This is my mother Sakshi’s second appearance on the blog (Hunger Games | Last chance to try my mother’s winter specials) and of course it’s been many months since her debut. A quick rewind, she still feels, like most mothers, that my sister and I don’t give her enough credit for her cooking. Things have changed quite a bit since my last blog, I make it a point to thank her for every plate of fruit she peels and cuts, every cup of nariyaal paani she knocks open and a bigger thank you and a tummy rub for the dishes she makes especially for me. I also try not to complain if something’s missing salt, is over-spiced or slightly burnt.

The truth is that I only just realised how much her cooking means to me. She went on a two-week-long vacation and if I am being completely honest, I exhausted the Maggi-sandwich-pizza toast-omelette options in the first two days. I quickly realised that if I don’t contribute to the kitchen—by shopping for ingredients, running downstairs for a loaf of bread, experimenting with leftovers or just watch her as she cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner every day—I will starve to death when she isn’t around. As an accomplice to my debaucherous food and drink adventures, she tells me often that her home-cooked meals just don’t cut it for me anymore. The truth, of course, is far from it. After four-five review meals or dinners with friends each week, I crave her simple home cooking. As a kind of return gift for taking her out to fabulous restaurant reviews, she has started experimenting with her time in the kitchen to make meals at home more exciting for me.

A couple of months ago, she started using Google.com to search for recipes of dishes we sample on our many restaurant and bar visits. Using the Internet for cooking is no big deal for most people but it’s quite an accomplishment for my mother who only started using the applications and 3G on her phone about five years ago. Needless to say, she still tries to zoom in on Instagram every once in a while (there is no zoom option on Instagram) and mostly uses her phone for WhatsApp and watching her favourite shows on YouTube. For everything else, she relies on my sister or me to show her the ways of the web.

This blog post is a really important documentation of my mother’s cooking skills because she and I have often discussed opportunities in cooking for her. My sister and I often tell her that she could be one of those hip artisanal brands selling home-made pickles or that she could sign up on MealTango.com and host people over for authentic Sindhi meals. I stopped updating her on cooking classes and demos around the city because she isn’t the sort of cook who can conform to a recipe. She’s really a pinch-of-this-and-handful-of-that kind of cook. She tells me she learned to cook by simply watching my nani (maternal grandmother) cook and never ventured too far from everyday Sindhi dishes. Every once in a while, we do a Mexican, Lebanese, Chinese or Thai night but she mostly sticks to her repertoire of Sindhi and some other common vegetarian regional Indian dishes. She also admits that she’s never really had access (or the inclination) to refer to cookbooks and she’s always watched cool English shows and movies rather than cookery shows on TV.

Last week, she called me up excited a couple of hours before dinnertime and told me that she had perfected the rasam and cabbage poriyal we love so dearly at Matunga’s famous thali joint A. Ramanayak Udipi Shri Krishna Boarding. We discovered this quaint little eatery thanks to my massi’s husband some 15 years ago. I still remember refusing to eat at the place because it was “too poor-looking" for my 11-year-old, globe-trotting personality. I eventually learned to love and enjoy the place and we, as a family, try to make it a point to go there at least once every two months. My mother is always surprised at how I gobble up all the sabjis made with vegetables and spices so unfamiliar to our Sindhi palate but often refuse to even eat the gobi in her gobi aloo.

My mother has finally discovered to use the power of the web in the kitchen and much to my surprise, she already has a list of websites she prefers to use. She told me this morning that she doesn’t like Tarla Darla recipes because she feels they are too common, dumbed down and not accurate enough. The two recipes below have a few tweaks made by my mother but she spent an entire afternoon looking for these websites. Try out these Sindhi-made, South Indian recipes and tell me how they turn out. I couldn’t get enough of the rasam and the cabbage poriyal. My mother also informed me this morning that they will now feature on our weekly roster of office lunches, I can’t wait for these to turn up in my tiffinbox again.

Cabbage poriyal (from www.cookingandme.com)

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 cups of cabbage, chopped fine

1/2 cup of onions

1/4 cup of grated coconut

1 tbsp chana dal, soaked in warm water for 10 mins

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/4 tsp of turmeric powder

2 green chillies, chopped finely

10 curry leaves

2 tsp oil

2 tbsp water

Salt, to taste

Method

Chop the cabbage and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the soaked chana dal and onions. Cook until the onions soften, this should take about three minutes. Then, add the turmeric powder, curry leaves and green chillies, sauté for another minute or so. Add the chopped cabbage along with the cumin powder and some salt. The salt ensures the the cabbage cooks in its own juices. Stir well and add about 2 tbsp of water and cover the pan and cook for another 7-8 minutes until the cabbage is cooked but not mushy. Stir every couple of minutes, if you wish, to ensure even cooking on a low flame. The poriyal will cook in the steam inside the pan. Finally, stir in the grated coconut and remove from flame. Serve hot with wheat flour chappatis or rasam-rice.

Tomato-dal-tamarind rasam (from www.vegrecipesofindia.com with Sakshi Makhija’s tweaks)

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the rasam

5-6 medium-sized, juicy tomatoes

4-5 large pieces of tamarind, soaked in water

3/4 cup toor dal

1 or 2 cups water

Salt, to taste

For the spice herb mixture

1/2 cup coriander stems with or without leaves

1 inch ginger

8-9 garlic cloves

10-12 black pepper pods

1 tbsp cumin seeds

For the tempering

2 tbsp oil

2-3 curry leaves

A pinch of asafoetida

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp urad dal

1 or 2 red or green chillies

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

Method

Blanch the tomatoes with some water in the microwave for 3-5 minutes. Once cooled, chop and blend the mushy tomatoes to a smooth purée. Use only the tomato water by filtering the peel and seeds out using a fine sieve, if preferred. Soak tamarind pods in warm water for 10-15 minutes and press the tamarind juice out using a fine sieve. Cook the toor dal in the pressure cooker and pass through a fine sieve too. In a mortar, make a course blend of all the ingredients listed for the spice mixture using the pestle. Heat oil in a pan and fry the mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to crackle, add the urad dal and cook until they brown. Add the rest of the ingredients listed for the tempering, except for the turmeric powder. Fry them for a minute or so and add the spice mixture. Add the turmeric powder next and fry for a couple of minutes. Pour in the tomato water, tamarind water and toor dal water and season with salt. Bring the rasam to a boil and allow it to simmer for another 10-12 minutes. Garnish with coriander leaves, freshly broken by hand. Serve with steamed rice and cabbage poriyal.

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