A list of my mother’s gifts, talents, and achievements would probably go on for several pages. Her cooking would not be on that list. It’s no surprise that my siblings and I arrived at our various universities to be completely mystified by our classmates’ complaints about dorm food. We thought it was wonderful. Spinach isn’t black? Fish don’t swim the oceans in schools of rectangular breaded sticks? Potatoes aren’t harvested pre-boiled and gelatinous from a can? The use of spices other than salt and pepper isn’t a slippery slope to ingesting illegal substances and living a life of decadent indulgence with garlic-abusing foreigners? Who knew?
This may explain why, when my roommate Jaya moved into our college apartment and started serving us the South Indian dishes she learned to cook back home in Kerala, I took to Indian food with the zeal of a born-again fanatic. Indian food, especially from the south of India, was my kryptonite. And I wasn’t alone. Snow White only got seven guys, but when Jaya started to cook, suddenly there were dozens of homesick Indian men angling for an invitation, bringing offerings of chocolate, and begging for their favorite dishes.
But there was one problem. Whenever we tried to write down her cooking process so we could duplicate the magic, the results were disastrous. Jaya tried to tell us what to do, but we never were able to create anything that approached her masterpieces.
So a few months ago, when some of our fellow villagers offered to hold a curry dinner to raise money for repairs to the Village Hall, I was interested. When I heard that the cooks would be Peter Aitken and Beena Tymms, the authors of a cookbook featuring South Indian dishes, I was more interested. (Kind of the way I’m interested in breathing, adolescents are interested in sex, and Kim Kardashian is interested in Kim Kardashian…)
There were obstacles. Peter and Beena didn’t want to hold the dinner in our usual village venue, the upstairs Village Hall with its stage and long banquet tables—and long trek up from the kitchens. If only there were custom made tables that could go into the snooker room. Then (with the addition of the board cover over the snooker table), there would be intimate seating surrounding the fireplace. There was Beena’s curry at stake. Cast iron cast-off table bases were found by one villager, painted by another, and gorgeous wood tabletops designed and crafted by yet another.
The dinner was amazing. On a cold evening a few months ago, we gathered in the Village Hall and were shown to our respective tables, and (true to village tradition) handed the first of many glasses. The glasses accompanied an incredible array of dishes, each more amazing than the last. While we ate, and using one of the teenage guests as a model, Beena demonstrated how to turn five yards of fabric into a sophisticated sari.
First Course: –
Kovalam Fish Cutlets
Spicy ladies fingers
Main course :-
Side dishes. :-
Dadhima’s Aloo Gobi
Aubergine with tamarind
Tuet green banana
Sweet. :-Mango and pineapple dessert.
And best of all, we found out that they were publishing an expanded new addition of their cookbook, Cooking with Beena, with all the recipes served that night and many more.
I managed to get a copy of that edition (signed!) before it sold out. The recipes are fabulous, the directions clear and easy to follow, and there are many color photos on the spiral-bound pages. And (unlike the notes we made while watching Jaya) these recipes actually work even in the hands of amateurs like me. At last I can duplicate the dishes I’ve been dreaming about for years. The Kollam Chicken Curry recipe is the stuff of dreams, even if you can’t find white poppy seeds and end up using the black ones like I did. Sadly, the second edition is sold out already. But they are considering a limited additional run. At £10 each (plus shipping), they are a bargain, especially because a portion of each sale supports two wonderful charities, one of which is researching MS (multiple sclerosis) and the other builds homes in India for homeless women and children. If you’d like a copy of their cookbook, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org tell them I sent you.
And if you’d like a free copy of the Kollam Chicken Curry recipe, courtesy of Peter and Beena, email me at email@example.com.
Question: Obviously, Beena’s lucky family doesn’t have any of these, but what are the throw-up-in-your-mouth dishes you remember from your childhood? The ones you knew you’d be telling that therapist about in future years?