Cooking Indian Food In College

Learning To Cook In College Gave Me Comfort In An Unfamiliar Place

On making half-baked pseudo-fusion food.

90
views

After one semester of Stony Brook's dining plan, I was in despair. So in the spring of freshman year, I fled the interminable parade of oily, overcooked vegetables and clumpy undercooked rice that passed for dining hall food in favor of a room in West Apartments. There, limited in both time and knowledge, I began to experiment with fusion food.

It was mostly unintentional. For example, I came up with quinoa biryani after I ran out of rice one weekend. Adding basil pasta sauce to my sambar was a last-minute substitution after my tomato got squished by a jar of peanut butter. On the other end, my agave-less attempt at agave-apple tarts tasted really bland (agave is expensive and I am a college student, not Ina Garten), so I substituted with a bit of cardamom. It was delicious. I then began adding cardamom, that staple of Indian sweetmeats, to everything from chocolate cake to ice cream.

Of course, there have been some less than successful creations. The one that still haunts my taste buds is an attempt at making fig and butternut squash soup with chili peppers. It does not taste anywhere near as good as it sounds. Yet my biggest limitation is the cold. A lot of South Indian cooking relies on fermentation and is very difficult to ferment things that would sooner freeze in a Long Island winter. My attempts making a decent adhirasam will be on hold until the coming summer, it seems.

Spices were even harder to master. My lemon rice initially reeked of ginger, and all the curries I made that first February tasted like leaves. Leaves. It was downright disgusting and I made sure to use less ashwagandha the next time around.

Then there was the time I mistook iodized salt for asafoetida…

I still persisted, though. Home had never felt farther than during the windy Long Island winters, and I longed for food that would warm my soul as much as it would nourish my body. Through the tears and occasional dry heaving, my cooking slowly began taking on a semblance of taste, then flavor, before blossoming into deliciously divine-smelling dishes. As time passed, I became more comfortable with the bevy of spices that now occupy pride of place in my dorm kitchen.

I personally believe that there is nothing quite as traditional as learning to cook from scratch. When I was little, I used to be in awe of my mother. Standing over the stovetop, she would toss pinches of multicolored powder into a steel pressure cooker with what appeared to be unsystematic abandon. Yet no matter how haphazard the process looked, the final product was always delicious (unless it involved bitter gourd — I despise bitter gourd).

Whether it was pongal glistening with ghee, pulikolambu with tamarind chunks half-submerged in bubbling red liquid, or perfectly rounded panniyaram studded with slivers of onions like amethysts, nearly every meal was homemade Indian food.

Before going off to college, I asked her for recipes. She gave me some vague lists of ingredients and a boxful of old jam jars filled with spices. The only specific measurement she gave me was a warning to not eat more than one clove of garlic a day. I was disappointed, halted in my pursuit of flavors from a time when I was not mired in midterms. For me, learning to cook Indian food was less about returning to my roots and more about finding comfort in an unfamiliar place.

Now, when my friends ask how I cook, I give them the same blank stare my mother used to direct at me. Perhaps the reason why she never gives me definitive recipes is because she doesn't have any, having herself learned from a mix of error and observation. She admits that before living on her own, she had rarely cooked and couldn't tell the difference between mung and masoor dal if her life depended on it. My grandmother was similar, only learning when circumstances forced her to be the one to feed her family. Sure, ingredients were mentioned and discussed, but the exact specifics were up to the cook's temperament.

For example, my mother experiments with avocado, grapeseed, and lemon-infused oils while my grandmother prefers the simpler sunflower or peanut ones. I personally swear by coconut and olive. I also usually use rolled oats as a base, while my mother prefers millets and my grandmother prefers rice. Neither my mother or grandmother trusts microwaves, and both would be horrified to learn that I make six-minute sweet potato aloo gobi in one.

The authenticity of food is not determined by whether it is made in an iron griddle over a kerosene flame, a steel pan over an electric stove, or a dorm room microwave. It is in the way the rice melts on your tongue in a burst of tomato and onion, the crisp sound of lady's fingers simmering in cooking oil and ground peppers. The brilliant greens, golds, and vermillion of the vegetables, and the rich aroma of turmeric and coriander that wafts from your fingertips, wrapping you in a comforting familiarity.

I am a time-strapped college student. Sometimes it's all I can do to heat a bowl of oats with onion, frozen peas, and spices before running to my next lecture.

Popular Right Now

8 Reasons Girls Who Love Tequila Are Better

Because if she can handle tequila, she can handle you too.
335456
views

There are all kinds of alcohol stereotypes out there but the one associated with tequila is probably the worst: tequila makes you crazy. But if there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that women who drink tequila are one-of-a-kind.

Whether it's loving or fighting, you'll never find anyone who does it better than a girl who just straight up loves tequila, and here are a few reasons why that is.

