Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Two Many Cooks

This piece is not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the La Tomatina festival, seeing as it is its 70th anniversary today. But let’s anyway find out what tangy tomatoes can accomplish!

Too many cooks spoil the broth. I’m sure you have been hearing this since you started prep school. But what they don’t tell you is that even one is enough. Or for that matter, two.

I don't know how your childhood has been if you haven't at least once tried your taste buds on jam-chapati, parantha-burger, rice-ketchup, roti-sambhar or even biscuits dipped in water. But I guess every food invention is not as successful. What seemed easy to me in girlhood now appears daunting, if not downright scary.
I think, moms and grandmoms or even dads and grandads, who have admirable culinary skills are basically genius at math. More specifically proportion. While I always ask exactly what amount of sugar has to be added to tea, or the precise number of tomatoes to be put in the Manchurian gravy, the veterans use a single code word for all amounts- 'andaza' meaning an approximate amount. Andaza actually means a good guess. According to the cooks, good guesswork is all that there is to good cooking. But I can tell you it's a ruse. They are just so bloody good at math that they don't even realize it at times.
Rewind to my mom's birthday last year. A feast was being prepared. Not for her. For her, there was the cake and the gifts. The feast was for those who would be bringing in wishes. It was to be a small gathering, mostly family including a few friends. Mom was stirring her dishes, desperate for them to get cooked soon so she could change into something that looked like a birthday ensemble. And then the bell rang. Mom abandoned the kitchen and went to change; my brother seated the guests and served them drinks, as sparkling as their own moods were, while I wondered what was to become of the food. Mom was totally off her top, thanking people, replying to SMSs, taking calls and running to and fro from the kitchen, making sure everything was cooking smoothly. I was given a single task - to stir. I had to stir the concoction and inform her when it started to boil - "when bubbles appear on the surface" she explained.
"I do know what it means to boil," I said, stung by her lack of faith in me.
"Oh I don't think you do," she said and went back to the living room. Although I bristled at the remark, her prediction was about to be proven true in the near future.
The cake was cut, snacks were played around with and a positively charged atmosphere reigned in the house. While all this was happening, my brother and I decided to do our own snacking in the kitchen.

“How is the Manchurian coming on?” he asked. I knew he was showing such interest because of his rumbling stomach, which had started to rumble all the more loudly at the scent of food.
“The pakoras are not in yet. So, hold your horses,” I told him.
“When will they be prepared then? We will have dinner in an hour or so. Family A has to leave early.”
“See the batter beside the microwave? Mom will be coming in a while and making the balls. You scoot off.”
“Hmmm. You should help her, you know. After all, it’s her birthday. Having to work on one’s own birthday despite having a grown-up kid, that’s such a pity!”
My brother has a tendency to act Narad muni (of Indian mythology fame) at times.
“Despite having two grown up kids,” I corrected him. “And if you care so much, why don’t you help her? I am already helping,” I said, pointing to my stirrer.
“And that is what I am planning to do,” he said, a manic gleam in his eyes.
In retrospect, I can say that I had an inkling when I saw his eyes that something was about to happen but I didn’t quite make it out then. We decided to prepare the Manchurian gravy balls. The batter was almost prepared. But a few ingredients had to be added. I was about to shout out and ask mom what more should be added when he stopped me.
“Really! When are you going to learn? If she has to spoon-feed you the entire ingredient list, what is the point of helping at all?”
His words obviously struck home and I decided to summon my experiences and observations in order to get the task done.
“Let’s keep it simple. Pepper and salt are usually put in, I guess, apart from this usual stuff that she has prepared.”
And so went pepper and salt.
“Oregano always has a typical tang. It’s a must,” my brother said.
“Let’s look up some special prep on the net,” I suggested, suddenly inspired.
He showed me his watch. “Do we have the time? Let’s just use our imagination.”
“Oh God!” I exclaimed. “She forgot tomatoes!”
We sliced the tomatoes up and pushed them into our mixing bowl.
“And potatoes! I see them sliced up on that plate.”
Added the potatoes.
“What about coriander leaves? I have seen them being used to garnish dishes. They look exquisite. They taste great too.”
Plus coriander.
“Don’t they write on ready-to-eat mixture packets to add as many veggies as one likes? Paneer balls would be just ultimate.”
Plus paneer slices.
“You know, Chinese preps are void without ketchup. We must use that.”
Plus ketchup. And more ketchup. We had a huge bottle of it that was rarely used (because of the simple reason that sauces are condiments and not vegetables, something we were to realize later). So, this seemed like a chance to really use it. In our enthusiasm, we kind of poured in a little too much. So much so that the rest of it was swimming in ketchup.
“Ketchup can’t go wrong,” he told me confidently looking at my panicked face. “It’s always the best.”

Half an hour was already up. We somehow formed the batter into globular structures and plopped them into the simmering gravy. 
There! A job well done! How utterly delicious it looked when we poured it out onto a gravy boat! My brother made as if to taste it and I didn’t stop him. He deserved it this time. Before he had time to react to it, I had already taken a spoonful to admire our handiwork.
Then we looked at each other.
“I don’t think potatoes form a part of gravy balls,” he told me in an accusatory tone.
“Neither do coriander leaves for that matter. They are so awfully kadai paneerish!” I retorted.
“And by the way, ketchup is over-hyped,” he said.
“You have no idea how much,” I agreed and ran to fetch my phone.
Tapping furiously, I hunted for the tiny owlish icon-the TinyOwl app on my screen. We had no choice but to order Manchurian gravy from a nearby Chinese takeaway. We had ruined the dish. Thanks to TinyOwl, the order arrived just in time for dinner and we somehow managed to cloak our goof-up.

After the ketchup experiment on mom’s birthday, we didn’t go near the ketchup bottle for weeks. The tangy taste on our tongue did not leave us so easily.
I told you, culinary skills have a lot more to do with math. Andaza is a tough concept to master. And 'two' many cooks can spoil the broth too, you see!

 I am participating in "Food Tales with Tiny Owl" at IndiBlogger. 



Image Sources:


No comments: