My mother never had to make my brother and me, eat our vegetables. She just had one simple rule when it came to food — if it doesn’t go down to your stomach, it goes straight down the garbage.
She only had to enforce that rule once, and only once, in our lifetime. And we grew up fussing over everything but food.
As far as I remember, the first time I pushed away a plate of veggies, I was well into my second semester of college. Well, because Gujarat, being the only “vegetarian” state of the country, had served up vegetables, plate after plate, sweet, savory and prepared in a thousand ways, for the entire time throughout my first semester. And I finally cracked.
I would refuse to eat lunch and dinner the Mess served up. I would seek out places that served non-vegetarian fare and eat-out almost everyday. The rest of the time, I survived on fruits. I figured it would balance out all the greasy chicken biryanis that I’d stuff myself with every other day. That routine for a whole month and my friends got tired of my constant hankering for chicken or fish or mutton (I even by-passed eggs). Their irritation was fair considering the fact that they had spent one entire month cringing and wrinkling up their noses every time a waiter placed my order on the table. They got used to it (I made sure of that), after a few heated debates on the age-old issue of herbivore vs. carnivore, and once they realized that I wouldn’t eat at any place labeled “100% Veg” in bright green.
Okra and aubergines are exceptions. Shallow fried okra smeared with a pinch of turmeric, salt and dry mango powder would win lunch with me hands down over any version of chicken tandoori. Okra was all I used to eat, all throughout my last year of college. And every time any relative extends and invitation to his/her place, I know they’ll have aubergines dipped in chickpea batter, deep-fried and sitting pretty in tissue-lined baskets for me.
Most of India being vegetarian by religion, it is difficult to constantly establish what a raging carnivore I can be. It’s just easier to shut up and stuff yourself with everything on your plate. Especially if Mom’s watching.
Saying that, I have included below, the recipe for a mixed vegetable prep quite popular in Bengali households— simple and easy even for complete novices.
What You Need:
- 1 cup of chopped cauliflower
- 1 cup of pumpkin cut into cubes
- 1 cup of long green beans
- 1 up of chopped cabbage leaves
- 1 green banana, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 medium-sized potatoes, chopped
- 3 tablespoons of mustard oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 dry red chili
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
- 2 cups of water
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Make a spice mix with 1 tablespoon of water, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds. Stir well to remove lumps.
- Heat oil in a wok or skillet.
- Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, dry red chili and bay leaves and stir till the seeds start crackling.
- Quickly add in all the vegetables and coat them well with the hot oil.
- Pour in the spice mix along with 1 cup of water. Mix well and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes on low heat or till the veggies are soft and boiled through. Add more water if and cook for another 10 minutes if necessary.
- Season with salt and pepper and juice of half a lemon (optional), according to taste.
- Boil off the excess liquid on high heat.
- Serve with steamed rice or flatbreads.