Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Curry Night and the Story of My Indian Grandmother

Making Indian food is always an event for me.  This is something I must come to terms with before I attempt my next "quick curry".  For some reason, I always think it will be just another 30 minute meal.  But before I know it, it's been an hour, and my husband is asking when dinner is going to be ready. Another hour later, it's on the table.  Mind you, I cannot just cook one curry, I need to have at least two side dishes, plus rice.  I don't know if it's my over ambitious four course meal mentality, or if it's the list of ingredients that hits the bottom of the page in my Indian recipe book, but either way, my meal prep for Indian night needs to shrink.  I thought maybe this Indian slow cooker cookbook would help.  That's sort of the purpose of a slow cooker, right? to reduce cooking prep time?  Somehow it didn't reduce anything- just extended the amount of time the food was cooking.  This may have been part of the reason:

 Blanched tomatoes?  Haven't these Indians ever heard of canned tomatoes??
Liam helping me peel the blanched tomatoes
This was another reason: digging out my food processor to puree almost all the ingredients after I coarsely chopped them.  Wow, and I didn't even roast and grind the cumin seeds- that would have been just another step.  Indian food is good for a reason: it's hard to make. Kind of like French food, I suppose.
Analee helping me with the food processing.
She's thinking, Mom, you're nuts if you think I'm going to eat that.

So after an entire morning of trying to get this meal together (plus taking care of a baby, a toddler and homeschooling a four year old), I finally had everything in their crock pots by 11:30am. Just in time for lunch.  Hurray, another meal.

However, after coming home from Liam's French class at 3:30pm, all my previous feelings about never wanting to cook another Indian meal vanished.  The most glorious smell of cooking curry hit me as soon as I opened the door.  It filled me with good feelings and memories of my Indian grandmother who taught me how to cook Indian food.  

Ok, that's not really truth.  I wish I could say that my Indian grandmother taught me how to cook because it sounds really cool, but actually I don't have an Indian grandmother and she only tried to teach me how to cook.  I probably would have learned more if she would have been able to speak better English.

When we lived in South Denver, I nannied (or at least that's what they called it) for an Indian family and had some of the worst experiences of my life.  I actually was an underpaid tutor for a 13 and 16 year old and was treated like a servant, but I felt like a slave because I couldn't quit.  I was constantly belittled and threatened with being fired, yet I was bound to this job.  I had to help support my family and this was the only job that had the hours and pay I needed.  The. longest. 9. months. of. my. life.  Have you ever heard of a nanny job where you are held responsible for the kids' grades?? Kids who only got these grades because their previous nanny did the work for them! Yeah, that bad. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.  I may have very well escaped purgatory with that job if only I would have been able to offer up my sufferings without complaining so much!  The only good thing I got from that job was my love for Indian food. That, and free Maroon 5 tickets!

Where was I? Oh yes, Indian grandmother.  Granny, whose real name I don't remember, came for the entire summer to live with said family.  She treated me as respectfully as I would imagine she treated her servants in India, which was a lot better than I was being treated by my boss- the Mom.  UNTIL she started getting really sick of the way her daughter was belittling her too. You see, the mom was a tyrant who ran the house and held everyone under her fearful reign.  Even her husband was helpless and told Granny that he didn't know what to do with his wife. How sad. Anyway, Granny started confiding in me because she had nowhere else to go. And so started our odd friendship.

We managed to organize a night out of the prison where she would teach me how to cook Indian food.  I still smile when I think about how we snuck out spices from her daughter's cabinet.   I didn't have all the right ingredients that are needed for a good Indian meal, and there was no way the mistress was going to be as kind as to let me have a few grams of spices.  So Granny carefully wrapped about five different spices into napkins and stuck them into my pocket when the kids weren't around.  She was a sly one! Before we left for our fun night, the mom had to threatened me one more time.  "If I find out you've been talking about me or my family, You will be like gone!" I remember her spitefully saying.

Granny ( insisted her American grandchildren call her this funny name inspired by the Loony Toons Granny. I considered myself one of her American Grandchildren) tore up my kitchen like no other bossy old Indian woman could. "Now sweep!" she told me as she pointed to the mess we made in my kitchen.   She may have been old, but she sure was lively.  When it was time to eat, we sat down together with my son and my husband, but Granny didn't want to eat.  She'd rather watch.  After we took the first few bites, Granny not so shyly, said, "well....compliment me!"  Actually, I don't remember her exact words but I remember her funny little way of asking for some praise!  It was the most awkward, interesting dinner company we ever had.  It was fantastic! The food was good too, but not as good as the food Granny made in her daughter's house where she had all the right ingredients and tools.

