Posts Tagged ‘remedios caseros


My grandmother and the Food Network

Since she was released from hospitalization for a heart attack and a hernia, my grandmother has been under doctor’s orders to stay away from stress and physical effort—including cooking. Less time in front of the stove means more time in front of the TV, and she and my sister have been bonding over the Food Network.

It turns out, though, that English-language cooking shows pose some challenges for her. “Sometimes I don’t understand the ingredients they’re talking about. What’s the word he’s using for that pasta? I can see it’s noodles, but I don’t know what he’s calling them.”

They were rigatoni, and I explained to her that different shapes of pasta have different names. I left aside the issue of different uses, figuring she’d pick that up with enough watching. But I did notice that the Food Network had already taught her “pasta,” which she hadn’t known a few years ago, when her vocabulary there was limited to “noodles” and “fideos.”

She’s also having a hard time deciding what this “basil” thing is, sometimes deciding that it’s “bay leaf,” instead. But cilantro is a cinch–she was inspired enough by its television celebrity to ask me to buy her a few plants and pot them for her on her porch. And, prohibitions on cooking aside, she had a pot full of lovely poached chicken soup, with garlic, celery, potato, and cilantro, ready when I first arrived.

Another Food Network addition to her English vocabulary is “scallion,” as part of what they’re apparently calling GGS, or ginger-garlic-scallion: the Asian mirepoix. Garlic she got, no problem. Ginger, ok. (It’s familiar as a medicine, if not as a spice.) But, “What’s that last thing, mi’ja?” “Son cebollinas, Momo.” And maybe it’s time to see the eye doctor as well as the cardiologist…

In other news, this is the first Stuff White People Like entry that I’ve enjoyed in a long time.


multicultural miscommunications

As yesterday’s flight to San Francisco taxied to the gate, my Indian seatmate and I had a conversation that neither of us could really hear over the sounds of the plane, and the resulting miscommunications reminded me of my favorite bit from Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors.

In the 1920s and 30s, tightening immigration and anti-miscegenation laws isolated the men of California’s Punjabi Sikh population. Many returned to the Punjab, but many who stayed married California Mexicanas–who made attractive wives not least for their legal entitlement to own property. And, at least materially, the spouses’ cultures were compatible. “They developed a harmoniously blended … cuisine” based on flatbreads and fresh ingredients, especially “freshly ground spices.” “The fried chicken or lamb of the Mexican women was not that dissimilar to the chicken curries of the Punjabi men.” Even their home remedies were compatible, with the quintessentially Mexican chiles figuring into Ayurvedic cures. To Collingham’s list of correspondences, I would add a reliance on beans and pulses, the use of quick pickles, rice pudding for dessert, and the similarities between lassis and atol.

Nevertheless, Collingham reports, “The Mexican-Punjabi marriages were characterized by a disproportionately high divorce rate.” I imagine that it centered around the home altars where the couples might also have expected to find common ground. Gazing on what she assumed to be a Virgin Mary, I can imagine the Mexican wife channeling Jack Shaftoe in The Confusion: “Yes, I see quite plainly that you were so good as to remove the elephant-trunk, and that the lady has a proper nose now, and for that you have my undying gratitude. …And as long as I am helping you with your self-esteem, sirrah, allow me to thank you for scraping off the blue paint. But! For! Christ’s! Sake! Do you know, sirrah, how to count? You do? Oh, excellent! Then will you be so good, sirrah, as to count the number of arms possessed by this Lady? I will patiently stand here while you take a full inventory–it may take a little while…”

Droring courtesy Liza Ferneyhough


On cooking in California: Part 1

I figured that moving to California would change our cooking habits. But how? We’d probably eat more citrus, and our salad season would be extended–would maybe even replace our winter mac and cheese season. That’s as far as I got in thinking about it.

And both of those things are at least partly true, but they’re not all of it, and they weren’t even the first changes we noticed.

Three things just showed up in our regular stock of ingredients: parsley, ginger, and yogurt. Of those three, I might have guessed the yogurt if you had asked me what new things we would keep on hand in California. More fruit equals more fruit snacking. More fruit snacking plus my hypoglycemic need for protein equals a steady supply of yogurt to go with the fruit. Maybe.

Actually, it started off as cottage cheese, but I tired of that and moved on to Greek yogurt, which was more flexible in the kitchen besides. It could be used in Kaddo Bourani when we found our counter covered with squash after a trip to the Farmer’s Daughter pumpkin patch last fall. It can also be used in muffins, mac and cheese (which we still eat), and other recipes–handy, given that we’re not milk drinkers and so we don’t keep milk on hand.

After a few weeks of Greek yogurt, it began to bother me what a harsh mistress Fage was. The largest container I could buy ran out well before the week was over, and it was awfully expensive. What was different about Greek yogurt, anyway? Was there anything special besides its thickness?

The answer is no. So I bought cheaper, larger container of regular yogurt, dumped it into a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, and placed that over a stockpot in the fridge for the night. Voilà, Greek yogurt.

Parsley has a sort of California connection, too. Fresh local parsley wasn’t available in Boston in the winter, and we couldn’t be bothered with the scanty plastic packets at the grocery. We became year-round fans of dried parsley, both for its own flavor and for the way it enhanced other flavors. But in California, fresh parsley is available, a huge bunch for a dollar, year-round at the nearest farmers’ market. We bought one and put it in a jar of water on the door of the fridge, where it immediately became a fixture. We use it in white wine sauces and sprinkle it on almost everything else, and it lets us make tabbouleh any time we like. (Thanks to Moosewood’s vegan chili recipe, cracked wheat was already a staple in the Cervantes-Ferguson pantry. And thanks to my grandmother, who swears by it as a cure for stomach upsets, I wouldn’t dream of not at least trying to keep a pot of hierba buena, or spearmint, growing. It languished in Boston; it’s thriving in San Francisco.)

Ginger first ended up in the fruit bowl because our wine bottles full of ginger syrup, which we mix with water and then carbonate to make ginger beer, wouldn’t have survived the move, so we gave them to friends at our last going away party. This left us in need of more ginger syrup, and there was ginger left over when I was done making it. We used the ginger in ginger-lemon-honey tea when we were sick this fall, but our favorite use has been frying it up crisp with garlic to sprinkle on any dish that’s even vaguely Asian, as Mark Bittman recommends.

Next time: The new things we’ve made an effort to keep in our California pantry.

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