I called my mother-in-law, Ammini, as I drove to work the other morning for our standard review of the kids’ schedules. After telling me the story of how my older son fell off his bike the day before, she came out with the loveliest statement any busy mom can hear: “I just cooked Rava Kichadi and Dad is making Chicken Curry with Chapati, so we’ll leave that for your dinner tonight.” Okay, maybe that exact line won’t ring bells for everyone. And if you’re raising your eyebrows at the unfamiliar sounding dishes, just know the main point of that sentence was: “Guess what? We cooked so you don’t have to!” And that is a beautiful thing.
From Kerala, (the southernmost state in India,) my in-laws are both fantastic cooks, and their traditional dishes are mouthwatering. Customarily, it’s often just the wife that cooks in an Indian household, but because Brian’s mom was a nurse working the night shift, his Dad had to make his way into the kitchen. Granted, since they both retired she’s back to doing 95% of the cooking, but Dad will jump in to make certain favorites. And I’m lucky because not only do they cater for our family on a frequent basis, but they’ve also been generous in sharing their experience and techniques so that I can make Indian food on my own. Before we got married, I remember going over to their house and I walked into the kitchen to find on the counter two cutting boards, two serious chef’s knives, and two whole chickens waiting to be broken down. I had mentioned in passing that I wanted to learn how to do it, and all of a sudden I had my own private master class waiting. (Okay, to be perfectly honest, it was fun and manageable at the time, but I still find myself buying already cut up pieces at the store. At least it’s something I know how to do!)
These days my lessons are more informal, and what just happened is a perfect example. After Ammini told me she was bringing dinner, she continued, “But the Rava Kichadi needs some chutney. So can you make that?” Chutneys are typically thick sauces that are made with fruits, herbs, spices, sugar, and acids like lemon juice or vinegar, and are used as condiments in Indian meals. They don’t require hard to find ingredients, and you don’t need to serve them with Indian food to enjoy them. And it’s a great way to use up fresh herbs that may be dying in your crisper. But truthfully, instead of just using the cilantro I had at home like any smart person would do, I decided I was in the mood for the mint and coconut chutneys that my favorite South Indian restaurant serves, so during my lunch hour I ran to a local farm-stand and picked up some fresh mint….