To My Boys,
This entire meal was meant to be nothing but sheer gratitude. It was for a giant meal we were hosting for sixty people to help bless the new house. That was the intended purpose. But I think what it was really about was how much I missed the elders in my family. How much I missed my homes in India. How much I missed the feeling of my feet being so solid on the ground there. I was feeling lost and alone at the time and wanted to connect with the people that somehow contributed to the person I wanted to be. Someone confident and content. Each recipe in this menu was based on something that either my grandparents made themselves or really enjoyed eating and drinking. I also threw in a couple of recipes that brought me back to my actual traveling either on trains or buses between my homes there.
Preparing this meal was not easy. It took weeks of trial and error. I had to pick your Nani and Papa’s brains for answers on measurements and ingredients which was not easy at all because they both cook instinctually. And I have a very distinct memory when it comes to taste. I can remember the taste of the food my Grandmother cooked when I was four. Which made it really difficult because even though some versions of the food turned out tasty, they just weren’t right. So I would have to make them again. And again.
The week before the meal I panicked. I had done all the shopping with the three of you screaming in the car, in the stores, back in the car and at home. But now I needed to prepare everything. I asked your Nani and she asked her neighbor. Who then came and cut onions at a turtle’s pace because they were busy discussing how to get the neighbor’s son married. And the morning of I was standing in a mound of legos, in spandex workout attire from the previous day’s workout, frying paneer sandwiches up until the last minute. I was a disaster. Nevertheless, I pulled it off. And the dishes were amazing. It made me grateful that I could feed so many with the memory of my loved ones. I could have cared less about the house because it was nothing but a headache. But I loved feeding everyone. I loved bringing everyone together with food.
I actually had several appetizers out but I’ve only included the recipe for the one that I really researched and poured my heart into, the Bread Pakora With Paneer. This snack is available across train stations in India and it used to make my mouth water uncontrollably. Just the smell of the batter frying combined with the smells of the fresh chai from the tea stalls would end up defining mornings in India for me.
The Tomato Shorba is also a traveling memory and was a favorite of mine on my train rides between Punjab and Delhi. It was exactly what I needed in between meals or in between cups of chai and it would satisfy so many different tastes. The dash of white pepper would be the perfect amount of spice.
The Salad dish, Chana Salad, was a nod to the snacks I enjoyed on several bus rides. These men would board the buses with these steel buckets that were filled with sections of chana daal, onions, tomatoes. cilantro and then spices. If you bought a pack of salad from them they would make this cone from newspaper and then add in the different ingredients and then mix it around. It was so salty, fresh and crunchy. Perfect on a hot afternoon.
My goal with the entree, Sweet Potato Sabji with Missi Roti, was to bring back some of my Nani’s ingenuity with food. My own Nani struggled a lot in life but never allowed hardship to hinder her creativity. She was resourceful with her food and found ways to grow what she needed and utilize every vegetable and herb she came across. So when my mom, your Nani, would remember her Sweet Potato Sabji so fondly I knew I had to recreate it and add her special twist of the fenugreek seeds. And to my surprise everyone fell in love with it because they had never eaten anything like it. Well done Nani.
The main dish, Maha Di Daal with Whipped Butter, I knew I had to make because it was what defined my childhood visits to our ancestral home in Kambala. The whipped butter, what we call makhan, would be melting in the little steel bowl filled with the daal. And the roundness of the butter mixing with the spices of the daal would just warm you up. My Dadi’s daal would have people lined up outside the house. Her hand in cooking was what legends are made of. Everyone knew that the people of Kambala ate very well. The daal was pretty much finished by the end of the meal. I knew it would be.
For the palate cleanser I chose a Masala Lassi. I’ve had so many glasses of lassi around India but really what I was trying to make was Chhaas. Which is kind of the South Indian version of lassi but with a different set of ingredients. In the end I managed to make Masala Lassi and thinking about it, I could have a glass right now.
My Nani loved her kheer and my Dada loved ladoos. I put a bit of both out with the Saffron Phirni for dessert. This particular phirni is from a Pakistani cookbook and it is extremely rich and when you crush a ladoo into it, it is decadent. You guys loved it and ate many many bowls.
Lastly, I had to throw in my famous shortbread cookies but this time with an Indian twist. I am obsessed with cardamom because sometimes it just seems to sum up India for me. And of course the roses. I had to tweak the ingredients just a small bit to incorporate both elements into my Elaichi Rose Shortbread Cookies.
This meal was for my heart. It was a way for me to find the company of my loved ones in my new environment where I felt so lonely. And the fact that it brought so many to our home to share with us, made it so worth it. I hope you’ll make these recipes and remember them the way I do.