White American Girl meets brown Pakistani guy. Hilarity ensues.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
On How I Got My Recipes
When my in-laws came to America for the first time they stayed with us for 52 days. For almost all of that we all lived in a 700 square foot, 1 bedroom apartment. Ammi and Abbu (My mother-in-law and father-in-law) slept in the bedroom while M and I slept on an air mattress in the dining "room" portion of the big living area. Every morning Ammi and Abbu would wake up earlier than we did and creep into the tiny kitchen to make themselves tea and breakfast. We would wake up some time later when Abbu just couldn't keep that quiet anymore. Ammi would do her best to "shush" him and keep his volume down, but it could only last so long.
Of course, M still had to work during those weeks, and I spent the day alone with Ammi and Abbu. Abbu speaks English "fluently" but M likes to say that Abbu "speaks more than he listens" so communicating with him sometimes takes more than one try. Ammi doesn't speak any English and my Urdu was very limited at that time. (It's still very limited, so I guess it was barely existent back then!) But we got by though. More than once I called M at work so he could do a little phone translating!
I made a point that I would not spend the days holed up in a room by myself, so Ammi, Abbu and I spent most of the time together. I took them shopping a lot; mostly for food or supplies for the evening's dinner, but also for lots of things for them to take back to Pakistan with them. There was a big master list of things they wanted, things we wanted them to have, and whenever we found something new they liked, we'd add it to the list (Scotch Brite sponges! Oil of Olay face wash! Flossing thingies!)
But the main passtime was cooking. I never really cooked much before I was married. I spent 10 years as a vegetarian, so I was used to having to microwave my own meal while my mother cooked dinner for the family. In that way I never learned to cook from her before I moved out. (Which was a shame because she's a fantastic cook and I'm only just now mastering some of her recipes!) M liked to say that when he met me I didn't know how to cook anything, I only knew how to HEAT things. ("Microwaving isn't cooking!" he'd say.) But I did try to cook desi food once, with some success, and I did have an interest in cooking. I'd just never had enough money for pots & pans. (or even food, much of the time!)
So I told Ammi that I would love to learn how to cook some Pakistani dishes with her. She had already begun a program I called The Great Freezer Fill of 2003. (She would cook and cook and cook and freeze things in ziplock bags and by the time they left for Pakistan, M had a freezer FULL of his mother's home cooking to last him through his last 6 months of bacherlorhood.)
So Ammi began to teach me how to cook. Even things like dicing onions had a different meaning in Pakistani cooking. There was the fine, "omelette-wali" cut for frying onions at the beginning of a dish, the larger, full circle "salad-wala" cut for toppings, and the paste-in-the-blender kind for finer dishes when you didn't want onions floating around. It was all very new and complicated for me.
Ammi mostly taught me the basics by miming. (We REALLY couldn't communicate much in those days.) Abbu, my father in law, helped out by transcribing all of her recipes in English on paper for me while we worked in the kitchen together. He painstakingly wrote out all of the recipes Ammi could think of, sometimes complete with diagrams on how to roll out a roti or how to cut the beans. By the time they left I had all the tools that would later make me quite the Pakistani cook (if I do say so myself!) And I kept all of those recipes and still refer to the infrequently used ones. Someday I really should type the all up so they're not all lost one day!
In the middle of the page on this recipe, you can see Abbu's diagram of how to fill a ball of dough with potato paste to make Aloo ki roti - potato bread - how to roll it out, and even how to finished product should look with little dots of cilantro showing through the thin dough. I think this one if my favorite!