To a man fattened by the endless and often overstated endorsements of friends, family and readers, the rejection of culinary skills by a 5.5kg baby cuts to the bone, cleaving through a flab of accumulated complacency.
It seemed obvious. The man of the house runs the kitchen (the wife? she handles the family finances), so it was agreed that food for our new daughter would be my responsibility. Oh, I can just imagine the inventive baby food you’ll turn out, gushed the wife, as I swaggered around the house, waiting for the new entrant.
Once six-month-old Alia entered our lives, I didn’t think catering to her baby tastes would be too difficult. At the orphanage, I meticulously jotted down her daily menu: chiefly full-cream milk, khichdi (stewed rice and lentils) with grated carrots, mashed banana, a concoction of sooji (semolina), yellow-of-egg and milk.
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t going to be a column—now or ever—where I blather on endlessly about my daughter (can I quickly just say that her eyes are limpid, black pools) and make a fool of myself as I discover a world that the world already knows.
Briefly, I made the khichdi with carrots, ground it to an off-white, red-speckled mash, proudly offered it to eager little Alia, who promptly spat it out, bawled and over two days steadfastly refused to eat it, daddy’s little girl or not. I, who have never been fazed by 20 people dropping in for dinner, for the first time felt frustrated and harried. A man may be master of his kitchen, but it only takes a little girl’s bawling to make him feel like a hunted kitchen mouse.
What was going on? Had I suddenly hit a lean patch? Had my friends and family lied all along?
Fortunately, my other kitchen duties continued as usual, so I could quickly see if I still had my culinary mojo or had lost it in one fell swoop after the arrival of my daughter.
Preoccupied as I was with baby food, I didn’t really have the inclination to spend too much time with dinner, so I did what I normally do when I have to multitask—I switched on the oven. Brooding from my defeat, my mind also turned to the comments of many readers who frequently bemoan the lack of vegetarian food in my repertoire (I do write about veggies, but they challenge my eloquence and so go unnoticed I suppose).
What I have for you today is something that never fails: roasted veggies with or without a home-made sauce. Roasting releases flavours from dense vegetables that stir-fries and conventional stove-top cooking cannot. Onions become caramelized and fragrant, zucchini become sweet and succulent and eggplants actually bearable.
The trick is to make sure the sizes of the chopped veggies are roughly the same. That’s just a rule of thumb. Obviously some will cook faster than others, with potatoes taking the longest time, so slice them finer. What I’ve presented below is simply one of endless versions of roasted veggies. You can mix and match spices, sauces and herbs. I always use whatever is at hand.
The roasted vegetables were a big hit with the wife and parents over the same two days that my daughter scoffed at my efforts. If you can’t get approval from one generation, there’s always another.
1 yellow zucchini, cut into half lengthwise and chopped into 6-8 pieces
1 green zucchini, likewise
2 onions, quartered
2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped roughly into large chunks
2 yellow pepper, likewise
2-3 carrots, roughly chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
For the flavouring
2 sprigs of rosemary
6-7 garlic pods, with skin
2 inch-long pieces of cinnamon
6-7 red chillies, whole
A few pieces of ginger (optional)
Fresh, ground pepper
For the dressing
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp soy sauce
3-4 tsp balsamic vinegar (or any wine vinegar)
Juice of K large lemon (or 1 lime)
1-2 tsp honey
Lightly coat a large, oven-proof dish with olive oil. Place the cinnamon at the bottom. Roughly pile up the chopped vegetables. Tuck the spices into the spaces between them. Dress the vegetables with the olive oil, soy sauce, balsamic, lemon juice and honey. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Place vegetables in oven preheated to 200 degrees Celsius. Roast for an hour. After first half hour, remove and turn over the veggies at 15-minute intervals, using juices at bottom to baste. Step up the oven to 250 degrees Celsius, as the vegetables start to blacken, turn over more frequently until done. Your dish should be done in 80 minutes, but this can vary. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and serve hot with bread.
The vegetables are fine just like this. Should you think they’re too bland, you can add this sauce:
Onion-garlic tomato sauce
1 onion, thinly sliced
6-7 pods of crushed garlic
6-7 tomatoes, chopped
Roast and pound, 2 large cardamoms, 2 dried red chillies,
Fresh pepper powder
In a tbsp of olive oil, sauté garlic till light brown. Add onion and sauté till translucent. Add the freshly roasted spice powder and sauté for a minute. Add tomatoes and blend until reduced to a rough sauce. Remove from flame, pulverize in a food processor into a smooth sauce. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Add 3 tbsp of this sauce to the roasted vegetables, 15 minutes before removing them from the oven.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org