1. She's independent

A girl who drinks tequila is probably the same girl who has absolutely no problem telling it like it is. She knows what she wants and goes after it.

2. She doesn't care what you or anyone else thinks

Oh, you have a problem with me taking shots and having a good time? Well, get over it! Bartender, a shot with salt and a lime please!

3. Always dancing

Tequila is an 'upper' so instead of sitting at the bar doing nothing, let's dance! Let's get moving!

4. There is never a dull moment

Speaking of dancing, a girl who drinks tequila is always down for a good time. Whether it's going on an adventure or seeing who can take the most shots, a tequila girl is always down to party.

5. While everyone else is starting to get sleepy, she has all the energy

Like I said, tequila is an 'upper' so while the other girls at the bar are starting to feel groggy and sad, she's all over the place having fun and partying on the dancefloor.

6. She's stronger than the girl crying over a vodka cranberry at the bar.

Sad over a breakup? Don't go for the vodka... Tequila will make you feel better in no time! Plus you can challenge the hot guys at the bar to a shot taking contest.

7. Tequila is healthy for you

Tequila is a probiotic, so some tequila a day keeps the doctor away. Yay for shots!

8. She can hold her own when it comes to alcohol

Any girl who can shoot some shots at the bar all day and night can handle alcohol, which means she can handle herself too. You won't have to deal with her constant breakdowns and mood swings because she will be too busy ordering more shots.

Cover Image Credit: Whiskey Riff

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

A Saturday In The Life Of A Freshman

Welcome to Darty Season

epgainey
epgainey
432
views

Have you ever had a more stereotypical freshman's Saturday than my friends Maddie, Lauren, Jocelyn, Meg, Barbara, and I? Keep reading to see a packed day in darty season from a freshman's point of view.

9:00 am

My alarm that I meant to set for the day before goes off. I begrudgingly roll over, and turn it off, falling back asleep.

10:00 am

I finally wake up, roll, or jump, out of my lofted bed, grab my laptop, and do a little studying for my exam on Monday -- there's no time for that later today, so I've gotta get some of it done then.

10:30 am

Shower. Pick an outfit. Brush teeth. Makeup. Pack a bag of extra clothes.

12:00 pm

I walked downstairs to the lobby to meet two of my friends who were gonna walk with me to Tutweiler Hall.

12:30 pm

My friends and I at the fundraising event

Elizabeth Gainey

We arrived at Tut, met our friends, then left to go to a philantropy event at Sig Tau sponsored by B+, an organization that assists the families of children diagnosed with cancer. Their burgers and fries were top notch.

2:30 pm

The Hackberrys, a band comprised of UA students, played the event. We left to go back to Tut after a few songs.

3:00 pm

We finally got back at Tut, changed clothes, listened to music, hung out.

3:45 pm

We *finally* left for Pike (sorry mom!). You know how long it takes five girls to get ready, so don't act so shocked.

4:10 pm

Myself, super escstatic about having to wait in a mob of people to get in

Elizabeth Gainey

Have you ever arrived to a frat when it's at capacity? Yeah, around 100 screaming girls were shoving to get into the darty. It was an experience like no other, but eventually, we made our way in. It may have been in groups of two, and we definitely lost a girl to the crowd (she's fine!), but we made it.

6:30 pm

After dancing on an elevated surface or two, walking in circles around their courtyard, watching an active climb into a basketball goal, and waiting in a way-too-long line for the restroom, we decided to go back to Tut.

6:45 pm

We definitely made a stop to grab a snack or two on our way back to Tut.

7:15 pm

After realizing that none of the parties at night were gonna start until around 10 pm, we decided to watch some random YouTube videos and Netflix to pass the time. There was also another stop for snacks at the infamous Julia's on the first floor of Tut.

9:30 pm

My third outfit change of the day. We decided to leave Tut for frat row for the third time that day, too. I wanna say my total steps for the day was around 17,000? It was a lot.

10:00 pm

Best view in the house (Myself on the left, Maddie on the right)

Elizabeth Gainey

We got to Sigma Pi as the party was just starting to build up. Their band room was filled within the hour, and they had a pretty good DJ. Although the active yelling at me and my friend to get off the stage was no fun.

11:00 pm

Have you ever faked out a frat boy with a soccer ball? Well, now I can say I have.

12:00 am

After someone pulled the fire alarm on Sigma Pi, we decided to walk back to Tut.

12:45 am

My two Ragecrest friends and I decided to take the bus back because, after the stretch to and from frat row three times, we had no more walking left in us.

1:00 am

Canes chicken tenders. Enough said. It's the way to end a night.

It was a very packed, but very fun and eventful day. We pretty much hit all the spring semester stereotypes: walking along and to frat row, going to a darty, going to a frat party, going to a philanthropy event, and more. As crazy as the day was, I highly recommend trying a day like this once because you won't forget it!

epgainey
epgainey

Related Content

Facebook Comments