Early lessons, Narayani V Nayak and baser instincts!

Our initiation to the joys of cooking (I don’t think we thought of it like that then!), as I’ve mentioned earlier, happened very early – when I was about seven and my brothers eight and nine and a half. And we were left high and dry one day with no cook and our mom caught in an emergency case at the hospital while dad was away on work. 
Lessons started with the basics – how to boil milk, how to make tea, how to cook rice – in the days before pressure cookers and gas stoves, this was an art! We also learnt how to make omelettes – favourite things in life from then to now for my brother and me! Paranthas, sambar and a curry were next on the agenda.
 At which point my mother decided that enough ‘lesson-ing’ – we could manage on our own! And we did – by serendipity – stumble on a cookbook – one of the very, very few of those days – by a Konkani lady – Narayani V Nayak. Someone, knowing my mother’s ability in the kitchen (repertoire of three dishes!!) had given her this as a wedding present! And there it lay, gathering dust – till I found it and started working my way through it!
 Having no idea of any cooking procedures beyond boiling and frying and even less idea of cuisines beyond the few Andhra dishes my mom could make, figuring out what things like kneading, slow roasting, dry roasting, steaming and so on involved much use of the dictionary – of these we had plenty in the house – along with the best of atlases and encyclopaedias – my parents never stinting money on books! You can clearly see where this is going – food for the mind was ALWAYS more important than food for the lowly stomach! And if the possessors of small stomachs dared to protest against a burnt dish, we were always taught to look beyond and see that it was GOOD for us to ignore the baser instincts!! 
And so, I learnt – through trying it – that a “fried egg” did NOT mean a DEEP FRIED egg! Quick repairs had to be done before parents came home and so I strained out the hot oil – into a plastic strainer! Resultant mess of a lump of melted plastic and oil which I had spilt had to be cleaned up and thrown out AND I had to come up with an explanation for the missing strainer next time someone wanted to strain out tea!
Ah well, we DID learn! The journey from there to writing a food blog has been immensely exciting and there’s still stuff to learn – like molecular gastronomy!
One of the dishes that I learnt from that first cookbook was the Kerala stew (ishtu as it is pronounced and rightly so – a dish THAT good is not just any old stew! Improved later from my partner Shanta and then perfected on my own (but did you really expect me to resist THAT??!)
  • 2 star anise, I” piece cinnamon, 4 cloves, 1 cardamom, 2- 3 slit green chillies, ½ tsp black pepper – cracked, turmeric – ½ tsp, curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Shallots – peeled and halved – 10
  • 1 or 2 large pods garlic
  • mixed veg – potatoes, carrots, beans, cauliflower, capscicum – 4 cups. cut into large pieces, beans and carrots long pieces.
  • coconut milk – 2 cups.
  • milk 1 cup.
  • 1 tbsp flour mixed in ½ cup water
  • coconut oil – 2 tsp
Heat oil in a large cooker, add all the ingredients in the 1st row. Stir for a few secs. Then add the shallots, garlic, and curry leaves and stir for 2-3 mins. Add potatoes and turmeric and a little water. Cover and cook for 3 -4 mins. Then add cauliflower, beans and carrots and cover and cook again for 3 mins. Add capsicum, coconut milk, salt and let cook open, stirring frequently – till vegetables are almost done. Then add the milk and the flour-water mixture and simmer for a few mins more. Adjust consistency. Switch off and garnish with coriander and serve with fresh bread or idiappam.