We had two weeks in Spain with our 20-something sons over the winter break. When we would ask them what they wanted to have for dinner, our youngest son would almost always yowl, “Indian food!” Yes, in Spain. We tried to get it in when we could, but we had to really hunt for it.
One night, over found Indian food, I commented that this obviously seemed to be his favorite cuisine. He reminded me that living in SE and South Asia from the ages of 9-18, we had eaten Indian food at least weekly if not daily. It might seem obvious to you as readers, but I had not actually formed the awareness, in so many words, that this was the food he had eaten most often during the formative years of his palate.
Yes, I had been right there with him. I, too, remember Sundays in Singapore when breakfast was roti paratha, a South Indian lamb curry, into which we dipped chunks of chewy, griddled flatbread. Sunday nights, we often ordered from Dial-a-Curry, an astoundingly consistent restaurant that delivered anywhere on the island, by motorcycle, in all kinds of weather.
We then had four years together in Kathmandu. Our kitchen there always smelled of curry spices. Our cook, Hari, didn’t cook Indian style food for us everyday, but Anton would go over to the little tea shop just off campus, after school with his friends, for dal bhat, spicy soups, and momos.
One of the things he finds most disappointing about living in our home town of Bellingham, Washington, is that the Indian restaurants aren’t top notch. He is used to dynamite spices and authentic preparation. What he finds in the restaurants there is watery, and it all tastes the same.
It occurred to me that when the four of us are together, his memories for these flavors is stimulated. He remembers our family homes in these places and comforting, cozy meals. There were trips we took together, to Rajasthan, to Sri Lanka, to Bali. And then there were school friends with whom he shared hundreds of little street meals.
I remember all of this, but it wasn’t the same for me. I already had my food foundations set before I went there. My food love language is Mexican. I grew up on a pinto bean farm in the Southwest, and I admit I have at times grown frustrated at not being able to access those flavors I crave and associate with family in my overseas life.
So I’ve learned to cook food the way I want and need it to taste. And this is where I hope to hook Anton. He needs to start cooking, but so far, there isn’t anything he wants to eat badly enough to go to the trouble of cooking it. I wonder, though, if he might be willing to try cooking Indian food if he is able to make it taste like what he remembers.
I am going to send him a small kit of spices and I will start with this recipe, which is dead easy. You just wash and chunk up the vegetables, toss them with the spices, then cook them over low heat until tender. Better yet, toss them into a slow cooker on low heat before leaving for the day, then come home to a comfort dish of Asia.
Adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker, by Anupy Singla
- 1 large cauliflower, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
- 1 large potato, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
- 1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 medium tomato, diced (optional)
- 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 3-4 green chiles, stems removed, chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon red chile powder
- 1 tablespoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Put all the ingredients, except the cilantro, in a slow cooker or heavy bottom Dutch oven. Mix well.
2. Cook on low heat for 3 hours in a slow cooker or until the vegetables are soft on the stove top. Mix once or twice during cooking, especially in the beginning. Eventually, the cauliflower will release enough liquid to prevent anything from sticking to the sides of the slow cooker. If needed, add about 1/4 cup water to the pan.
3. Add cilantro. Mix well but gently so as not to break up the cauliflower. Serve with basmati rice or naan with a side of onion and cucumber salad.