour, culture, local produce and the local weather. It is also about blending, grinding and pounding techniques that are used to extract ‘that’ perfect flavour!

But more than anything else, Indian cooking is about the hundreds of masalas and spices that are added to make each dish unique.

A lot of cooking happens in Indian homes. This whole cooking phenomenon in Indian homes rests on a very strong base.

What is this base, you may ask? It is what I choose to call “Moms’ Masala Network”.

If you visited my home and raved about my spicy potato curry or my onion sambar, I would probably tell you that both the sambar powder and the spicy powder mix I used for the potatoes, were home made; made by my mother.

Go to any Indian home, ask the lady of the house, and her best dishes will be those ones, where her mom or grandmom have made the masala powders at home; if not made by them, the recipes that she uses would be theirs, for sure!

My refrigerator has at least ten types of these masala powders.

However, of these, three masala powders are most precious, as my mom makes them at home and gives them to me.

Every summer, when the Indian sun is roasting everything in sight, my mom shops for the ingredients for sambar powder, rasam powder and chutney powder.

She reserves a day to do the shopping. She sun-dries the ingredients, roasts them and then gives them to a small mill in the neighbourhood, where the ingredients are ground to fine powder.

My mom sends huge steel containers to the mill. Once the powders make it home, she carefully packs them in huge zip-loc bags for her three daughters.

On each package is a small sticker label, which gives details about the type of powder and the date on which it was made.

I treasure these masala powders, because my kitchen runs on their strength and their flavour.

A yummy South Indian breakfast of idli or dosa is incomplete without my mom’s chutney powder. On a typical Sunday afternoon, the kitchen is filled with the aroma of onion sambar, thanks to my mom.

These products are available in the market, but the taste of mom’s masala powders cannot ever be matched.

Thank you, Amma.

Chocolate


My kids are now at an age where they want variety in their food. From a limited menu of around twenty dishes, their taste buds have suddenly exploded to include new tastes and flavours. 

However, one flavour that is a constant in their lives is chocolate! They can eat chocolate, drink chocolate and talk chocolate. They can have it at any time – day or night. They can have it when they are sad or happy, energetic or tired.

Picture courtesy – Clipart Panda
They fight over it. Sometimes, they even share a rare moment of sibling harmony when they eat chocolate.

Chocolate syrup is a fixture in milk shakes and any snack that the kids rustle-up.

Chocolate moustaches and chocolate stains, chocolatey grins and brown teeth, gooey fingers and chocolatey kisses are only some of the cute memories.

Chocolate can mend sibling fights, brighten up one’s day and provide mouth watering memories.

Biscuits and donuts, wafers and chocolate-chip cookies, dark chocolate cake, chocolate fondue, chocolate ice-cream; the children have tried it all. I don’t think they can ever outgrow  this flavour.

According to my children – any time is chocolate time! 

Chocolate is the flavour for all seasons.

Mom’s cooking


Indian cooking is elaborate. Every dish requires time to perfect. Most dishes involve multiple processes such as wet grinding, pounding, roasting, seasoning etc.

We Indians celebrate many, many festivals each year, and the high point of these celebrations is the food. Every festival has specific dishes to celebrate it.

Most Indian women, atleast the one’s from my mom’s generation, are walking recipe books.

image

       Courtesy – http://www.wikihow.com

My cooking skills took shape only after marriage, and rather than consult any recipe book, I would just pick up the phone to call my mom.  Our conversations went something like this.

Me: Hi Amma

Mom: Hi…How are you?

Me: All good. Can you tell me the recipe for this sweet dish (some name)?

Mom: Sure…it’s very simple. It is 1:1:2.

Me: Wait..what’s 1:1:2

Mom: It’s the ratio of the ingredients.

Me: Mom, can we start with the ingredients?

Mom: Aha…of course…

And she gave me the recipe, baby step by baby step.

Over the years, I have become quite an accomplished cook, and know all my ratios.

But I am still trying to achieve that finesse in my dishes, which my mom seemed to achieve with ease; and that perfect aroma when all the ingredients have blended just right. 

Even yesterday, I called my mom to ask for her Vegetable Biriyani recipe. Just listening to the recipe brought back memories of cousins and happy Sundays, uncles and aunts and afternoons of play.

I could remember the smell of my mom’s Biriyani wafting through the house – chillies and ginger and mint and garlic and coriander and onions….and cloves and cinnamon and bay leaves…and many more lovely ingredients.

Mom’s cooking…always the best!

Lunch


Wherever I go, I love observing people – especially in airports, railway stations, hotel lobbies, and in-flight. Each of these places is a different ecosystem by itself, where people from different walks of life converge for a certain period of time.

image

This afternoon, my husband and I went out for lunch. We went to a popular restaurant in the vicinity.

We placed our order, and waited. My husband was busy on his phone, and I observed the people in the restaurant.

There was this family of three – husband, wife and a one-year old baby. The mom was trying to feed spoonfuls of baby food from a box, while the dad kept the child engaged. The Dad became an elephant, with a trunk and tried to snatch the baby’s food away, then he transformed into a lion and a horse. The baby gurgled and giggled, and finished her food. Each parent took turns to eat, while the other entertained the child. Been there, done it.

There was a man, who reviewed the menu for a good twenty minutes before he placed his order. I was curious to know what he ordered.

Then again, there was this man with his headphones connected and feet tapping, as he relished his lunch.

There was a group of college students, loud and cheerful, enjoying their lunch and friends’ company. Many delicious platters went past us to their table – a few sizzlers and many aromatic ones!

My tongue watered in anticipation. Our order seemed to take forever.  A tray filled with huge glasses of bright green slush went past. I wanted one of those. I wanted one of the sizzling platters too…but we’d already ordered, so I waited patiently.

Finally, our food arrived, and then my stomach and mouth took over, enjoying every mouthful. Different flavours and spices played different notes on my tongue. The food was amazing.

The table with the college students broke out into a birthday song for one of their friends, as candles were lit and wishes exchanged.

Looking out the window, I realized that the skies had opened up. We finished our lunch and settled down for a nice, hot cup of coffee.

A few people left, many arrived. More food, yummy smells. Melodious instrumental music played in the background.

I smiled. Another world, another ecosystem.