A Welcome By Dor
Among our many friends from different cultures, Suppers welcomes quite a few Indian women. One of them, a physician, told me,
“We have bad genes for diabetes.”
“Maybe,” I thought to myself. “But it wasn’t until you came here and started eating our food that things got so out of control.”
Anu figured it out. She reclaimed her position in the family as the one who sets the rules for and the tone of the dinner scene. Yes, it took work. But consider the alternative and the consequences.
Anu’s Story: Feeding My Children in America
I am an Indian mother raising two children in America. I have a very picky 5-year old boy and an 8-year old daughter who will eat anything as long as it is not too spicy. What? I’m Indian! Their Western eating habits have evolved from being annoying to worrisome, especially as my son is barely grazing the lower edge of the growth charts and is bound to fall off any day now. And to make matters worse, my angst grows when I hear my father’s voice in my head and I can sense his disapproval.
After feeling desperate and hopeless for many years, I decided I had to take control of the situation by putting my focus on it. I have recently started experimenting with a style of feeding children which is more the way French mothers do it. The children are offered one snack after school and nothing else before or after dinner. My kids are starting to understand that dinner is it! We have stopped eating in the car. It has to be at the table, with placemats, and cutlery. The kids are learning to not expect food on-demand but at certain times during the day and only in a setting that honors the importance of eating well.
Dinner has been a struggle, and frustrating experiences in the past have led to complete meltdowns and me manipulating their eating with guilt-inducing tactics. I now try to make the experience pleasurable. We bring our best place mats and dishes out every night.
We have a four-course meal two or three nights per week. Even when we eat out or order in, I try to ensure that we lean towards healthier options, Japanese food instead of pizza or a pub meal. We include a homemade soup, usually something very simple like dal — Indian lentils — or some boiled veggies like cauliflower, carrots, kale, zucchini etc. that have been blended with some stock, butter or maybe crème fraiche. Then we have a salad, entrée and dessert. Dessert is usually fruit along with some chocolate, ice cream or rice pudding.
And I use no more language that makes dessert the goal, “If you eat X, then you get dessert.” Instead I say “Let’s first eat X, then Y, then dessert.”
If they don’t at least taste the first course, they cannot proceed to the next course and have to wait it out until the next meal. Yup…that was not fun the first time we tried it, but I am glad I stuck with it because I have not had to explain it since.
Dinner has turned into a fun game, except the winner is not the fastest one but the person who eats all their courses…slowly.
Finally, we are talking more about what we are tasting, how it feels on our tongues, etc. The only rule is they can’t just say, “I don’t like it.” They have to describe what they are tasting as they develop their palates.
We have been at it for only a few months, but I can tell the difference this approach is making in how my kids show up for meals. We are still years from perfection, but I am grateful for every sip or lick or bite that they take of the rainbow colors that fill their plate, and for their willingness to stick with me on the greatest teaching challenge of my life. And while I call this approach French, I am also realizing that this is exactly how I was raised in India…to value food and associate it with pleasure not guilt, to look forward to engaging with the family during meal times, and to appreciate the ceremony around each meal. What a gift my parents gave me, and I hope my children will thank me some day for passing it on to them.
Applying Anu’s Tactics, By Allie
Channa Masala is, like, my jam. I totally love anything that is like “blank” masala. I figure that the “blank” or X is some sort of protein and the “masala” part is spices + protein + total fiery hotness and then you have a masala.
Yo. Indian Cooking – especially South Indian Cooking – is spicy. I feel the pain of Anu’s children, I really do. I also am of the persuasion that omitting hot peppers from cooking is generally the way to go when it comes to accommodating every eater at your dinner table. But I digress.
Channa Masala is the bessssssssst. It’s the best. Know why? Cause canned chick peas. Cause canned tomatoes. Cause availability. Cause everyone should freeze their ginger whole. That’s why. I don’t have a singular story about South Indian Cooking – how my bestest friend in the world traveled across India for a month and came home to teach me how she ate systematically with her right hand and a piece of delicious Naan in her left, (or the other way around) or how my other best friend lived on an Ashram for a year and became extraordinarily spiritual and never DIDN’T become meditative and incredibly calm or how I basically love Chicken Tikka Masala. I know that’s like the most basic thing to love from Indian cuisine but did you know how Tikka Masala was invented? Let me tell you.
Once Upon a Time, Queen Victoria was totally in charge of India even though she, like, never lived there for a second and only came to visit when she felt like it. The soldiers lived there, though, and the folks who lived there weren’t feelin it. At all. So one day the soldiers were going to be dining with all of the residents (AND the Queen was coming too) and THEY were like – let’s take control of this situation, basically. And so they were like, essentially, “let’s poison these folks.” So they cooked. They took rancid chicken and cooked that rancid chicken in tomatoes and spices that were heavy enough to cover the flavor of the rancidness so that the soldiers would eat it and NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. So they didn’t know the difference. But guess what else. They also didn’t get sick. The volatile, acidic, amazingly powerful spices plus the heat and probably the time (and not the thyme) made it so that the soldiers literally did not experience sickness from the otherwise yucky dinner. And guess what else? They LOVED it. They loved the dish! Its popularity did not escape notice by the Queen and she made it a big deal. Chicken Tikka Masala it was named and India had to wait, like, way longer to gain independence from Great Britain. But they got it and that’s why we now have Channa Masala. I think. That part I made up but the rest is true.
So let’s make that now, together.
Step One: Chop all of your things and prep stations. Heat a pan with olive or coconut oil or Ghee (if you really want to be relevant and stuff.)
Step Two: Saute onions, peppers, ginger, and spices all together for as long as possible. Onions are the foundation of all flavor, basically, in case you were wondering. Also, do you freeze your ginger? CAUSE YOU SHOULD. Keep your ginger root in the freezer and take it out when you need and it grates like a dream. Like a Brad Pitt dream. Like a dream about someone you always dreamed of. Yeah. It grates like that. Like snow. Jon Snow. (Also a dream). Try it. Peel ginger? Who does that?
Step Three: Add chick peas, tomatoes, some broth, herbs, and everything else in the recipe. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until thickened to your desire!
3 Tablespoons coconut oil or ghee
1 large yellow onion, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon freshly ground garam masala
5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
3 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 Red Habanero peppers, minced (*optional)
1 Tablespoon ground Turmeric
2 15oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes, smashed and chopped
1 cup vegetable stock, plus some if necessary
1/2 cup fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme, oregano, etc.)
- In a stockpot, over medium heat, melt coconut oil or ghee. Add onion, salt, and garam masala and saute, stirring frequently, for 7-15 minutes, or until onion is translucent and very tender.
- Stir in garlic and saute while stirring constantly until fragrant, or about 2 minutes, and immediately grate in ginger and add minced hot peppers, Turmeric, chickpeas, tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency.
- Top with fresh herbs and serve hot!