I like to think that I’m a fairly good cook. As the sole vegetarian in a house of omnivores, I do a fair amount of cooking on my own, and it usually tastes pretty decent. But even the most experienced cooks can fail, but very few can fail as spectacularly as we did in our attempt to create a South Indian thali. Sure, it looks fine, but the taste is largely questionable.
My father is from South India, and I’ve spent time over the years learning recipes from my great aunts and grandmother, so I don’t really have any excuses for the events that transpired. And what actually happened? It’s a kind of a blur.
I suppose that this particular post is to show that a lot of mistakes go into those shiny cookbooks and the perfect pictures. People mess up, I mess up a lot, so I thought I’d use this blog post to go through my mistakes and what I’ve learned.
The distinct mistakes are as follow:
1) If the bag of frozen green beans is in Hindi and just looks like green beans, maybe don’t use those. I accidentally bought a very bitter and starchy variety for the thoren. Thoren is a very simple vegetable preparation that I’ve made time and time again, but it doesn’t always work. Lesson Learned: Know what you are cooking with. If you don’t recognize an ingredient look it up. If the label is in another language, ask for help, or find a substitute
2) Don’t trust every recipe you read online. It may not work. I tried to make a vegan version of a famous dish called Chicken Chettinad. It didn’t taste good, nor did it even vaguely resemble the recipe I grew up with. Lesson Learned: There’s no real way to prevent this. Trial and error, test recipes, take chances. Maybe don’t use these recipes for the first time when company is coming over
Unfortunately, you can’t always trust recipes from well known cookbooks to turn out perfectly either. Isha attempted to make a tomato chutney from a book that my relative wrote, but it made both of us feel rather sick to our stomachs. Sometimes recipes don’t work, and that has to be accepted. Lesson Learned: Try, try again. Both Isha and I knew something was wrong with the chutney, and we were right. We’ll try again….and again
Read the reviews of Indian grocery stores on Yelp. Most of them are family owned, and while most are perfectly fine, one that I went to had reports of questionable expiration dates. I should have believed them. We used pre-made idli/dosa batter which is available at most Indian grocery stores, but we’re pretty sure that this one was expired which is why our idli and dosa turned out- strange. Lesson Learned: Read reviews, don’t buy expired products. It seems simple, but it can really mess things up.
And all of these mistakes ended up causing some pretty serious problems with our South Indian thali. But the show must go on. I am trying different recipes independently, and ultimately, we will reattempt this thali plate and make it work, ideally with less mistakes than the first time.