Cooking is the last activity that I ever thought I would indulge in. Of course, I have put together a hasty lunch or dinner in the past, when I have had to but most of my meals at such instances were pretty much instant or micro-wave ready meals. In the instances when I took the trouble to cook, I was only prepared to take the effort to cook meals that could be prepared in fifteen or twenty minutes. A simple noodle or pasta dish and at times rice with dhal curry was the most I managed.
Yet, sometime during the first half of 2013 that changed. I can now cook. More importantly, I enjoy cooking.
The reason this change has been surprising to me and my family is that I have never enjoyed cooking before. I always felt it was a waste of time to spend time in the kitchen. I also never had the patience to go through a recipe, understand what seemed like a secret, complex code and make something. Fortunately for me, whenever I am at home, Amma’s excellent cooking and ownership of the kitchen spared me the need of venturing into that domain.
Apart from my dislike of cooking, I also had a mental block that I should not be in the kitchen. I remember as a teen, my father used to make a fuss that as a girl, I had not ever stepped into the kitchen and would not be able to make anything in an emergency. He would keep harping about the fact that he had been able to cook rice, dhal curry and a sambol at the age of eight. I would feel discriminated as he never said the same to my brother. So, I would dig in my heels and refuse to go anywhere near the kitchen for cooking. Luckily, my mother has always been liberal minded and anyway, preferred us to focus our energies on our studies and then our career. She just requested us, both my brother and I, to help out with grocery shopping which I happily undertook as my siblings and I took turns with it growing up.
However, over the last few years, I had been increasingly worried about Amma’s health. After returning home last year from some months abroad, I saw that she had become very frail. I felt that the fact that she does not eat proper meals, but rather snacks on a slice of toast or some instant noodles, was also a crucial factor in her weakening health. Amma’s excuse has always been that she has never been able to eat what she cooks. She says that after cooking and feeding the family, it feels as if she has eaten a full meal.
For Amma’s birthday last April, I felt I wanted to do something special. I decided to try my hand at making an apple crumble. As a friend had said that it was very easy to make and I love apple pies, I decided to make it. It didn’t turn out as I imagined it would but it was eatable and everyone at home was surprised. Amma particularly was quite proud of it. When my sisters heard about my attempt at making an apple pie, they started suggesting that perhaps I could think of making some food for Amma regularly to encourage her to eat better.
I gave it some thought and since I had just completed a consultancy assignment and was at home, in between work, I decided I would give it a try. The problem I had was deciding what to cook. Amma was anyway cooking complete Sri Lankan meals for us each day. There was no point in me trying my hand at making a curry when hers was the best. So, I decided to make my cooking attempt fun for me while making it interesting and tempting for my mother. I enjoy travelling and decided that while I was at home, I would look at travelling through food.
I scoured the net and depending on my mood, would select a nutritious, mostly heart healthy, diabetic friendly recipe from a different part of the world each time. From simpler, healthier Vietnamese style tofu noodle lettuce wraps and savoury vegetable pancakes, I soon progressed to making okra and chickpea tagine and mushroom and barley risotto. It didn’t necessarily mean that my food turned out well all the time but at least, they were eatable, flavourful and different.
Amma, while not having significantly improved her eating pattern, at least consumes a little of what I make and hopefully gets a slightly better nutritional balance. She is a very picky eater and I appreciate fully now the patience she must have had with us as kids to experiment and find what we preferred and to encourage us to eat balanced meals.
I still don’t enjoy spending much time in the kitchen and try to finish up in an hour, when I do go and make something. What I am quite proud of though is that looking at a recipe now feels like reading in a language I understand. I can now decode. More importantly, I am able to cook something that tempts my mother to try it out.
As I am sharing this post at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday #32, I will share one of the recipes I tried out for my mother – this is a slightly adapted version of Eating Well’s mushroom and barley risotto.
Mushroom and Barley Risotto
- 4 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in 4 cups water
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
- 1/2 cup red grape juice, freshly squeezed and chilled
- 3 cups spinach, chopped
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon margarine
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Chopped carrots and spinach, for garnish
- Mix the freshly blended red grape juice with vinegar and refrigerate a couple of hours before starting the cooking.
- Bring broth and water to a simmer in a large saucepan. Adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add an eighth of the grape juice and simmer, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute more. Reduce heat to medium.
- Add 1/2 cup hot broth to the barley and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding the grape juice and hot broth by alternatively adding an eighth of the grape juice, stirring until the liquid has been absorbed, and then adding 1/2 cup hot broth. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, until the barley is tender and creamy but still somewhat firm, 35 to 45 minutes. (You might not use all the broth or you might need to add some of the water in reserve)
- Stir in spinach and cook, stirring, until it is wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in cheese, margarine and vinegar. Season with pepper.
- Garnish with a little chopped carrot and spinach and serve warm.
Source: Adapted from Eating Well