So that's the story of my Indian Grandmother whom I fondly called, "Granny" mostly because I couldn't remember the correct pronunciation of her name.  When she left, she secretly gave me her email address, and I secretly gave her mine, though I never heard from her again.  I was too chicken to email her either.  I was still under the fearful reign of mommy monster and I didn't want anything to get back to her.  She told me I should visit her in South India.  Boy, would that be a trip!

And here's my Indian meal I made the other night.
Honey roasted eggplant with green chilies....mmmm! I've made these a few times before.  This is the only way I like eggplant.  It tastes like dessert with a bite!

I didn't make this naan from scratch- just had my husband grill them over the stove.  So good!  But for the record, Granny ate chapatis, not naan.  They were basically whole wheat tortillas.  I sure was funny to go to McDonald's with her and see her turn up her nose to a hamburger bun.   I immediately knew what she wanted and ordered a wrap for her.  I told her it was a chapati and she laughed at the fact I knew her so well!

I made a side of carrot curry with fenugreek (methi) seeds.  It smelled amazing, but tasted horrible because I accidentally added twice as much spices for the amount of carrots I used.  I tried to remedy it with coconut milk, but it was still inedible :(

Here's the finished curry. Chicken tikki masala with cauliflower and the inedible, but good smelling carrots. My husband and I loved the tikki masala.  I made so much, half went into my freezer for another night's meal. At least that meal won't take me two hours to make again!

And here's what the kids ate.  After two hours of slaving over hot crock pots, they eat pizza. Normally, I make them eat what we eat- whether they like it or not- but the curry was way to spicy for them.  I was being nice this night. 


Jamie Jo said...

Oh, my! That was a great story!!

What an experience.
We have a new restaurant in our town, called "Star of India" and their food is wonderful!!

katherine studied India and afterward, we went there to celebrate and get a taste of their food.

Was the family Catholic?
We have an Indian priest at our parish now. When we lived in California, growing up, we had neighbors from India and their house always smelled of spices (as did they) and they wore the most beautiful clothes, they were a very nice family, but had some interesting things was so long ago, I don't remember much, just their son's name (my brother's friend) Kataan. (not sure of the spelling)

Great story, thanks for sharing it with us!

Sarah Harkins said...

Hi Jamie! No, the family was Hindu. They do have beautiful sari's. I had to iron for four hours every day and the sari's were one of the things I ironed. yards and yards of fabric!

Jamie Jo said...

Just curious....that family we knew was also Catholic.

noreen said...

That's an incredible story. So you were nanny, tutor and housekeeper? How did the mom take it when you left? You must have breathed a sigh of relief when that job was done!

I used to work in a hospital years ago and we had an orthopedic surgeon who was well known in the Indian society. Every once in awhile when an Indian man or woman came in for a knee or hip replacement, the family would "rent" several of the hospital rooms. They brought in wonderfully smelling Indian food and shared it with the staff on petite and dainty china. All of them were very gracious and warm.

Mandy said...

Sarah, you totally had me laughing out loud through this whole post. I loved it! Thanks for sharing. I love Indian food too, I'll have to send you may favorite recipes that are easy to make!

Elisa said...

I LOVE this story. Haha, we have so much in common. When I was 18, after graduating from High School, I spent 8 months in Madrid, Spain, as a nanny to 4 very spoiled children. The parents in the household were okay, but mostly made me feel fat, because they felt fat. I was super skinny and always have been. Haha, well, I left after 8 months, even though I was supposed to stay for 12. I couldn't handle raising 4 children who weren't my own. They basically expected me to raise their children, to parent their children, I just feel that is the parent's job! Anyhow, I LOVE Indian food. My mother visited India when she was 17 and couldn't eat anything. When I was little, I heard of Mother Teresa and decided that I'd want to work in an orphanage in India when I was older, so I started putting tobasco on all my food. Now most "hot" food isn't "hot" to me. =) I still want to visit India one day.

Katie Rose said...

this food looks amazing! i have always been impressed with your cooking skills.