Monday, 28 May 2012

My first lessons in cooking were imparted by my mother, within the four walls of the kitchen. Those were days when I was grappling with the challenges of learning diphthongs, cases, datives and ablatives in the Queen’s language. Mother was not the silent kind and the moment I would enter the kitchen, she would start her conversation as if she was waiting for someone to trumpet her thoughts. She would do this while hacking away vegetables using the steel blade with a speed I haven’t been able to match till date.  And then there would be queries from an inquisitive me; why do you keep the cut potatoes in water?, why don’t you slice each vegetable in the same way?, what is the necessity of adding salt to the water when boiling vegetables?, so on and so forth. At times, she would tire of the incessant pouring of questions in this manner and at other times when she wasn’t multi- tasking (which most often she was), she would oblige me with some of her tips and tricks of her own volition. When you make beguni dipped in chick-pea flour, slice them a little thinner than you would if you were frying them without the chick-pea. Before you drain the rice, press a few grains to check if they are done; try draining before they are completely done, as the rice will continue to cook even as you are draining. Steam cauliflowers before cooking them to avoid a bloated tummy; the list is endless. Today when I enter the kitchen to rustle up food, I mostly draw upon the knowledge gained during those years.
But having grown up in the North east and living in the Deccan plateau down south in the republic of India, I have come to realize that the soil in which the vegetable is grown makes a difference to its color, texture and most importantly, taste. The bottle gourd doesn’t look and taste the same as it does in my place.

Bottle gourd as found in North East. Picture from Gibberish.
Bitter gourds(melons) are larger in size than the ones found up north and are less bitter. Cabbages don’t give off water like it does when cooking one grown in Assam.

Small sized bitter gourds.Photo credit:
You have to be contended with small round limes only; you don’t get the deep green, large lemons (varieties available in gondho lebu (fragrant variety), pati lebu, etc).                 

Lemons grown in Bengal, Assam etc. Picture from Banglapedia.
And then, tomatoes are available all round the year. It’s a blessing to have coriander leaves at hand any time of the year here but then, relishing a particular variety of fruit or vegetable at a specific time/season of the year comes with its own share of fun. We call them seasonal fruits/vegetables hence. In down south, you can do away with the use of the word “seasonal” altogether when it comes to vegetables. Exceptions can be made in case of fruits though, thankfully (and personally I am grateful that, that abominable thing called jackfruits don't grow all round the year!).

Would you still savor the much-in-demand mango the same way if it was available for you 12 months, 365 days round the year at every vendor you visit? But there may be some who may argue, why do you want to be at Nature's mercy for your food?    

But we have been taught to count our blessings, indeed. So I am thankful that every time I decide to make bata (for Bengalis, others call it chutney), I can simply hop on to the vendor and ask for a “cut” of cilantro leaves ("kothmiri kuri"). Ah, its a secret I wouldn't have wanted to give away, but I prefer to make the best use of both worlds.
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