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Watermelon rind curry, posted by Sharmila Ribeiro. (Simple Recipes for Complicated Times/Facebook)
Watermelon rind curry, posted by Sharmila Ribeiro. (Simple Recipes for Complicated Times/Facebook)

Opinion | A Facebook food hub and a picky eater

A social media group for easy recipes has become a lifeline for many during the lockdown

“Beat eggs but don’t Delhi Police them, if you see what I mean. If you have three eggs you’ll get a fatter pillow, if you have one you’ll get what the French might call Digit de Diable, Devil’s Finger, (because of the chillies, actually)…," Ruchir Joshi wrote. Trust an author to turn a street omelette recipe into a drama in three acts.

But this was a space that invited you to express yourself through your lockdown cooking and just three weeks after it had been created by journalist Peter Griffin, 3,000 people—many of them writers—were doing just that.

Writer and film-maker Paromita Vohra said the chorchori recipe she followed made her “weep because it was so comforting, light and yet hearty… I forgive Devdas for being Bengali (but not for other things)".

The idea for the group came from a Facebook post. Anticipating the lockdown, and knowing he would likely be alone at home with his heart condition, Griffin asked friends for easy recipe ideas and what he should be stocking up on.

When they responded enthusiastically, he decided to form a Facebook group, Simple Recipes For Complicated Times. Griffin has enough experience in knowing that “if you give people a chance to do nice things easily they respond". He once wrote customized limericks for his Twitter followers in exchange for donations to one of his favourite charities, Pratham Books. He took that idea further by getting friends to offer their services in exchange for wheelchair donations to Wheels for Life.

This time, it helped that many of his friends are good cooks and even better writers. “As a kitchen novice, I once blended a soup while still hot, spent three days cleaning soup off the ceiling, and a year later, a congealed dead gob of pumpkin soup dropped down like the wrath of soup past and slithered down my back," writer Nilanjana Roy posted on the group. “Blend only when cool, people."

Griffin only started experimenting with his mother’s electric rice cooker a couple of years ago after reading a Roger Ebert essay on the crockpot. “To be sure, health problems now prevent me from eating. That has not discouraged my cooking. Now cooking is an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion," Ebert wrote. That hit home for Griffin, who describes himself as an “improvisational" cook.

In less than two weeks, the new group had 2,003 members, 707 posts, 4,401 comments and 12,409 reactions. One week later, the number had grown by another 1,000 and there were 130 posts every day. At the time of writing this, the group had just had its first controversy over a post about a “castrated" chilli.

When someone invited me to join Simple Recipes for Complicated Times, it felt like divine intervention. I had already spent hours scanning my Pinterest for “proper" vegetarian recipes.

Regular readers of this column might be puzzled because they know my husband is the king of the kitchen. Between them, my spouse and our housekeeper handle the cooking. My responsibility is usually restricted to chief retailer and director of operations who says things like, “Why don’t we make this today? I have all the ingredients." And one of them magically produces the dish (though the husband stubbornly never follows the recipe).

The recipes I hoard on my Pinterest account reflect my global ambitions: Portuguese Caldo Verde Soup, Spanakorizo, Lebanese Maghmour, Chimichurri Avocado Toast, Quesadillas, Orange Chicken, Oi Muchim and West African Vegetable Stew. But when we moved in with the in-laws after the lockdown was announced, suddenly, none of these were workable.

My father-in-law is a two-chapati-and-I-need-my-greens- (pure, not adulterated with dal, peas or potatoes) every-night kind of man. At 87, it’s difficult to ask him to change his food habits. If he doesn’t like what’s on the table—like the time I steamed vegetables in the microwave and topped them with lime and seasoning—he will chew his way through the meal silently and somewhat grimly.

Daily Indian vegetarian food isn’t exactly the husband’s speciality so after a few days, the unspoken decision was taken to leave the vegetarian cooking to me. I began googling poriyal recipes furiously. My mother-in-law took on the coveted director of operations role and my 10-year-old became obsessed with the classic Indian art of tempering. “Let’s do a tadka," she demanded every day, skating into the kitchen.

Simple Recipes for Complicated Times saved my life.

I followed conversations I would previously have rolled my eyes at: “Hi. Anyways to help me make Lauki interesting? I have 2. Lauki=Bottle gourd." There were a dozen ideas below this post. And talking of lauki, did you know you could use it as a replacement for potato in pav bhaji?

The group connects me to others who are in the kitchen every day, cooking for themselves and their families, stripping down what’s now a flashy multibillion-dollar global industry to its basic labour-of-love avatar. It provides giggles, eye-popping adventure (like the time someone shared the recipe for watermelon rind sabzi) and more than enough daily inspiration.

For some it’s a different kind of lifeline. One member said she was recovering from an eating disorder and the group helped motivate her and feed herself. “Over the last year and a half, I’ve learned that food itself has no moral value; there is no such thing as good food and bad food, healthy and unhealthy, junk and non-junk, whatever other human classes you add to it. All food is food... Don’t overthink it. During recovery, my biggest question was—how do people find ideas to feed themselves 3-4 times a day FOR A LIFETIME? I think I kinda got my answer here. Thank you for letting me inside your kitchens, sharing your recipes and cooking secrets, and for keeping the spirits up."

How’s that for a lockdown lesson?

Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable.

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