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I Am Writing A Cookbook

When I was young, my father forbade my mother from teaching me cooking.

He didn’t want me to get sucked into housework and become what every girl in my time was expected to become— a housewife.

My mother respected his wishes and toiled alone in the kitchen while I concentrated on my studies. I was a bright student. I went through my teen years and early twenties without knowing how to cook.

When I finished my master’s degree and had a few free months before starting my Ph.D. degree, my mother, in her infinite wisdom, decided that I should join a cooking course. It was every mother’s duty to prepare her daughter for married life.

Word was sent around to my mother’s school (she was a teacher) and one of her colleagues suggested Mrs. Singh, who ran cooking classes from her home. So I was enrolled in the course without my knowledge.

Mrs. Singh was a celebrity chef in my town. An elegant woman, living in a modish home, in a posh colony. When I was dropped on her doorstep, I was shaking in my boots. Distressed because I didn’t know anything about cooking, and worried about the possibility of being thrown in with experienced ladies who have been cooking for years.

I was right. Most of the other participants were experienced cooks and high-class ladies who threw dinner parties and wanted to learn new recipes to impress their guests. I tried to hide behind books, spending most of my time copying recipes while they chatted, exchanged tips, and did the actual cooking.

At the end of the course, they enhanced their skills while I filled in an old notebook with recipes that I was never going to try.

Eight months later, I got married (of course arranged marriage). My husband lived in Australia and came on a four-week vacation to get married. His parents had done the homework for him and shortlisted three potential brides. He didn’t get the chance to meet the other two because my father decided to arrive first so that if in case the boy and the girl agree, there is at least some time to do the wedding preparation.

The boy and the girl did agree. A marriage was set in two weeks’ time, and a week after, my husband flew back to Australia, leaving me with his parents while waiting for the visa.

Lo-and-behold! My mother-in-law fell sick on the way back from the airport (5 hours’ journey). On my first day in my in-law’s home and it was assumed that I would cook lunch for the family. We were five in the household: my mother-in-law, father-in-law, my husband’s younger brother, and his youngest sister. The brother went to his work, the sister to the university, and I towards the kitchen.

I did the dishes and checked the fridge. All I could find were two eggplants. My luck! Eggplants are the hardest to cook. According to Indian cuisine, there is only one way to cook them, which is to make Bhurtha.

I didn’t know how to cook eggplants. Checking the notebook where I had copied Mrs. Singh’s recipes was futile because I knew it didn’t have the recipe. I was in tears. I sat down and wrote a letter to my mother, telling her about my predicament and blaming her for not teaching me how to cook basic dishes.

After venting out, I calmed down and got on with the job. Turning the gas stove on, I roasted them till the skin was thoroughly charred. I then started peeling the skin. Eggplants were too hot. I remembered my mother doing it under running water. So I did the same. Images of my mother cooking the dish over the years started coming to me. One by one, the next step became apparent.

I remembered her saying you need lots of onions and tomatoes to cook eggplant because after roasting eggplant dries down and reduces in size. Besides, onions and tomatoes give the dish its taste. So I chopped the onions and fried them till they turned brown and then added the meshed eggplants and spices and fried them together. The last step was to add chopped tomatoes, cover them with a lid, and steam cook them.

My father-in-law loved it. To date, I am not sure whether he really liked it or just said it to make me feel good.

Five months later, when I joined my husband in Australia. I was no better than before. My husband was a better cook than me because he lived by himself and I had no choice but to learn to cook.

So cooking became my challenge. I borrowed as many cookbooks on Indian cooking as I could find in the local library and started trying them. I learned to make veggie curries, meat curries, kababs, and even Indian sweets.

Each time I perfected one, my husband threw another challenge my way. I learned to make Gulab Jamun and did a decent job with them and my husband said I bet you can’t make Jalebi. So off I went to learn to make jalebis. After multiple failed attempts, I perfected the recipe, and my husband said I bet you can’t make Rasmalai. So off I went, trying making Rasmalai.

You get the picture.

But cooking is not my forte. Cooking was a challenge for me, something to excel at but not a passion.

Then why the hell do I want to write a cookbook?
Because my daughters want me to.

Like me, they were never into cooking. But now that they are both married and running their household, suddenly they want to inherit my knowledge. And I don’t want to repeat my mother’s mistake.

They want me to write down their favorite recipes in book form. And I want to embellish that book with stories associated with them and my own childhood memories.

So this book is virsa (inheritance) from a mother to her daughters. For a moment, I thought I might take this project into a bigger sense and write a book for all Punjabi daughters. But then I chicken out. I am keeping the project small at this stage. I have no experience in writing cookbooks, and hell, I am not even a passionate cook. But I love to write. And I love to tell stories.

More than the recipes I want to pass down stories to my daughters. They can get recipes from the internet. And they will make their own recipes, I am sure, just like I did. But only I can tell them the stories associated with the food they ate while growing up.

So here I am, starting another book, but this time for a specific audience.

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Photo by Yubraj Timsina on Unsplash