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A mother and daughter wrote a cookbook to show how food traditions change: NPR

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A mother and daughter wrote a cookbook to show how food traditions change: NPR


ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Where are you really from? It’s a question immigrants of color and their children get a lot of, and the answer is often complex. It may not simply be a location on a map. It can be about family upbringing, career aspirations, and even food. NPR’s Where We Come From series brings us conversations from immigrant communities of color that answer this very question. Here’s Anjali Sastry from NPR.

ANJALI SASTRY, BYLINE: New York Times food writer Priya Krishna learned a lot from her mother Ritu when it came to preparing Indian food, so much so that they decided to write the “Indian-ish” cookbook together in 2019. The recipes are Mainly for Indian food, each with its own unique twist. But Priya still had some outstanding questions.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIYA KRISHNA: I wanted to speak to my mom directly about what those first moments were like when she came to the United States. I mean, these are moments that I can never understand because I was born here.

SASTRY: Turns out a lot of those first moments in America for Ritu were about food. And sometimes you end up changing what you cook based on what you experience in a new place. Here are Priya and her mother Ritu cooking and talking about what food traditions mean to their story of Where We Come From.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED NPR TRANSMISSION)

Q KRISHNA: So how did your kitchen really start to evolve and change and become what it is now?

RITU KRISHNA: Watching TV was the way I was teaching myself …

P KRISHNA: Yes.

R KRISHNA: … How things were in this country. And so I discovered Julia Child.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHILD JULIA: Hello. This is Julia Child. Welcome.

R KRISHNA: Then I discovered Ming Tsai.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MING TSAI: You know, one of the things that really draws me to Asian cuisine is the heat.

R KRISHNA: Martin Yan.

P KRISHNA: Martin Yan, “Yan Can Cook” Chinese food.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN YAN: I have designed a complete Chinese vegetarian meal.

R KRISHNA: It was a great learning experience. Julia Child was probably the most influential in the sense that I learned some basic French cooking techniques just by looking at her, you know, how she deglazed the pan, how, you know, making cakes …

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHILD: Put a little flour.

R KRISHNA: … You know, laminate.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHILD: Remember to use the palm of your hands, not your palms.

R KRISHNA: I clearly remember watching a Julia Child show and cooking this, I think it was called a corn timbale. It has eggs and fresh corn. So I was very proud of what had occurred to me. And I think Dauji (ph) was visiting.

P KRISHNA: This is my dad’s brother.

R KRISHNA: Yes. And I had salted it too much, and he just spit it out.

P KRISHNA: Oh God.

(LAUGHTER)

R KRISHNA: It was very demoralizing. It was my first experiment.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF MUSIC)

R KRISHNA: Okay. I can start?

P KRISHNA: Yes, but let’s talk here about what we are going to put in the dal first. Oh, you’re making it in the Instant Pot. Cool.

R KRISHNA: Yes. I mean, that’s the only thing I do now.

P KRISHNA: Very modern.

R KRISHNA: Yes.

P KRISHNA: Okay. So this is Kali Masoor Dal. It’s kind of …

R KRISHNA: Correct.

P KRISHNA: It is a brown inside, and when you open it, it is orange.

R KRISHNA: Then you want to measure a cup.

P KRISHNA: Wow. You measure now, huh (ph)?

(LAUGHTER)

R KRISHNA: Whenever I could, I only made fresh vegetables, you know, squash, beans and peas, as well as kitchari, a version of, you know, rice and beans.

P KRISHNA: Yes.

R KRISHNA: I realized that what I had absorbed seeing, you know, my grandmother or my mother cooking or my aunts, it was enough to have a basic …

P KRISHNA: Correct.

R KRISHNA: … I felt innate in me that I could cook. And then when we moved to Dallas in the early ’90s, it was a major change because we were getting to a state where there was already a good …

P KRISHNA: Correct.

R KRISHNA: … Critical mass of …

P KRISHNA: Correct.

R KRISHNA: … Indians who were already here. And there were Indian grocery stores much easier to find.

P KRISHNA: I remember noon driving with Dad to Dodge (ph), and often, like, I would park Meera and me at that, like, talk spot …

R KRISHNA: Correct. Yes

P KRISHNA: … In the back.

R KRISHNA: The back. Yes

P KRISHNA: And he would get me a bhel puri and Meera an aloo tikki, and we happily ate it while he shopped.

R KRISHNA: Correct.

P KRISHNA: Honestly, it was an amazing idea that, you know, while you’re shopping, you just have your kids eating in the back. And then you get them back when you finish shopping.

As a kid, without realizing it, I was remarkably good at compartmentalizing my Indian identity and my American identity and at a kind of code switch when at home or at school. So of course when I was Indian in an Indian grocery store I was an Indian boy who loved aloo tikki and bhel puri and aloo paratha and all these things. But, as soon as I got to school or was at my friend’s house, I was very good at presenting myself in a way that I felt would be acceptable to the audience I was with.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF MUSIC)

P KRISHNA: Okay.

R KRISHNA: Come out carefully measured, and that is all.

P KRISHNA: Then what are you doing this for? How long?

R KRISHNA: I am going to cook it for 16 minutes.

P KRISHNA: Sixteen minutes at high pressure.

R KRISHNA: Yes.

P KRISHNA: Okay. So let’s let this do its job. I feel that for me, dal and lentils in general are so basic to my diet and what I eat. You know, I guess in the same way that people are surprised that, like, I don’t really eat hamburgers or, like, chicken steaks, I’m surprised when people say, oh, dal, like, lentils?

R KRISHNA: Yes.

P KRISHNA: That is not really a regular part of my diet.

R KRISHNA: Yes. And I think people don’t realize how versatile they are. You can turn them into salads, soups, stews, you know? You can do so many things with it.

P KRISHNA: You can convert them, yes.

R KRISHNA: I probably should have done, while you were growing up, not do the Indian style of dal every day. Should have made some variations.

P KRISHNA: Totally.

R KRISHNA: Perhaps that would have helped. But …

P KRISHNA: I remember once you made dal and put it in tortillas. And in a way, it was like a dal burrito …

R KRISHNA: Yes.

P KRISHNA: … Once for me. That was really good.

R KRISHNA: Correct. So instead of putting beans, you put dal in there. Yes

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF MUSIC)

P KRISHNA: This is …

R KRISHNA: That is.

P KRISHNA: Okay.

R KRISHNA: It is ready.

P KRISHNA: So let’s serve a little. I’ll put this back on this thing.

R KRISHNA: It has a nice chewy bite. The smoke from the cumin seed is coming off.

P KRISHNA: In the same way as lentils, they have lost their shape but still retain something of that shape. So you’re getting that, like texture, that butter. As if the liquid itself had thickened really well. My dal is great, but it will never taste as good as my mother’s. And I’ll never know why, because she literally added the same ingredients as me. But there’s a weird kind of alchemy that happens when your mom makes dal, and it tastes 10 times better than your own dal.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: See more of Priya and Ritu Krishna’s conversation, including a video of them cooking dal together, at NEWS BLOCK/wherewecomefrom. The Where We Come From series was created and produced by Anjali Sastry.

(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Please visit the terms of use and permissions pages of our website at www.NEWS BLOCK for more information.

NPR transcripts are created on an urgent deadline before Verb8tm, Inc., a contractor to NPR, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authorized record of NPR programming is the audio record.

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