My grandmother was an extraordinary cook. We all knew it as children. She was venerated by the family and watching her cook in her prime was each time a learning experience for the rest of my life. As a boy growing up, I was not expected to be in the kitchen, let alone learn to cook. But I was always hungry and would often linger there waiting for something to get ready to consume. Later, when I had to do for myself, my first attempts at food preparation were from my memories of watching her cook. I would always first fry the hing and dissolve it in lemon juice and add minced ginger and chili to the cup and salt it before roasting the rawa for uppama. This is what I knew.
Many years later my sisters first visited me in the US and saw me cook. They both pealed with laughter and amusement at my time worn methods. “No one cooks like that any more” they said to my puzzlement.
But my grandmother hovers over my shoulder whenever I cook. Even now I rinse chana dal and let it soften a bit before I fry it so it doesn’t taste raw in the center when you bite into it. I think of her whenever I add a pinch of sugar to rasam. She didn’t teach me these things, she showed me by example. In doing so she also taught me some of the greater life lessons about doing things as well as one could and caring about what one shares with others.
She would come visit and stay with us in Mumbai when my father’s work took us there to live for several years. When I would return from school, hungry and impatient in the afternoons, she would always have something for me to eat. If nothing else was available in the kitchen, she would make what she called moru rasam accompanied by slices of bread roasted on an open flame using a steel wire contraption that would hold four slices of bread. Nothing could equal the taste of that simple bread and soup. It’s till one of my favorite recipes. I make it often and my guests really enjoy it. Over the years it has morphed from a scarcity recipe to a cornucopia of plenty. At its core, it is still my grandmother’s recipe. Perhaps it will remind you of your grandmother.