My mother taught me minimalism

I don’t like long recipes just like some people don’t like long sentences. I tend to stay away from recipes that need more ingredients than I can count on my fingers. Perhaps I have borderline ADHD. But here is my excuse: I grew up with a tradition of minimalist cooking.

No, I don’t mean that my mother hardly ever went to the kitchen. Or that she put finishing touches to store-bought processed food. Actually, when I was a child, she used to enter the kitchen three times a day and spend a good two hours, on an average. Her food was tasty and wholesome. Her style had a certain minimalism of approach that I later began to recognize as a part of our heritage.

I watched her cooking and learned the recipes before I was considered old enough to venture near the stove or wield a knife. Then for many years, I stayed away from the kitchen. I discovered more interesting things to occupy my time – like daydreaming about the object of my infatuation or agonizing over my lack of breasts.

Then one day,when I was nineteen or so, my paternal grandfather moved in with us. He was a man who lived by the clock. Breakfast at 8:00, lunch at 12:00 and dinner at 7:30. No exceptions. Nobody dared to tell him that perhaps he could leave some wiggle room. So when my mother fell sick and was bedridden for a few days, naturally I had to take up her mantle and keep mealtimes on schedule. I  tried to replicate my mother’s cooking. Some days it worked and some days it didn’t. A baptism by fire.

I discovered that I liked cooking despite the occasional nail-biting finishes. I shall never forget eighty-four year-old Grandpa ponderously settling down on his chair at the dining table, noticing the empty plate in front of him and swiveling around to face the kitchen. He never said anything. But his expectant look as he gazed directly at me, frenziedly juggling pots and pans, told me all I needed to know. I was late!

These experiences could have put me off cooking forever. Instead, even after my mother came back to take the reins, I kept up a practice of treating the kitchen as my laboratory, especially during holidays. Sometimes, I cooked my mother’s recipes, sometimes I cooked recipes from magazines and sometimes I cooked whatever came into my head. And that continues to this day, except that now I have a collection of hefty cookbooks in my bookshelves, my mother’s recipes in my head and an even bigger collection of recipes on my computer. But I hardly follow any of them when I am cooking. Also I scarcely stay in the kitchen for more than an hour each day. My recipes are minimalist all the way, from ingredients to method to time taken.

My budding gourmet of a first-grader often looks up from his dinner to say two things:
“That’s very good,” with a raised thumb for good measure;
and then, “Is this from some country or is this from your head?”
The answer is usually somewhere in between. Because here is the thing – sometimes I look at ten different recipes and cook a dish that takes something from each of them. An ingredient from one, a technique from another…you get the idea. Cooking is an adventure and judging by the response of the family – a damn tasty one too!

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