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.
I like to take comfort in that I am not the only one who can mess up a meal. I completely understand the frustration of trying out new recipes, only to end up with a Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/) fail. I love this post, it’s interesting and funny, and most importantly entertaining. It’s refreshing to read a blog that you strongly relate to. I think your advice of trial and error is particularly helpful, since like you said, you don’t always end up with a successful dish. I wouldn’t want to make any guest eat something that’s nothing short of tasty. Personally I’ve never tried Indian food and I’m glad that you all are taking the time and effort to make your dishes and make sure they taste good instead of writing a standard recipe. This post established that we can trust that as writers of a cookbook you are being cautious, it establishes an ethos for your work. I can’t wait to see your final product and finally try Indian food!
Trial and error is a huge part of life. I believe that’s how each individual person is made. Personally I’m not such a great cook either. Living with my mother she does not cook, but my step mom does. My step mother is not great at cooking but what she does do is try which is all I can ask for. I’ve had many meals which haven’t tasted well so instead I’d have to make myself some Ramen noodles sadly. Knowing that I will be out of state attending a college I think it is very important to know how to cook and not just go out to eat every night. This saves a college student a lot of money. I think Isha and you creating Indian dishes is a smart idea because in this process you are learning how to cook which is a very nice task to know how to accomplish. What I suggest is asking one of you’re family members to show you how to cook an Indian dish. This will help because you are able to see physically how to cook the dish and even help with making the dish. Hands on usually helps an individual retain more than just reading a cook book on how to create a dish. If your team is in need of more Indian dishes ideas here’s one of my favorite websites (https://www.pinterest.com/sanjeetakk/indian-vegetarian-recipes/).