Ever since I began teaching myself to cook Indian food I’ve always measured myself against my favorite restaurants in the area. But the one measurement I hold myself in comparison to has always been and always will be Hubby’s mother, “Mummy-ji“.
Mummy-ji’s cooking has always been what I strive for. I have only been to Hubby’s family home twice now and both times I have been amazed at Mummy-ji’s ability to make the most humble and simple dish taste full, complex and completely satisfying. That ability to make a simple dish taste amazing is the mark of a great cook.
If you have read this you know I have done all I can to learn Mummy-ji’s cooking and have followed her recipes precisely for years. Though I was diligent, I could never achieve quite the same flavorful results. I thought perhaps it was the freshness of the food in India, with all the locally grown produce picked that morning and brought to the open street market. So I headed to my own farmer’s markets and got fresh (and costly) produce but the results still were not as great.
The difference is not just fresh produce or skill, both of which matter greatly and will indeed make a big difference in a recipe. But you can put two equally skilled chefs together, have them make the same recipe and the dish will come out differently. What’s the difference? One’s own joy and love that they put into the food. Why does Mummy-ji’s cooking always taste unique? Why do most people feel “Mama’s cooking” is always best? Because nothing comes close to a mother’s love and they put all that love into their cooking when they make something for their family. I may sound hokey but I truly believe ones own joy for creating a dish is the most essential ingredient. By far, I have noticed the times when I cook in a hurry, each step done begrudgingly, all the while wishing I could be doing something else, the dish always tastes lifeless and almost always gets thrown out. (You might remember such an incident in this story and the undesirable results). Those times when I feel rushed or distracted, I try to remember to take a moment and remember why I enjoy cooking.
For me, cooking is a way of sharing joy, bringing people together and my way of showing someone how much I care for them. It’s also become my creative outlet. A way I can create something from the most basic ingredients that can be enjoyed by others. Most of all, the biggest reason I cook is to see this:
So how do I put joy into my dishes? I imagine the enjoyment Hubby or my friends and family will have eating the dish and I willingly take the extra effort required for creating an enjoyable dish. Yes, it takes effort to create something amazing and the extra step of creating more flavor is always worth it. I have seen many Indian cookbooks that provide an easy “no-fuss” recipe for chole that will be done in only 20 minutes. So why does my recipe take three times as long? Because it’s worth it! Because those “no-fuss” recipes have only ordinary results that are not at all special. I wish to create something fantastic and memorable for those I care about so I am willing to take the extra time to make a great sauce or roast and grind my own spices. Each little step adds up to make a world of difference.
My cooking motivation is all for the end product. I am now teaching myself to enjoy the entire process of cutting an onion, of savoring the smell of roasting cumin seeds and the sizzling of garlic in hot butter. I must admit, I am not naturally one of those cooks who enjoys all that. I know my uncle and cousin thoroughly enjoy every step of the process and it’s mesmerizing just watching them cook. There is no distraction for them because they would miss out on something, unlike myself who is known to play a movie in the background to “entertain” myself while cooking. Once I started taking away these distractions and being in the moment, I started to notice my cooking improve. Not only because I was paying more attention but because I also started enjoying the full journey of cooking.