… at cooking, that is. As I floundered my way though culinary undertakings in the past four years that I’d been married, I quickly realized that cooking – which a lot of women find exceptionally easy – didn’t come naturally for me. I had to study, take down notes, contemplate substitutes, Google English vs Urdu names of certain ingredients (and then check Google images if the names still sounded alien), spend unnecessarily long time in the kitchen, and then get frustrated when the outcome doesn’t look exactly as the one shown in the glossy pages of my cookbook.
The picture above was taken at Caesars Restaurant, where my family had to patiently wait with napkins on their laps as I took pictures of the food. This one’s called sizzler beef steak – a succulent combination of meat and vegetables. This picture is totally unrelated to the subject matter of today’s post, but I have this sudden urge to eat beef sizzler which I’m trying to satiate, at least visually, so up here this picture went.
Anyway, so let’s go back to the heart-breaking story of my futile cooking endeavors. Desi brides, as the tradition goes, usually do not cook anything (or clean, or do laundry) for as long as their wedding henna doesn’t fade off from their hands. During this period, all a bride is expected to do is eat and look pretty. And when she finally starts cooking, the first dish should be something sweet – like kheer. My first was cucumber raita; I made it as an accompaniment to my mother-in-law’s special mutton biryani. It almost failed because I forgot to add salt.
There was this one sun-shiny morning when I got up from the wrong side of the bed, and decided to make aloo parathas – for the first time. I started with a huge smile on my face at eight in the morning, and when I haven’t accomplished anything decent by ten, I started to panic. Hungry stomachs depended on me. I would stuff the filling and roll out the dough, then it would just tear up, spilling the mashed potatoes out. Masood came to my rescue, eventually. We rolled out a piece of chapati (the flat bread), spread the potato filling on top of it, sandwiched it with another piece of chapati, pressed all the edges carefully, and put it on the tawa to cook. Do not attempt this method. Keep this particular recipe in a folder labeled as ‘Highly Classified’ and secure it with at least three different passwords, and retrieve only when you’re certain that you can’t cook those parathas the normal way.
I also vividly remember the evening I decided to cook mirchi ka salan, a famous Hyderabadi dish. Everything was going smoothly and I was eagerly anticipating Masood’s arrival from the office in an hour. Except, I did one little mistake: I didn’t properly roast the ground coconut. As a result, the coconut started floating over my gorgeous gravy instead of peacefully incorporating into it. Imagine my horror. My husband was due to walk into the house in thirty minutes and I didn’t have dinner ready for him. Immediately, I picked out the mutton pieces from the pot, threw the gravy away, and began to chop onions. I decided to start all over again!
While I was chopping onions and getting disappointed over my failure, the phone rang. “What’s for dinner tonight?” he asked sweetly. “Mirchi ka salan,” I replied. “Wow, can’t wait to get home!” he exclaimed. It was at this point that I broke down. Tears began flooding my eyes, blurring my vision. And as I tried hard to remain calm and hide the fact that I was crying, I cut my finger.
“What happened? Are you alright?”
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Are you crying? Hey, why are you crying? Did you hurt yourself?”
“It’s nothing at all.”
I don’t know why, but I can’t just go and tell him outright. He hates it when I say “nothing” because he knows that it isn’t nothing. He has to really push me in order for me to say what’s wrong. This happens a lot of time. Most of the time, I think. It annoys him terribly. But I don’t do it intentionally. Promise.
“Alright, I cut my finger. But it’s nothing!”
“Leave whatever you are doing this very instant!”
“No, I can’t. I am preparing dinner.”
“Go out of the kitchen. Now!”
“But what about dinner?”
“I’ll bring something home, don’t worry. Just leave the kitchen and go rest.”
There are several other stories as well, but I have reached a word count of 746 already so I better stop.
My latest unsuccessful attempt at cooking? Murgh choley or chicken curry with chickpeas.