I have been fighting gender-specific and cultural stereotypes my whole life. At times sucessfully and at times not so much.
I truly think the fighting starts at birth for girls born into Indian families. We’re not the only culture that values boys over girls, but it’s the only one I’ve grown up in – and whether we as a community allow ourselves to admit it or not traditionally it’s a slightly less celebratory mood when a girl is born into the family versus a son. Unless sons have come first.
I’m not judging it – after all, these things develop over centuries and for various reasons – right or wrong. This is not the place for me to hash that out – but I’ve got to say it wasn’t and isn’t for me. I don’t want to hear questions about why we’re not trying for a boy after two girls…or connotations that we might be disappointed in any way shape or form to have girls instead of boys.
I fought it and fought it hard. It always stung when dinner was served and the men and boys ate first while my stomach rumbled…or when I was the one expected to help in the kitchen at events even post marriage over the boys who sat chatting in front of the TV without a care in the world. Again – I know this crosses cultures – but in the Indian culture the stereotypes also come with the burden of expectations. To be a good daughter you must do this or that…and then to be a good wife you’ve got to balance even more and then to be a valued daughter-in-law there’s another layer. Sure, there are many Indian women who work and are wonderfully sucessful professionals…but at the end of the day what’s often judged by their closest of family members is their ability to cook a good meal or make a perfectly round roti.
I was determined as a I slaved away on a greuling early morning reporting shift to not let these stereotypes and expectations define me. I was determined to be that new-age Indian wife, mother and daughter who had it all and could do it all. I’d work..I’d get food on the table…and I’d order take out when the second part was in question.
But, then kids happened. My kids happened.
I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of satisfaction I get when I make something that’s wholesome and healthy and my kids sit down to devour it. The first time I was overcome with the satisfaction of it was when Neha was only three. I made her my first paranthis and she sucked up three of them – a week after barely getting her to eat anything else. That’s precisely when my inner cook was rekindled. Yes – I was cooking. I am Indian-American and female. But I choose this path. I kept repeating this as a mantra as I found myself drawn more and more to the kitchen and a seemingly more traditional role as a wife and mother.
Today was the same thing with my girls. Three years after leaving work and a year into this project to get them to appreciate real Indian cooking it’s actually working. Instead of pizza..Neha said she wanted dal (lentils), basmati rice, yogurt and papard for dinner. I swear those were her words verbatim in the car on the way home from school.
Aria sat on the kitchen counter and ground masalas in my little copper mortar and pestle for traditional raita: we mixed 1/3 cup grated cucumber with 2 cups of plain yogurt..and added a teaspoon each of white salt, black salt and roasted and ground cumin seed.
Then we sat down to Black Lentils (Dal Makhani) and a huge Indian spread.
They devoured everything. Aria even poured the raita onto her plate as she carefully watched me do to mine and slowly mixed it into the Dal and rice.
I have to say I sat back and felt incredibly fulfilled. Sure, there’s that adrenaline rush when you report a story..write it…and watch it air. But there’s a sense of huge accomplishment in realizing that right now – where I am in life – I am doing the right thing for my kids. I’m teaching them the value of their culture…..healthy food…and just how to enjoy every moment of it – stereotypes or no stereotypes.
Who needs them anyway?
Here’s my slow cooker version of Dal Makhani. Enjoy – I hope your kids do too! (Though my kids love eating spicy foods I do make this dish for them in the 3 1/2 quart slow cooker without any green chilies or red chili powder.)
Cooker: 4 or 5-quart medium
Settings, cooking times: high for 8 hours, makes 10 – 11 cups
This is a staple dish in North India and is know as the queen of all dals. It is also referred to as maa di dal. Translated literally this means “Mother’s lentils,” which pretty much says it all in terms of how Punjabis view this dish. When made over a slow fire the dish is incredibly rich and creamy. Most North Indian restaurants turn it into dal makhani by adding butter or cream.
Because this is a tougher lentil than most, it usually takes longer to cook on the stovetop. It’s often cooking on the lightest of flames in a heavy pot overnight – why it’s such a coup to have a slow cooker to do all the legwork for you. Cooking this dish slowly and for a longer period of time breaks the lentils down to a point where you likely may not even need to add the extra calories of cream and butter. I never do. But, if you prefer it richer, by all means add it in!
2 cups (500 mL) whole, dried black lentils, washed thoroughly
1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and cut into four pieces
2-inch (5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
4 cloves garlic
4 – 6 Thai, Serrano or cayenne chilies
2 bunches fresh cilantro, washed and chopped (about 2 cups (500 mL) separated)
1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground cumin
1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground coriander
1 tablespoon (15 mL) garam masala
1 tablespoon (15 mL) salt
1 teaspoon (5 mL) turmeric
1 teaspoon (5 mL) – 1 tablespoon (15 mL) red chili powder
8 cups (1.9 mL) water
1 teaspoon (5 mL) mustard oil (optional)
1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy whipping cream (optional)
Place black lentils in slow cooker.
In a food processor grind onion, ginger, garlic, chilies, and one cup (250 mL) of cilantro. Add to the lentils along with cumin, coriander, garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder, salt, and water.
Cook on high for four hours. Add mustard oil. My nani (maternal grandmother) always did this to infuse the lentils with flavor just as they are opening.
Cook for another 4 hours. Mix in cilantro and add cream if you wish. Garnish with a pad of butter and chopped onions and tomatoes. Serve with Basmati/brown rice or with naan/roti and a side onion salad and yogurt.
To make in the 3 ½ quart slow cooker, cut all ingredients in half except the water and follow above steps. Add 6 cups of water. Cook on high for 4 hours, add mustard oil, and then cook for another 4 hours. Makes 6 cups.