The Kozhy Curry Cooking Project
Roy reminded me, “Mom, you’re going to have to cook something from India.” He added airily, “You can use that cookbook I bought you.”
“I am? Where are you planning to be?”
He simply said, accusingly, “You haven’t even opened it.”
And so I finally cracked “Flavours of Kerala,” which he had bought me last fall when he traveled to India with my sister, to visit my brother in New Delhi. The book posed a challenge: measurements were in metrics and “Nos.” Nos? Recipes asked for banana leaves, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, and petals of Kokkum.
I am a cautious and unimaginative cook. I like directions, clear ones, to follow unswervingly.
In India, Roy, 11, had collected information for his school’s Culture Fair, for which each child chooses a country, and researches and reports on it. On fair night, each is expected to bring some food from that country.
That job, it seemed, fell to me. My mother and nephew were visiting, and Roy indicated that he was obliged to entertain Sam, 7. Mom and I trawled the Kerala cookbook for anything remotely feasible.
It was after dinner when, cookbook recipe in hand, I headed to the store for ingredients for Kozhy Curry.
“Some kids do Switzerland and just cut up Toblerone bars,” Roy remarked as I left.
I shopped, and arrived home at 8 p.m. ” somehow without the cookbook. I searched the car and every grocery bag, as Roy said in shocked, stiff tones, “You lost the cookbook?! That can’t be replaced!”
I drove wearily back to the store, and inquired at the checkout counter and managers’ station. Richard, who had bagged my groceries, leapt up and balanced across the latticework of interlocked shopping carts, peering down into all. Nothing.
Peggy, a manager, grabbed the microphone and called out: “Attention, shoppers! A customer has lost a cookbook in a grocery cart. Please check your carts.”
I arrived home empty-handed at 9 p.m. Roy was just heading off to bed, until reminded that he had not made his lunch for school.
“I think Mom should have to make it,” he said, “since she lost my cookbook I gave her.”
Mike (my husband) said promptly, “Nice try, pal. Go make your lunch.”
I searched the driveway, and was squatting in the gravel, trying to peer anew under the car seats while wearing a headlamp that kept cutting out, when Mike shouted out that Peggy had called. The book had been found stuffed in a magazine rack.
I couldn’t face driving to the store for the third time. Google turned up a confusion of curries, none close to ours. The one that seemed most like our lost recipe somehow wanted me to grind some ingredients with a mortar, and others with a food processor.
I had neither. My mother found me with my head on the counter. It was 9:30.
She said briskly, “They don’t have food processors in Indian villages.”
This recipe also directed the cook to make the curry powder. I was despairingly pulling out cardamom pods when my mother pointed out that I had prepared curry powder in the cupboard and should use it.
Before us lay chilies (bought for the lost recipe), aniseed (same), coconut milk (same), butter (our “ghee”), cottage cheese (“curds”), onions, chicken thighs, garlic and various other foodstuffs. We began to put them together. My head spun.
“You’re just combining recipes,” my mother said, “in time-honored tradition.”
The day of Culture Fair, Roy woke up talking about it, hustled us to get there early. We arrived to an international cornucopia of foods. I asked Roy what he thought of our curry, and he said, “Good, good, good, good!”
When we left at 9:00, Roy was already thinking about next year’s fair. “I could do United Arab Emirates,” he said. “Or Uzbekistan. Or Tajikistan.” He turned to me. “You could find a recipe on the Internet.”
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com.
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