In Salma’s home outside of Delhi, I watched as she and her cook of 28 years showed me how to temper spices in oil, make poori, chapati, and roti, potato curry, chicken torma and pea and corn pulao. A full menu!
In between dishes, as the aromas filled the room, Salma stood by the stove and told colorful stories and antidotes about the ingredients and the history of each dish. As she pinched spices with her fingers, she said, ‘There’s a wonderful story about a cook I once knew in the south of India. She came into the kitchen and saw a spoon next to the spices. She said, What is this?! God has given hands to you! Use them!”
A few notes and lessons from Alma, that I jotted down in her kitchen. I’m sure that when I turn back to these pages of my journal in months to come, a fragrant smell of cardamom and fresh ginger will waft out of the pages.
Cardamom powder gives a touch of the exotic. Green is for seasoning, black for tempering.
Different lentils are tempered with different spices.
Red lentils: cumin and onion
Yellow lentils: garlic and red chili
Whole mung: ginger slices, onion, and broken whole chili
Mung lentil: clove
Fish and vegetables are mostly cooked in mustard oil.
Onion paste: Fry onions until brown and crispy. Blend.
Garlic and ginger pastes are just that; garlic blended whole and ginger blended whole.
“Food is never served on the table without being tasted. It can always be repaired.”
“Food without history is nothing.”