Friday, September 9, 2011

September Special: Men in Kitchen

Hi Yum-lovers,
I have always fancied a job in a commercial kitchen and I have watched every cooking show in earnest and have come across the mucho macho chauvinisto piggo statement that "Men make chefs , and women make cooks!" And I have always wondered if thats because men can intimidate women better, and women can adjust better and take orders, much gracefully.
Well, I dont mean to argue or state a debate, but if I need to believe that statement, somebody better give me solid proof, because in my life of 30 years, I have to yet see a man who can cook. And the real men, who do enter the kitchen and tell his salad oil and frying oil apart can be counted on the fingers of my stirring hand!
Growing up in a house full of women, I have seen men enter the kitchen only to get water or some tool substitute. My uncles have wrung chicken necks,pulled out feathers and even cut it down for the women, but I dont remember seeing any of them get in the hot room and stirring pots or draining the rice. My dad changed a lot of my assumptions for me by helping mom chop, scrape and sometimes even cook a couple of rare but decent dishes, in the kitchen.
Dad makes everything with a kind of earthen simplicity, and tastes just great! I always loved to watch when he cooked- knives being sharpened with drama, the onions peeled to such perfection that it was worth displaying, the tomatoes seeded and cut into such perfect tiny cubes and everything else done with such grace and precision. Hmmm, who cares if he took so long that dinner had to be postponed by hours or an entire hour was needed just for the post-op cleanup? Um, Well, Mom would care, albeit deeply than I am letting on!
Dad made everything yummy and we gobbled it up...well everything, except his stuffed Bittergourd!

Indian Bittergourd aka Karela

 Bittergourd or Karela is one of those miracle foods that is believed to help Diabetes patients immensely, in India. Like the name suggests, it is one of the bitterest veggies I have ever tasted in my entire life. But many have their own tips and tricks to reduce the bitterness and make it more palatable. So Dad would wash and remove the seeds from the gourds and stuff it with a spice mix. He would then use a needle and thread to sew it shut and then roast it in an open fire. Roasting is a very good technique to seal in the juices and concentrate the natural flavor of anything that is roasted. And sealing in the juices of the bittergourd and concentrating the flavor just made it even more unbearable for us kids. And we would make excuses, eat early or feign sleep to escape them.

Then again, that was the only exception...but my mouth waters even today, thinking of his Uppu-Puli (meaning Salt-Tamarind)---a simple dish with tamarind pulp, salt, hand crushed fresh green chilies and shallots; his stuffed eggplant gravy, which even Mom couldn't replicate; and my most favorite, Dad's Prathaman---the king of all desserts. If you are from Kerala, you get it! This mandatory dessert can be seen on every special occasion, like, weddings, Shashtis (60th birthdays), Onam (South Indian Equivalent of Thanksgiving)  and so on. But no one makes it the way my Dad does it. He would wake up early on the Onam day, and keeping out of Mom's hair(believe me, when it was Onam, nobody wanted to get between Mom and her cooking), he would set up our rarely used kerosene stove and invert an empty metal canister near it to make a stool for himself.  And once he got started, the sweet robust aromas of cardamom, fried coconut tidbits and melted jaggery would waft out of our small home into the streets, where people would pause a moment and breath in the heady mix. The curious would poke their head in and inquire and whoever was available at the moment would explain the occasion and the aroma.

I hope my Mom doesn't see this post because she might probably just disown me if I said I cant remember her version of the Prathaman but its Dad's Prathaman I crave and have tried very hard to recreate. My Dad is pretty broad-minded in the kitchen, and I remember once we were having some VIP guests for lunch. Mom really wanted to put together a raw mango pickle but she returned back from her grocery hunt upset and panicking because she couldn't find the off-season mangoes anywhere. Dad pacified her and put together a tindora (gherkin) pickle, which, when coated in the heavy spice mix and mustard oil, lent the same crunchiness as raw mangoes and easily passed off as a great substitute and had everyone of the guests talking for a week.
And I have also tried to recreate my Father-in-law's Mutton Curry, who is just another awesome cook. He cooks his own non veg dishes as my MIL is a pure vegetarian. I was personally relieved when I realized he loves his fish and mutton, and I think the relief was mutual, since I was the only female in the family who could and would cook meat.

And since a lot of my friends want to know if my husband cooks, the answer is a big NO!!!! He tried in the early days to impress me by cooking up some fluffy omelets and Maggie Noodles. But that's it! He makes an occasional tea for me, but other than that I have a gnawing doubt, all my experiments and obsession with cooking actually spoiled him, rotten! And before my topic gets out of hand, let me tell about the theme for the month of September is Men in Kitchen. The featured recipes are foolproof and easy, and the results are just going to be great. I encourage all my guy friends to give it a try and see it for yourself what I always say....Anyone can cook good food. So get in that kitchen and get cooking! But always remember to remove the darned battery cell from the Smoke Alarm! ;-)

Mamma's Note:
A very special thanks to  an equally-crazy-about-Food Friend of mine, who helped me put together this month's special. Thanks for letting me pick your brain, borrow those awesome ideas and put it out to the world! :-)

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