A pinch of salt
I had never cooked a full meal by myself, and I had no idea where my mother kept the various ingredients in the kitchen. In fact, I didn’t even know the names for most of the spices stored in the jars inside the drawer. But I still had time. I flipped through a few cook books to find recipes that I could actually understand, with ingredients which would not raise suspicions.
I shadowed my mother, and found out the difference between baking powder and cooking soda – they were in different types of containers, and one had a label on it. But telling Jeera from the Ajwain was much more tricky. We were definitely not depending on either of those for our cooking.
It was the night before d-day. We said our good nights and slipped into our beds. Amma was still in the kitchen, keeping the last of the dishes inside. We heard the flick of the switch and all the lights were out. We waited another 15 minutes before sneaking out.
Capsicum, onions, tomatoes, paneer, orange food colouring, ginger, chillies, vanilla essence, eggs, cocoa, flour, curd… We had all our ingredients in place. But it wasn’t till we started washing the vegetables, that we realised the challenge before us.
Cooking, and especially the dishes we had decided to cook, were easy enough. But in the silence of the night, could we actually cook without waking up our parents? We couldn’t cook rice in a pressure cooker. No electric grinder for making the purée. No pounding the ginger, and no careless handling of utensils.
But we had taken this challenge, and we were going to pull it off. Anna beat the eggs and sugar as silently as he could, while I chopped the onions. We kept rice on the open flame, and cooked it like the way our ancestors did before the pressure cooker was introduced. We tossed the onions into oil, before it became warm and covered it up, to muffle the sizzling sound.
It was just when the cake batter went into the oven, that we heard something. We looked out of the kitchen. The bedroom light was on. Amma was up.
‘Here we go again!’ I thought to myself. Another plan botched up. But my brother wasn’t going to give up.
He ran towards the door, and stood in front of amma, waving his hands from side to side, blocking her view and preventing her from moving forward. I switched off the kitchen lights, and hid behind the door.
‘What are you doing up at this hour?’ amma asked in a half sleepy and confused tone.
‘Err.. I was thirsty! And… I wanted some warm water… I was just going to bed… What are you doing up right now?!’
Too tired to argue, she didn’t ask how the light turned itself off behind him, and how come he wanted warm water in the middle of summer. That could be done in the morning.’Good night. Go to sleep.’
We waited another twenty minutes before resuming. The tomatoes, capsicum and paneer were added to the onions. Red chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala, a dash of food colouring, and the kadhai paneer was ready.
We poked the cake with a spoon. It came out clean. We thanked our stars, and took it out. The rice had cooled down a little. We mixed up the curd with the rice and added fried mustard seeds, chopped chillies, and diced ginger.
It was well past midnight when we placed everything on the table, the paneer still in the kadhai, the cake still in the tin. The curd rice went into the fridge.
We placed a greeting card and a note on the table, and went to bed – tired, but content. Mission accomplished!
Please don’t wake us up in the morning. We slept really late. There’s cake, kadhai paneer, and curd rice. Wish you A Very Happy Anniversary!
PS. We didn’t put salt in anything.
* * *
Jeera = cumin
Ajwain = carom seeds / bishop’s weed
Paneer = cottage cheese
Kadhai = a type of thick, circular, and deep cooking-pot (similar in shape to a wok)
Image Credit: Cascading Bridal Bouquet CC-BY-SA-3.0