Back in the day at New Years, offices gave out complimentary Calendars and Diaries to their customers and clients. The calendars would be hung, one per room of our home and we would still be left with many which would be distributed to extended family, the help, and others who were not as lucky to be deluged with these at the start of the year. As with the calendars the diaries would also find new homes as none in my family wrote and kept a diary. Some that would end up lying around the house would be put to good use – as a rough book to scribble things or work out maths for practice or as a music book or as a recipe book.
Mum had a recipe book that sadly went missing when she moved homes. That diary-recipe book had one of the most elaborate vegetable pulao recipes that took a large part of the day to prepare but was sooooo delicious that even today, after all these years, the thought of it makes me drool! The recipe required a host of spices in certain proportions, pre-cooked basmati rice, vegetables that had to be fried in ghee, it even had fried peanuts!
Along with our live-in help, my sister and I also pitched in to do our bit for the pulao and my dad would ‘pretend’ to help. He was a pain in the kitchen and we preferred that he stayed away and I think, deep inside he liked it that way too 😉 Mum would prepare a large quantity of this pulao because we loved to gorge on it for lunch, evening snack, dinner and if there was any leftover, for breakfast next morning! My friends may now understand why I cook ‘industrial proportions’ when I have them over 😉
In the days before internet and TV, writing down recipes was the only way to learn how to cook something. Cook books were not easily available. Some women’s magazines would carry a cookery section. Our knowledge of cooking was so limited to the place we were born in and lived in that sometimes I wouldn’t recognise some of the ingredients mentioned in a recipe and sometimes they would not be available locally!
Mum insisted that my sister and I learnt just enough cooking to survive if we had to live on our own far away from home, and so we did, rather reluctantly. I picked an unused diary lying around the house and converted it into a recipe book. The first few recipes that I wrote down in my book were for aloo-gobi, veg patties, aloo jeera, paneer methi, bhuna gosht (clearly an error in the heading, as the ingredients contain only potato and cauliflower, while bhuna gosht is a meat dish and I am vegetarian!!). If I look at the book today, it looks like I sourced all those recipes from some magazine and wrote them all down in one sitting, its another matter that I never tried cooking most of them 😦 I was not fond of cooking at all.
So when the day came to actually leave and live far away, I quickly jotted down various masala combinations that go into traditional Mangalorean vegetarian cooking.
I have continued to fill the diary with recipes, some I cook, some others simply adorn the book. Some recipes are written on scraps of paper or typed and printed (received as emails from friends) and left in the book.
Some recipes seem to have been edited a few times, depending on various inputs from various people, including professional cooks.
A little over 25 years later, I have reached Oct 27 in the diary 🙂 The book is in tatters and came apart when it fell a few times over the last few months. I have lovingly taped it back, but the book’s condition continues to be fragile……
So if I look at my cooking style, well, I still cook only vegetarian. I like easy-to-cook recipes – you will not find me in the kitchen toiling over anything that needs more than 5 steps (ok a few more, but definitely nothing that takes as much time as the pulao mum used to make). I cook healthy. I cook from scratch (you will not find store bought garlic paste, tomato puree, idli-dosa batter and the like in my house). I cook a few North Indian dishes, a pasta here, a pizza there, a tzatziki here, a thai curry there…
If there is one type of cooking that I have not bothered to attempt at all it is to bake a cake. If there is one dish that I am really proud of, bordering on being snobbish about, it is the hummus. If there is one dish that I have not perfected in all these years (and have since given up) is making the Mangalore rasam (saaru) powder – I simply cannot get the masala right (argh!).
When I find a recipe online, I make an entry in my book. I find it easier that way than having to look at a device and cook.
So what is your approach to cooking? Do you try new things? Do you have a recipe book? Do share your thoughts!