How do you get your children interested in cooking, especially your sons? It isn’t easy, given the legion of kitchen-illiterate males our middle class produces. Sons are willing victims of the mera-raja-beta (my precious son) syndrome of adoring mothers who indulgently serve them and watch them eat.
Homework: Where recipes collide with fighter planes.
This is not the case among poorer men. I have gained much kitchen knowledge from security guards, drivers and gardeners. Many are migrants who live away from home, so they don’t have a choice. They are much the richer for this skill, though many promptly stop cooking if their wives or mothers are around.
I think every Indian male must know how to cook because:
1. If you are single, it makes you truly independent.
2. If you are not, you can pamper your partner—always a nice feeling (and think of the rewards—nudge, wink).
3. It allows you access to regular eating, an unlimited pleasure. “One of the nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating,” the Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti says in his autobiography Pavarotti, My Own Story.
So, how do you get your sons into the kitchen?
Just catch them young and push them in. I can only offer my own story. I am an adequate cook, skilful enough to send my wife into the occasional rapture. I get by with piles of recipe books and my own jhatka instincts (read about those in my blog).
I’ve always been hazy about how I became master of my kitchen, always taking it as a fact of life. But a recent visit home provided some revelations after conversations with my mother and a close examination of a school exercise book from class VII.
My mother, a physiotherapist who juggled a job with running a household of seven (my grandmother and two college-going aunts lived with us when I was in primary school), freely used her two boys as household labour. It was an excellent idea.
We helped set the table, clean up, and as we grew older, she says, I started to clean and chop ingredients. I remember very little, except that at some point, I started writing recipes. I was no more than 11 when I wrote my first recipe, according to my mother.
The first recorded date for a recipe in my school exercise book is 29 May 1980, when I was 15. It’s a recipe for meat loaf. How did that get there, given that I spent my pre-teen years in small towns of the Deccan, eating paya (trotter soup) and local bread? My mother says I wrote the meat loaf recipe after eating it at the home of a family friend, a Mangalorean who made the most divine Christmas dinners.
But as I browse through the exercise books, I can see how I copied my mother’s habit of committing great meals to pen and paper. Our handwriting was similar, but my recipes appear to be distinguished by sketches of diving planes, tanks and warships—my other schoolboy passion.
As I grew older, I was the kitchen help for the official (my father was a wandering police officer) and unofficial dinners my parents hosted. By my late teens, I was trusted enough to cook an entire dish. My kitchen instincts were further honed by years of living alone on minimum pay at the start of my career. Either I cooked—with all the pleasure it created—or I ate cheap, oily rubbish in seedy hotels.
Today, cooking comes easy. It’s just something I do, like brushing my teeth, but more than that, it is also something that makes life sublime. Tell that to your sons.
(from my first recipe book, started in 1976)
Serves 4 (as a side dish)
500g minced meat
1 egg, beaten
1 hard-boiled egg
20g chopped onions
50g chopped bacon
A sprig of parsley
A pinch of pepper and salt
10g fat (I think olive, sesame or sunflower oil will do just fine)
50g grated cheese (I think only Amul was available back then)
Heat the fat. Fry the chopped onion and bacon. Add the minced meat, breadcrumbs, grated cheese, beaten egg, the seasoning and a little stock to moisten. Grease a bread-loaf tin. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and arrange the sliced, hard-boiled egg. Press in the above prepared meat. Cover with some grease-proof paper and bake in a moderate oven at 175 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit) for an hour. Garnish with some salad. Serve hot or cold with tomato sauce or brown gravy.
This is a new fortnightly column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar, managing editor of Hindustan Times, also writes Our Daily Bread, a food blog, http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/my-daily-bread at Htblogs.com
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org