My mother repetitively used these words with me when I was well into the last leg of my teenage years, “Your in-laws will curse me that I haven’t taught you to cook. What will you do when you are married?”
What followed then was a conversation that I had refined over time. I’d tell her that I hated the kitchen, I’d hire a cook, or that I would order food from a restaurant. My husband will have to live with it. I was a brat, and I made no bones about it.
When I got married, I didn’t even know how to make chapatis, that essential component of a typical Indori meal. I’d struggle with the dough, which would vary in consistency from tough and unyielding to runny and sticky. Never once did my husband complain about the quality of food, which in retrospect I can only label ‘unfit for human consumption’.
While I have come a long way from the ‘kitchen kung fu’ days, I still deal with the universal-mom-question, “Khaane mein kya banaoon?” My husband loves all veggies but not Chinese, my daughter doesn’t like anything but okra and Chinese and my youngest is still questioning solids as a food group. I’d bristle whenever my mother asked me that question. Now, as a mother myself, I can relate to the confusion she used to go through.
As a kid, I was an extremely fussy eater. I still nurse reservations about certain vegetables, which in my opinion, should remain where they grow. Even so, I loved my pastas, pizzas, and burgers, even of they were completely homemade. My brother was of the opinion that meat is the only real food, and vegetables were those yucky things you have to eat because you can’t have meat everyday. My father was a complete fish-eatarian. He could have fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We didn’t like fish back then, me and my brother. Conjuring up a meal for the three of us must have been a nightmare.
The only thing she made that we all liked without bias was the humble khichdi. Paired with a tangy coconut and tamarind curry, it was the best tasting thing I had ever had. I still have fond memories of how my taste buds tingled as I put morsel after delicious morsel in my mouth. It was something she made when she didn’t have much time, or she had run out of options.
I still yearn for that khichdi and curry. I can only try to replicate that taste, but it’s never the same. And yet, when my daughter told me twice in a month that I had made a delicious khichdi, I knew that there is definitely something about that recipe which makes it so heartwarming and mouth-watering.
There was nothing special about the recipe. The one I make only had rice and moong dal, paired with ghee, jeera, turmeric and a pinch of hing. Oh, and salt! I like to make it a little soupy, and Saee likes it with a generous helping of cold curd.
There are so many ways of making it. I have come across not two, not three, but at least ten different methods of making a khichdi. Each of them unique in their own way, and yet made for the same reasons.
A khichdi is your best bet when you are feeling low, and need comforting. It soothes you when you are sick. It is your companion when you are eating alone. It is perfect when you have many people coming over for a meal. It can be rustled up quickly without too much fuss. When I was pregnant, and didn’t have the energy or inclination to make a more intricate meal, I would make myself a bowl of khichdi and feel both, satisfied and energised.
A khichdi is in so many ways like the mother of all meals. You know you can turn to it when other more sophisticated recipes intimidate you. It isn’t hard, but soft like a mother’s emotions. It isn’t elaborate or beautifully garnished, and neither is it expensive or hard to come by. It is stable, comforting even in its regular avatar. More than anything else, it reminds you of a mother’s love, unchanging and unwavering.
And just like mother’s love, it is humble, but totally irreplaceable.
Dr. Gauri Kekre is a clueless, 30-year-old woman, who still has to find her calling in life. A dental surgeon by education, she has almost given it up to be a mommy to her two beautiful girls. She loves to be a ‘jack of all trades’ and dabbles some in writing, cooking and her latest fad, sewing. She writes off and on for her cookery blog and you can find her as @drgaurikekre on twitter (although she seldom uses it). Amongst the things she loves are her mom, her husband, her daughters and people in general.