You can tell a lot about a family by observing what their daily meals look like. If you saw my family’s meals in India for example, you would know that our family valued health and ease of cooking over taste. You would also know that we were creatures of habit – my mom would make certain things on specific days of the week, and there was logic to the whole schedule. She would make khichari, simple rice and daal porridge cooked together in a pressure cooker, on Friday night. She will knowingly make more so she could use the leftover khichari as breakfast on Saturday, the day she had to leave for work early in the morning. If a dish could be prepared in less than 15 minutes, it was on the menu.
The food adventurer in me was lost living with this family of monks. The family meal was more like a group of yogis in meditation – all of us sitting down on the floor, thanking the Gods and mom for the meal in front of us. Because we always ate simple homemade meals, I had to improvise the meals with other condiments. I would eat the khichari first with ghee, then with a mango pickle and lastly with spiced yogurt. Anup would make fun of me saying this was Chef Medha’s specialty, “Khichari 3-ways”.
If you saw Anup’s family back in India, you would know that this family was bound together by food – great tasting food. Anup’s mom, Florence, was a stay at home mom. But I guess she didn’t know what that term meant – for her, she was at work every day, and the kitchen was her workshop. Food was a team sport, and everyone in the family was committed to go for the gold. Every dish was openly discussed at the dining table and innovating ideas for improvements were applauded.
While they loved eating out every once in a while, even the homemade foods were cooked with the focus on the taste of the dish. Oil and spices were generously used in all the dishes. Because I grew up in a family of strict vegetarians, I was also amazed at how fond everyone was of meat at Anup’s home. Dishes that I had never heard of at my home were commonly prepared for lunch and dinner – Tava Chicken with Cumin, Navratna Korma, Paneer Tikka Masala – I felt like I was in culinary heaven! Sometimes Anup’s mom would be apologetic about how she only had Egg Bhurji, a mash of eggs and spiced vegetables for breakfast, while at my place breakfast generally meant a glass of milk with a leftover roti from last night!
I think if you observed our little family now – Anup and I – we believe in cooking with organic, seasonal, fresh ingredients cooked in creative ways to make tasty, interesting dishes. Maybe we have found a common middle ground between the cooking styles of my family and his! What we believe is that healthy food doesn’t mean tasteless food. On the contrary, if you want to eat healthy for the long term, it is imperative that you turn those healthy meals into tasty meals!
Here is a recipe that both our families would appreciate! I have made a cabbage and summer squash salad with pear. I have used basil and coconut milk dressing that makes the salad creamy and herby. This salad is a cross between a cabbage salad and coleslaw, so you can also use it to enhance your wraps and sandwiches. This salad will help you keep your cool on a hot summer day!
Cabbage and Summer Squash Salad
1 medium green cabbage
1 summer squash ball
2 green pears
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds/chopped almonds – toasted
Remove the outer layer of cabbage. Cut the cabbage in quarters and shred in a food processor. Cut summer squash and pear in thin slices with a knife or mandoline. Stack them and julienne. Add basil and coconut milk dressing to cabbage, squash, and pear, mix well. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds and serve!
Basil and Coconut Milk Dressing
1 cup lightly packed basil leaves
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp coconut milk – unsweetened
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp coconut oil/olive oil
1 tbsp honey/agave
salt and pepper
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste for seasoning.