I admit one of my biggest failings as a single-mom is not teaching my daughter to cook. There were just so many other things to “teach” that taking out the time in a fast-paced journalist’s life did not allow for that leisure.
I myself look at the daily preparation of meals like my work – fast-paced — and with a dash of healthy – absolutely possible – for those of you raising a questioning eyebrow.
Now at university, my daughter called at one point to say she’s tired of eating stir-fried chicken. Some would say it’s great she knows how to do that, but I understand it can get too much.
Well, the good news is she’s taught herself to make a few other things. Daal, Keema, grilled fish fillets. Not bad, and even healthy. And she taught herself the stir-fry dish herself too. No credit to me.
Did your mother teach you how to cook? Send me some of your stories so I can feel worse this Saturday morning as I reflect on my past.
On second thought I don’t feel worse about it. My mother didn’t consciously teach me I admit. When I had to start cooking, I subconsciously evoked or invoked the flavors she built into her dishes to figure out how she got the marvelous results. Automatically, the flavors played in my mouth – hmmm – there was cumin, garam masala, or no, that was fenugreek — or whatever – to figure out how to make stuff. I am sure a lot of you identify with that method. Give me some feedback.
As a little girl, I do recall my Thakumaa allowing me to slip under her arms as she stood rolling chapatis, and taking over the rolling pin from her. That didn’t happen often, in fact very, but sticks in my mind.
Maa never had the time to indulge any of us on that front. Too much to do, had to be done fast, too many people to look after – husband, mother-in-law, numerous sisters-in-law, her three children, cat, dog, chickens (none of which my father allowed to be slaughtered for food), the occasional parrot, partridges, you name it. Once there was a turtle one of my aunts brought home wrapped in a bed sheet — huge one she found next to a nallah on her way home. That one stayed until everyone convinced pishi to finally surrender it to the Zoo.
My mother would qualify as a great chef today – from the simplest masoor daal and aloo-gobi to the sophisticated mustard fish when it had to be made from scratch. (None of the great stuff we can get today like bottled kasundi or powder mustard for fish – yum! Heavenly help! I call it – the ingenuity of Indian spice-makers).
So today, in my mother’s memory and my daughter’s growing skills, I am making another simple one from what’s in my fridge. (You remember, last week in anticipation of friends coming over, I made the turkey meatballs and pasta sauce. Well that was an absolute hit with my guests.)
Simple Creamy Spinach-Tofu
I didn’t use the frozen spinach I mentioned was in my fridge last time. I used the fresh spinach. I have several blocks of frozen spinach. I admit that I had to go get some Tofu from the nearby grocery store. Can’t use the Indian paneer because my friend is vegan, and so is her daughter.
Her daughter is almost turning me vegan with her stories about gross methods used to kill animals. Add to that, she believes the milk taken from cows and other animals is akin to robbing the food meant for their own babies. I am terribly moved.
But the guilt does not last very long I am ashamed to admit. Not sure when if ever, I can get off the carnivore wagon. Friends are still trying – and are still my friends.
Which is why I try to make vegan food such that no non-vegetarian at the table with a vegan, will crave meat.
A block of firm or extra-firm tofu (you might end up using less depending on how many people you want to feed or how much you want to store away if it’s just for you)
Two or three blocks of frozen spinach (thawed
Three or four pods of garlic
A square-inch of ginger (rough estimate)
An overloaded tablespoon of coconut oil (or one and a half tablespoon of olive oil or whichever oil you like to use)
Maybe a teaspoon of garam masala if you want (not absolutely necessary)
A green or red chili (be careful on that one. I used one red Thai chili – it was awesome but maybe you don’t like the heat)
One large onion (I used a red one as that was the only one I have right now. Gotta go grocery shopping)
Salt to taste
DESTRUCTIONS (sounds better than INSTRUCTIONS)
Cook the thawed spinach for just 3-5 minutes in a saucepan. Remove and let it cool a bit, then puree in the blender.
Slice the firm tofu into shapes you like. I keep it rectangular to mimic Paneer pieces we find in what is one of the greatest Indian dishes (paalak-paneer).
Use half of that overloaded tablespoon of coconut oil to grill the tofu lightly browning it. Set aside.
Secret ingredient – Oh yes, I sometimes find the paalak tasting a bit bitter after being cooked – so I add a two tablespoons of pureed carrots (blender set at puree or smoothie, doesn’t matter)
Blend the onion, garlic, ginger (and the chilli). Sauté the mixture in the remaining coconut oil till that raw smell is gone.
Add the pureed spinach and continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent sticking and burning at bottom. Stir also to make sure no extra water remains in the saucepan.
Add salt to your liking. (And the garam masala) – And stir for a minute or so more.
AND IF THAT MEAN VEGAN BFF CANCELS ON YOU – ADD A GENEROUS DOLLOP OF GHEE OUT OF SHEER VENGEANCE – ENJOY!