Sunday, May 10, 2009

To Mama, With Love

Aged five, relishing mama's cooking ... evidence of home-made tomato sauce all over me!

I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a hopeless romantic, terribly gullible, unbelievably sentimental and extremely emotional. While people may perceive some or all of these qualities as weaknesses, over the years I have learned to embrace them all, as each has taught me the importance of family and friends, and the biggest lesson, never taking them for granted.

As a little girl mother's day meant waking up extra early, my sister and I arguing about measuring ingredients and fighting over who got to pour the waffle mixture into heart shaped waffle iron. Vying for my mother’s attention both of us would fight over who would get to serve mama breakfast in bed. From day one my mother has been the central piece holding our family together and I have to thank her for making me the person I am today, daring me to dream, encouraging my every ambition and always behind me one hundred percent in anything I wanted to try my hand at, motivating me, challenging me, and all the while ready to catch me should I fall. It was just a few days ago when I sat down to write her a mother’s day card that I was overwhelmed by the prospect of the enormous shoes she would one day leave me to fill, when I become a mother myself. And when I say big shoes I mean that completely figuratively, since my mother, sister and I manage to squeeze, stretch, borrow, beg and steal our way into each other’s shoes. Anyways, I digress.

As I have mentioned before my mother’s cooking and her unbridled experimentation with new ingredients and exotic dishes is the inspiration of my long time love affair with food. As a child although never an eager cook, I was very curious, enjoyed sitting in a high chair observing mama prepping the meat and veggies and then putting them all together in no time. One thing is a wonder to me, while a great cook, mama never spent hours toiling in the kitchen, in fact got in there, did her thing, pulled off her apron and rushed out as soon as possible, the queen of multi-tasking both in and out of the kitchen. For mama cooking was a necessity, not something she particularly enjoyed – however, a woman that prides herself on a job well done, cooking was just another domain she conquered.

Happy Mother’s Day, I love you!

In honour of mother’s day I would like to resurrect one of the dishes mama lovingly made for me growing up. After sifting through a couple of childhood classics, braciole came to mind and the excitement of double meat – bacon rashers wrapped in thick beef sirloin steaks stuffed with parmesan cheese, Italian herbs and flat leaf parsley, made my mouth water - I knew I had found a winner.

Typically and Italian-American dish, somehow braciole has long been a family favourite. My mother recalls her mother making the dish for her family when she was a little girl. Oddly enough this dates the family tradition of braciole back to the kitchens of my grandmother who interestingly enough is half Portuguese. My grandmother, from a family of lace merchants that sailed from Portugal to the coastal southern Indian city of Kerala in the early 1900’s to trade lace ended up making India their home. I wonder is braciole’s part Italian hereditary has any connections to my grandma’s Portuguese ancestry.

While that may forever remain a mystery, one thing is for certain, braciole is simply delicious and after much googling I finally found a suitable recipe reminiscent of the ingredients my mother used. The reason I am not using her recipe is because she doesn’t have one. Indians love to store all vital information in their head and this means accounts, taxes and yes recipes. And even if she were to jot it down, her instincts guide her – throwing in a handful of parsley here and a pinch of chilli there, making her measurements highly unreliable.

However, this said, my time in Adelaide has made me appreciate the food I have always taken for granted, my mother’s cooking as well as my paternal grandmothers Kerala cuisine. Next time I am back in India it will be my mission to make sense of the obscure measurements and exotic ingredients often only known in regional dialects, and note down the recipes myself before I lose my familial foodways.

As mentioned earlier my mother would stuff the sirloin steaks with bacon rashers. After some research I have discovered that it is commonplace to stuff the beef steak with a mixture of breadcrumbs, egg, parsley, Italian herbs and sometimes pine nuts or raisins and even boiled eggs (eggs - strange, very strange) rather than more meat, how absurd! Like I mentioned in my piece Bread and Water meat is a very serious part of being an Abraham, we seize every opportunity to swap using bread or any other ‘pansy’ stuff with macho meat!

Broadening my search, since I found it hard to believe that bacon is not customarily used, (hello, bacon makes everything better, so much better) I stumbled onto a select few recipes that used bacon, pancetta or Italian sausage instead of the breadcrumb mixture. I used Italian sausage that worked really well since the sausages are made from minced pork flavoured with red wine, fennel, Italian herbs and garlic.

1 comment:

manju said...

What a lovely tribute to your mom! And I can't wait to see what recipes you bring back with you from your grandmothers in Kerala too.

I saw your braciole post, too, and they look very yummy! We love all stuffed rolled meats -- braciole, Rinderrouladen, and from the Philippines, "Morcon," which is stuffed with sausages, pickles, and yes, eggs!! It IS strange, but definitely worth trying. We'll be posting about it over the holidays. : )