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Does the “modern” Indian woman cook? Yes we do – but mind you, only if we want to!
By Anne John
“Will I be fine tomorrow?” asks my neighbour when I hand him a bowl of soup that I’ve just made from scratch.
Why? Because I am so fed up of people’s reactions when I say that I can cook or that I enjoy cooking. I’ve had enough of the silly jokes made around my cooking – which invariably end with “Oh I was just kidding!” Haha. So funny. Not. I mean if you are going to ridicule a free, home-cooked meal atleast be man enough to admit it!
I don’t know how many of you have got this feeling but the general consensus seems to be that young, modern, educated and working Indian girls either a) Can’t cook or b) Don’t like to cook. I am sorry to burst your bubble folks, but I in fact CAN and DO cook – quite well at that.
Of course I know that many women in India are forced to cook every day, doling out meals to unappreciative and insensitive people. And I also know a lot of women who don’t particularly like cooking. Nothing wrong with that – it’s each person’s personal preference.
…when condescending assumptions are made which imply that “women like me” don’t/can’t cook I take offense.
But when condescending assumptions are made which imply that “women like me” don’t/can’t cook I take offense. I mean no one raises incredulous eyebrows when our mothers and grandmothers whip up a delicious meal, do they? Of course I don’t always claim to be a better cook than my mom but I too know a thing or two about cooking and boy! Can I cook up a drool-worthy South Indian Prawns Masala that my family opines is just one step higher on the culinary ladder than my mom’s version! What more accreditation does anyone need for their cooking skills?!
So why is it difficult for people to accept that I can cook well? Is it because I wear mini-skirts and enjoy girls’ night outs? Is it because my home is in a perpetual mess since I am too lazy to clean up regularly? Is it because I talk too much about gender equality and women’s empowerment? Is it because my actions and what I represent challenges the traditional norms of domesticity? Even in mainstream media, women who are swathed in yards of cloth from head to toe, who pray regularly and keep the house spic and span are portrayed as the great cooks while the career-woman-freak-out type is shown to screw up even your most basic instant noodles! So in short, the stereotypical “good Indian girl” can cook well, but the rest of us who fail to fall into that exalted category are, by default terrible ones?
To be frank I never did cook as long as I was living with my parents. Necessity is truly the mother of invention and staying abroad, far away from the comforting smells of my Indian kitchen, I simply had to cook. Pizzas, pastas and burgers are all very well occasionally – but for everyday khana pass me the yummy sambar saatham and spicy mutton biriyanis please!
The one big advantage of experimental cooking when you are living by yourself is that there is no one to see you throw that entirely burnt cake or ruined casserole into the dustbin – except your conscience which chimes in promptly reminding you that you are wasting way too much food and will probably be born in Somalia in your next birth. Oh well.
My life is most definitely not centered around the kitchen – and like everyone else I don’t intend to spend long hours sweating away in it.
Fast-forward post marriage and I am blessed with a husband who never complains about food. He even ate that puke-inducing fish curry that I had cooked – which made me throw up with the first bite – and nodded sagely that it was good. If only you can push aside that niggling conscience about wasting food and accept your karma that yes you are going to hell (or maybe do some extra good to balance the scales perhaps?) and when you don’t have to worry about any adverse reactions from the people who eat your food, trust me it really does wonders to your creative freedom in the culinary arts!
Now I would be lying if I say that I cook every single day. I don’t. At times when I’m tired or busy or simply bored and not in the mood to cook I don’t cook. My life is most definitely not centered around the kitchen – and like everyone else I don’t intend to spend long hours sweating away in it. But trust me, I can cook quite well. Don’t believe me and think that I am simply blowing my own trumpet? Well just drop in for a meal!
Ingredients (Serves 4)
1 kilo – Prawns
20 – Small onions/shallots
3 – Cloves of garlic
¼ teaspoon – Turmeric powder
2 teaspoons – Chilly powder
1 teaspoon – Coriander (Dhania) powder
¼ teaspoon – Garam masala powder
A big pinch – Saunf/Fennel seeds
2 sprigs – Curry leaves
4 teaspoons – Cooking oil
Salt to taste
Shell, devein and wash the prawns
Peel and slice garlic and shallots. If pressed for time, shallots can be substituted with ½ cup of chopped onion.
Heat up the oil in a kadai and throw in the sliced shallots. On a medium flame, sauté till they begin turning brown. Add garlic, salt and turmeric.
Continue sautéing till the shallots turn a deeper brown. Add the chilly and coriander powders (Can adjust the quantities according to your spice tolerance level.)
Mix well and add in the cleaned prawns.
Mix well and add about ¼ cup of water. Do not add more water since the prawns will leave some water out too.
Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove cover, mix well and cook uncovered till the water is absorbed. Approximately 10 minutes depending on how dry you want the dish to be. If you want it drier cook for a couple of minutes longer but take care not to overcook as prawns will turn tough and rubbery.
A couple of minutes before removing from heat add the garam masala, fennel and curry leaves. Mix well and you’re done.
Serve with rice, rasam or sambar or curd. Often we mix it directly in plain steamed rice and eat. Quite tasty!
*Photo credit: Anne John.