Updated: Sep 19, 2019
I love Indian cooking! The spices, aromas, and sauces are so rich and flavourful.
But true Indian food can be difficult to recreate if you don’t know where to start.
Enter my new teachers. Mother-Daughter team: Thelma and Lara Tai.
They welcomed me into their home for authentic chai tea and to make curried fish - the traditional way.
I learned so much about cooking, about them and about myself.
To begin, I made the mistake of not eating beforehand, and grew impatiently hungry during our session. I cooked with them for over 3 hours - only to be told that the flavours would taste better the following day.
But honestly, is there anything harder than smelling great food and not being able to eat it? And who can wait when curried fish smells so good?
I also learned that in India, recipes are passed down unchanged for generations from mother to daughter. There is no reinventing of the wheel, or putting your own spin on a traditional family specialty. There are regional variations on recipes and technques, but not within a family.
As Thelma & Lara shared their approaches to the meal preparation, it was fascinating to listen to their banter - and to see the genuine affection between them . They quibbled about how long to fry the fish, how to season it, and what seasonings to put in the rice. Unchanged though the recipes are, they negotiated (hilariously) to come up with the best results.
I learned that black pepper is not typically used in traditional fish curry. Instead, they use mustard seed, cumin, geera or fennel seed, madras curry powder and other spices.
The fish was cooked separately from curry sauce - which took most of the cook time. With the two only being combined when plated. The care that was put into the slow cooking of the sauce was most impressive.
Mom Thelma feels strongly that one must constantly taste their food as they are creating the meal. That way a cook can make frequent adjustments to get the right flavours.
The meal itself started with a milky chai tea and ended with traditional Indian milk sweets. A simple salad was added consisting of fresh cucumber, tomato and onion with a lemon and oil dressing.
Lara made an additional salad with grated cucumber and yogurt to cool the palate when eating spicy the fish curry. There was also a fragrant basmati rice with clove, cinnamon, and cardamom pods.
I look forward to going back and cooking with Thelma and Lara again. I will need to do some serious cooking to make a written recipe for the fish curry but it will be worth it. Next visit we will be making a Biryani dish. We are really looking forward to that.