Who taught you to cook?
I remember being yelled at…yelled out of the kitchen by my father who always had the best intentions and not much patience. Any time I thought I wanted to help – rarest of occasions – I wasn’t going to do anything correctly so I stuck with making packet Knorr soup and pretended I was so smart. Some applauded but others were just glad for that light snack before we ate the actual food, the food I had little to do with.
But I watched anyway. I might have thought of myself as hopeless when faced with a ladle and a handi but I stood around in the kitchen, going back and forth curious to know when we could eat. I peeked and saw the mustard pop in hot oil before the next thing went in. I’d ask some questions and my mother explained but I never tried any of it myself. What seemed uninteresting at the time was going to come back to future me and set me straight. “You should have looked at how much coconut went in. You should have counted the minutes to perfect rice so you wouldn’t have to get it wrong all those times.” Future me is really pushy. I now know how to make perfect rice from guess where? Those summer vacation mornings before mama went to work and made rice at the very last minute. “I’m going for a bath, turn it to low when it boils. Add more water…” OKAY. Geez.
My parents never taught us to cook but they fed us everyday of our lives. There wasn’t any of the ordering food from this restaurant or buying us a bag of chips to snack on. Everything was made fresh and we ate it, not knowing how – from start to finish – how much went into each meal. Something special went on in the kitchen. Something I had no idea how to approach without dreading the pile of dirty dishes at the end. That’s not all I thought about. I also thought about the different ways I could slice my fingers open after hearing that story about a koito and a coconut. I’m still terrified of knives by the way but I carry on and carry band-aids. It works.
I am thankful. For all those times I never learnt to cook their way. I could have been excellent at it right now but what’s the fun in that? I get to take my own steps into nourishing myself. It isn’t so much about how skilled I am but about how much care I take with each meal…the same and the most important lesson my parents taught me, unknowingly. Which is why I’ve felt so close to those mid-week vegetable buying walks or the hour long treks to the farmer’s markets on Sunday. I can eat all of that and feel like the world’s best cook. It all comes from love.
I think this is the first thing I learnt to make without actually making it. I know it makes no sense but I can explain. My sister Jane was taught this when we were still school-going fools. I have no recollection of the details but I remember seeing her class making it and her coming home with a recipe. So I must have made it in my dreams because it feels as clear as day. This is not my first potato bhaji experiment by the way. I just thought you’d like to know.
Different parts of India have their own version of this dish. Some make it with cauliflower, some use tomato or even peas. This is the Goan version 1.0. It’s sometimes served with the local bread called pao or with puri, a deep-fried Indian bread made with whole wheat or atta (durum wheat) flour.
- 340 gms potatoes (yellow flesh)
- 1 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp green chillies, chopped fine
- 1 cup onions + extra for garnish/serving, choped fine
- 1 tsp turmeric
- Salt to taste
- Fresh limes, quartered, to squeeze over the final dish
- Chopped cilantro, to garnish
Boil the potatoes in salted water with the skin on until you can pierce it easily with a fork or a butter knife. Once ready, set them aside to cool before peeling them and cutting them into cubes.
I wish I could tell you a joke right now. I feel this is getting too serious. It’s just a potato, people.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the cumin and mustard seeds to it. The seeds will start popping once they get to a certain temperature which is your cue to add the chopped chillies and onion. Stir frequently until the onion soften. This will take about 4 minutes. Next add the cubed potatoes and mix well with the ingredients in the pan. Add the turmeric powder and salt and cook for 5 more minutes. If you feel your dish requires more heat, throw in a little chilli/cayenne powder at the end
Serve hot with a sprinkle of onions, cilantro and squeeze of lime