I have a surprise today– a guest post from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Sangita. Sangita and I bonded at school in Bombay over our common love for everything literary. Sure, we were a little competitive when it came to impressing our English teacher, Mrs. Kutty, with essays and poems we had scribbled into our little notebooks, but we collaborated just as often to create literature projects for school and class exhibitions.
Our paths diverged when we went to different colleges, although we both — despite our love for writing– took up the sciences. I, after getting my undergrad degree in Physics, decided I’d rather be a journalist. Sangita on the other hand went on to get a doctorate in Physics but she keeps up her love for writing with her witty and thoughtful blog, Skaypisms.
During the times I hung out at Sangita’s home as a teen, which was often, we shared some truly delicious food her mom cooked for us. One dish I have never forgotten was a great peanut curry, a specialty from the south Indian state of Kerala. Here, in her own, vivid words, Sangita shares her memories of cooking with her mom and her mom’s recipe for this incredibly simple yet incredibly flavorful dish. Enjoy!
Some teenagers are forever, I thought gloomily, when Vaishali asked me about my experiences cooking with my mother. My memory of mummy’s kitchen is always alive with all the wonderful smells of Keralite curries wafting through. And with the sounds of our ‘conversations’ when I attempted to cook anything. All teenagers have a period of adjustment with their mothers, but I realize that in her realm, I never really grew up. My experience cooking in my mother’s kitchen has always been, to say the least, colorful. The rest of the family watched in shameless amusement at our constant bickering and drama, the mother of all sitcoms. It gave the phrase TV dinner a whole new meaning.
Mummy is very particular about the ingredients that went into her curries, only the freshest, only the cleanest, only the best. Spinach was washed in a huge vat of water several times, and apples were scrubbed till the grime of Bombay slid away revealing gorgeous shades of red and gold. The spices had to go into the pot in a particular order, and she would more often than not, lecture me on the physics and chemistry of making a curry. But while a perfectionist renders brilliant results, her co-workers have a difficult time. Ask me. (And the good lord help me when mummy reads this blog!) Call it fate, but invariably in my mother’s kitchen, I do the wrong thing. Always.
“Aiyo! No, no! not like that!
Wait for the onions to get a tad more golden!
You’re putting in the garlic? Ohhh, what’s the point? It will melt away!”
“I know, mummy, I know, am I a ten year old? I can cook!” I retort, my voice shrill enough to shatter the glasses in the cabinet.
“Let it boil, let it boil! Else the turmeric will never get cooked. We’ll taste the raw turmeric! Oh! Have you ever tasted raw turmeric? I tell you, it’s not something you want to taste in your meal.”
“ARRGGGH!,” my voice has by this time reached the correct pitch for the neighbors to rush to their own cabinets to try and save their glassware. It doesn’t help at all that I am very hot headed. Hot headed, quite literally, because in my desperation to one-up mummy I had moved too quickly and gotten a huge ladleful of sauce on my hair, right from the hot pan.
Such little incidents aside, the end result is always wonderful, the family is in splits at our little mother-daughter Gilmore Girls drama, the food turns out to be finger licking good, and several months later, mummy and I manage to laugh about it.
Mummy is well known in our family for her culinary skills. I remember folks dropping in with special requests: “Chechi, make that mor-curry, no? I have been thinking about it all the way here!”
Vaishali recently mentioned a particular peanut curry that mummy had once made for her. Considering that it has been more than twenty years to that meal, this memory is certainly a compliment to mummy’s culinary skills. So here it is, the peanut curry, a la mummy.
Omana’s simple peanut curry
1 cup raw peanuts
2 small potatoes (boiled and chopped into large cubes)
1/4 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 tsp red chilly powder (this gives the curry just a mild heat, add more, if you prefer a more pungent taste)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
5-6 curry leaves
1-2 green chilly peppers (Serrano)
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
Soak peanuts in warm water for at least an hour (it should soak nicely, otherwise it will not cook well!”) and then pressure cook.
Heat the oil in a large pan. Add onions and fry till they are soft and golden brown (“Aiyo, watch it! Not too much, if it becomes completely brown, it will taste bitter!”) Add turmeric, fry for a few seconds (“the turmeric should not taste raw!”)
Add the red chilly powder and the curry leaves, fry for a couple of seconds and then add the peanuts and potatoes. Add salt. Add a little water (“take the water from the cooker! all nice nutrients of the peanuts are in there!”). Add the slit green peppers (“this is just for the nice fragrance, I alllways take out the seeds, you know the seeds are not very good for the stomach!”).
Cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes or so, till the gravy thickens (“the more you boil the better the spices get infused in the peanuts, so pour some more water if needed.”).
Enjoy with hot chappatis!
“Now, molay, remember, this has lots of proteins and starch and good fat, but its heavy, so it’s always good to complete the meal with yogurt and salad, mind you!”
I’ve sometimes left out the potatoes for a sharper curry. The potatoes tend to make it smoother and starchier.