If you are anything like me, you are a little intimidated by cooking Indian cuisine. It seems complicated, but really is as simple as the ingredients themselves. Each serving an aurveydic purpose, there isn’t an ingredient that is added that is added without reason. Still I was nervous to pick up the spice dhabba and get started.
Enter: Mrs. Rita
All one really must do is express an interest in anything in South India and there will immediately be one (or more!) people willing to share their knowledge. It is as beautiful as the food and makes everything that feels complicated about India, less so. Mrs. Rita is the keeper of our household, she cooks for us, she cares for the children and she is our ambassador to all things Chennai. If I have a question, she has an answer. When I expressed an interest in learning to cook South Indian food, she had already chopped all the tomatoes and onions, laid out the spices and ground the coconut. She was awaiting me in the kitchen with a hot cup of tea.
Mrs. Rita is a wife, a mother and a grandmother to three. She has a smile as warm as an Indian summer’s day and a laugh that fills our entire home. She prays and she believes and she gives what she does not have to people who have less and more. She is a maker and a doer and is the mother of us all when we are feeling suddenly far away from home. She wears rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. She arrives dressed in saris, painted with colors and jingles her way through her days. Mrs. Rita has cared for expat families in Chennai for over twenty years. In her “down-time” she cooks for her family, her neighborhood and for people on the street. She has a million stories to tell, and they are often accompanied by recipes, and her recipes accompanied by stories. Her cooking is her love and perhaps that is why I feel so close to her and loved by her because I have been loved the same way by my mother and love the same.
This is only the beginning of this story, one accompanied by her favorite, Sunday family recipe.
I worried that many of these ingredients wouldn’t be available in the US, but the world is as small as it ever has been, and would you believe I found fresh curry leaves- delivered from Hawaii on Amazon? Worry is wasted, food should not be. Most of these ingredients are available in your local market or Indian specialty store. Keep your eyes, hearts and mouths wide open. Enjoy!