Making Your Lunch, Honey

by Meeta Wolff

This chapter is a free excerpt from What's For Lunch, Honey?.

I never saw my grandmother with a cookbook, nor do I remember seeing any cookbooks on the shelves of her Delhi house. As my mum and her sisters were growing up, Nani handed down these recipes to them—not in writing, however, because Nani believed cooking could not be learned by reading. In the hot kitchen on the veranda behind the house, while the adolescent girls assisted her with the chopping, peeling or grinding of vegetables and spices, Nani would narrate the recipes, guiding them resolutely through the cooking of an entire meal.

Precise amounts never existed in Nani’s recipes. “A pinch” of saffron here, “a handful” of coriander leaves there, stirred into a few “cupfuls” of dried lentils—these were the only amounts given to her amateur pupils. “Cooking is an art that comes from deep within you. It is not rocket science which needs precise amounts. To develop this art all one needs is good taste!” That was Nani’s logic. No one argued with it.

Complete 10-second survey to read full article!
I never saw my grandmother with a cookbook, nor do I remember seeing any cookbooks on the shelves of her Delhi house. As my mum and her sisters were growing up, Nani handed down these recipes to them—not in writing, however, because Nani believed cooking could not be learned by reading. In the hot kitchen on the veranda behind the house, while the adolescent girls assisted her with the chopping, peeling or grinding of vegetables and spices, Nani would narrate the recipes, guiding them resolutely through the cooking of an entire meal.

Precise amounts never existed in Nani’s recipes. “A pinch” of saffron here, “a handful” of coriander leaves there, stirred into a few “cupfuls” of dried lentils—these were the only amounts given to her amateur pupils. “Cooking is an art that comes from deep within you. It is not rocket science which needs precise amounts. To develop this art all one needs is good taste!” That was Nani’s logic. No one argued with it.

Several years later, as a young teenager, I found a leather portfolio in the bottom drawer of my mother’s desk. Bound with an unattractive cord, its only purpose to keep the bulging contents from straying, the sheer thickness of the portfolio made me curious. As I untied the cord, with a sighing heave the portfolio spilled papers of all sizes and colors all over the floor.

Noticing mum’s sometimes illegible handwriting, I took a closer look: she had scribbled recipes on small pieces of paper, some crumpled and ripped from notebooks, others on envelopes or on index cards—I even found one on the back of a boarding pass. Like Nani, mum did not own any cookbooks. But she was in the habit of writing down recipes she found, or particularly liked. I discovered exact amounts for flour, sugar and butter on those crumpled pieces; unlike her mother, she was a keen baker and believed that precision in baking was the key to perfection.

In my sifting, I noticed a stack of papers, neatly tied with some red twine, still in the portfolio. As I pulled out the stack, mum came into the room and saw me sitting in the midst of a pool of paper. She took the stack out of my hand, put them aside and helped me fill the portfolio again. Finally, she held the stack of paper in her hands and told me “these are Nani’s recipes.”

She told me how every day she and my aunts would help Nani in the kitchen, Nani showing them how to cook her famous “saag paneer” or the perfect crispy cauliflower “parathas.” Every day, Mum would run back and forth from the kitchen to her room, where she would jot down the recipe. She often got a scolding from Nani for being so erratic and for not focusing properly...but what Nani could not have known was that mum wanted to make sure she remembered each of her recipes, to be able to create them exactly the way Nani did.

“The scolding was worth it!” she smirked.

My mum bid farewell to me a few years later: I was 19, leaving home for the first time to study and train in Europe. Before I left, she handed me a thick book and told me it would help me in times of need. Without looking I thanked her and hurried to board the plane. Once seated, I took the book out and looked at the cover. It made me grin. I was holding the first cookbook my mother ever bought. The inscription, written in her curly, flowing streaks, still echoes in my ears today.

“Cooking is an art and a science. Use your good taste to experiment!”

These are my mum’s wise words—and I’ve never argued with them!




Price: $4.95 Add to Cart
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • 100% refund
  • Free updates