February 22, 2024

My mom is an incredible cook. Very slowly, I’ve been trying to learn some of her recipes. Tonight, I made chana batata (chickpeas and potatoes) for dinner.

For whatever reason, I can never remember the recipe for it. I’ve written it down several times but never include the actual directions. When my mom is explaining what to do, she speaks to me as if I know how to cook, leaving out the important bits like volumes, temperatures, and timings. It happened again tonight.

While I was cooking, all Hannah could hear coming from the kitchen was me yelling, “Shit!” and “Fuck, I forgot that!” and “Well, I fucked that up.” I made white rice because I was cooking like a Westerner. Indian people boil the water before putting the rice in. I was attempting to make sweet rice.

I started cooking the chana batata by warming some oil, putting in tomato paste, mustard seeds, and curry leaves. I stirred everything together then added some ginger, garlic, and coriander chutney. Then there was some lemon juice, mango powder, salt, and turmeric. The last time I tried to make chana batata, the flavour didn’t turn out quite right. It wasn’t as forward as it should have been. My mom advised me to let that cook thoroughly before adding the chickpeas and potatoes to help develop the flavour. So, I did. It smelt great. The base of the dish was looking really good.

What I hadn’t done was peel, cut, and boil potatoes to add to the pot. You have to boil them a bit before adding them to the dish so that you end up with cooked potatoes. I did manage to open the tin of chickpeas without issue, and even poured them into a strainer to wash.

When making the sweet rice, I was supposed to fry cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks in a bit of oil before adding water. I dumped in a healthy helping of ground cinnamon. It turned out okay but it was a ridiculous mistake. I’ve never seen my mom use cinnamon powder for anything other than a topping. I nearly dropped the package of saffron, too, a spice more expensive than gold.

How my mom can remember everything that she does, all of these recipes in addition to everything else that happens in life, is a miracle. I’ve always loved my mom’s food but learning how to cook her dishes has given me a new appreciation for the real skill she employs to make what is a rather simple meal to her. “It’s just chickpeas and potatoes,” she’ll say. Right, like how van Gogh just used brushes and paints.


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