Almost everyone of us turn to some kind of food when in stress. I am no exception. I am rather one of those who are so tuned in to stress and comfort foods that whenever I make a comfort food, I realize that its been stressful lately!
While growing up, my Mom made the yummiest prawn curry and rice which made me anticipate the meal the entire day, drooling at the aromas of tangy sweet tomatoes and that inviting perfume of the seas that only a true sea-food lover can appreciate. She made it with fried ground coconut with a sour tamarind and rustic chunky tomatoes which never fails to sate me. There was just something about it that made you forget everything that made you tense and just moan and give in to the flavours exploding in your tastebuds. Sounds like something else, but you get the idea!
And then there was my BFF's Mom who would make the Khichda- a lovely porridge out of goat meat, spices and broken wheat. I was notified in advance whenever it was made by Auntie and I believe she knew deep in her heart that even if she didnt tell me I would sleep-waft into her kitchen next door, in the aromas emnating whenever she made it. This porridge, was watery with the rice and meat cooked till everything was a homogenous hodgepodge of heaven, with a sprinkling of fried onions in ghee on top made a believer out of me...that simple foods are the most tastiest ones ever made.
The vegetarian part of me was always bullied by the non-veg half but that does not mean I was not fond of veggies. I was blessed to have some of the most blessed cooks in the family and also in my husband's. His Aunt was one such person. She never planned her menus. One look at her vegetable basket and whatever was there was lunch or dinner.The thorans- finely cut veggies cooked lightly with coconut, cumin and green chillies; avial- julienned mixed veggies in a coconut sauce and sambaar - lentils and veggies cooked with spices in a watery base, were to die for. The danger of growing up and getting used to such awesome food is that you miss it the minute its not there. She moved away and I went through a very painful withdrawal. anyways, God must've felt a little pity on me, my MIL ( also happened to be the same Aunt's sibling) totally swept me over with her vegetarian dishes whipped up in ridiculously short notice and deliciously spontaneous! And this time I tried learning a few things from her, which handsomely paid off later.
My MIL is a great cook and I lose to her hands down when it comes to her son, our common darling's favorite dishes. And I dare not compete!!! All I hope is her skills rub off a little on me . But on the good side, I get to eat her creations whenever I am with her and she likes my feeble attempts at impressing her.
But I would be never as good coz who would think of adding tender coconut pieces to pilaf? Or just roast veggies with salt and coconut oil that u simply cant stop munching on?
Now, I am in a country which smirks at vegetarians and limited in its ideas when it comes to vegetarian food. Here, I admire vegetarians who still maintain their eating habits coz believe me, its tough here. There is no stuff here that comes pure-veg. And the only places you find them are overpriced Desi restaurents.
I have always believed myself to be a good adaptor. I easily acquire new tastes and mesh with my surroundings. But even for me, sometimes a crisis hits home where I crave these lovely comforts from my loved ones.And thats when I make some of these delights guessing the ingredients and sheer will-power, coupled with a mind- hellbent on recreating those good memories. Sometimes its trial and error and other times its the exact replica of the memory I have. And believe it or not, thats how I learnt to cook. Creating the exact copies of my memories, of how something smelt like, what it tasted like, how I felt then...Funny how foods bring back memories that otherwise waft by unnoticed by us, huh?
Only if we could trap those wafted aromas, interlinked inseparably to each other, creating a dimensional synesthesia of smells, memories, visuals and tastes.
Sometimes all it takes is a pinch of ground fenugreek into a pot of boiling fish curry to make it complete, to evoke that strong memories in us...and as you stand lost in time, you see the same curry mixed with hot rice fed to a sleepy child, by her grandma, a cool rainy day, by the light of an oil lamp. Yes, just a pinch of fenugreek, and small insignificant things like that, which makes no sense except as a part of the big picture.
Maybe thats the recipe to Nostalgia.