Today marks the 20th year of my father’s passing. My whole idea to document my food experiments and journeys and create this blog are an ode to his love for food. Not only the eating, but the craft. It mattered to him how food was prepared, how things were chopped, presented. He loved vegetable markets and through my childhood, I have seen him set off for the wholesale vegetable markets and return with bags bursting with fresh produce! The joy of the chef was important for him. Sadly, he passed before the internet/TV explosion of chefs/cooking/blogs/vlogs/reels, etc etc. Methinks he would have enjoyed watching/reading them and giving me ideas about what more I could do 🙂
I spent the morning slowly thinking about the meals we’d shared. Then I proceeded to make small portions of several dishes that I think he would have enjoyed if he had been here today. So, the way I thought about it was this: what dishes bring back what memories? Here are a few that came to mind and landed on our plates for lunch today:
Like most traditional households, my mother cooked almost all of our meals. But there were some tasks in which my father heartily participated! For instance, the Puliyogare. Whenever we traveled to Salem to visit our grandparents, like most families in the 70s who undertook long train journeys, we also carried a tiffin carrier that was stuffed to the gills! ‘Pulikachal’, the base for puliogare was planned and made in advance and ready. On the day of, my father would sit with a huge plateful of rice and slowly add the ‘pulikachal’ and generous amounts of curry leaves and sesame oil and gently mix with a flat steel spoon. No hands used. My brothers and me hovered around carrying things back and forth from the kitchen. I guess of the three of us, I watched eagerly and probably with the most drool! He always offered me a taste which I gleefully gobbled! And offered a critique: Needs more salt! Needs more peanuts! But often it was: It is perfect!!
Next in line was the famous ‘Thayir Sadam,’ the humble dahi chawal/yogurt rice. Somehow Thayir Sadam sounds more luscious and comforting…just as the dish is. Again, in a huge plate, my mother added a freshly cooked-to-mush rice. My father used a flat spoon to spread them out on the plate with the fan on full speed. Then came room temperature milk and a generous sprinkle of salt. Finally, a big dollop of yogurt was added before the tempering comprising mustard seeds, finely chopped green chilies and ginger (I hated biting into ginger pieces and dislike it to date!), curry leaves and Urad dal sauted till golden brown. Now the thayir sadam was mixed with hands. Needed to get it to the rice consistency….so, Mix, mix, mix, fold and voila! The silky smooth rice glistened and was ready to be packed.
In they both went into the large tiffin carrier. We were not allowed to touch the food…only he did. We could not afford to have it spoiled! Trust me, we couldn’t wait for the journey to begin! With the accompaniments of crunchy homemade papads/vadams, and pickles, I feel I waited for mealtimes more than anything else on those train journeys! 🙂
The other thing that I recall him relishing is ‘thogayal…’ of any kind (4 years ago when my brother visited, I had posted Thenga thogayal, i.e. coconut thogayal). Basically, it is a smart blend of ingredients into a coarse paste that is eaten with rice and pachadi (raita). On the menu was a Peerkanga Thogayal (ridge gourd) with multiple dals, black pepper, cumin, dried red chilies, and hing all sauted in a little oil and ground together. Mixed with rice and sesame oil and a side of cold cucumber and peanut pachdi.
One of the things that my father instilled in us was to love all vegetables. I never heard ‘I don’t like that’ in my home. Literally, all vegetables were cooked and came to us in various forms and we ate them. I guess you could call me an indiscriminate foodie??!! Up for debate I guess. But now I am married to a man who like me, dislikes nothing! If it is vegetarian, we will eat it! Anyhoo, to celebrate that quality, I made a stuffed baingan subzi, cabbage and peas with coconut subzi, and a wet ‘kootu’ with snake gourd, mung dal and ground coconut.
Had to have payasam no? So Sabudana payasam it was!
So, here is a recap of what was on our plates today:
- Sabudana/sago payasam
- Simple grated carrot salad with lemon and cilantro
- Cucumber and peanut pachdi
- Cabbage/peas subzi with fresh coconut
- Stuffed baby eggplant with spices
- Snakegourd kootu
- Puliogare/Tamarind rice
- Ridge gourd thogayal with plain rice and sesame oil
- Thayir sadam with Vatthal kozhambu (left over)
- Sabudana papad
More visions for the man who departed too soon! Hope he is having a taste of yumminess wherever he is!