November 9, 2011

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Teach Your Child How to Make a Traditional Family Meal

Family dinners and get-togethers always tend to revolve around food. It's a communal time where families can discuss their days. Every family may not have a secret recipe stashed away in the folds of a cookbook somewhere, but they may have a meal that is unique to their family. Have your child help prepare or serve the meal and don't forget to share any memories you have of learning to make it.

Indian Cuisine

Early in my adoption journey I read something about multiculturalism that had a lasting impact on me and it wasn't a good impact. The writer of the piece was making the point that the U.S. has a ways to go when it comes to eradicating racism, and that valuing the different cultures in our country should not be equated with eating ethnic foods. The quote was something like: "Multiculturalism should be about confronting racism and not about eating plates of ethnic food."

The essay stuck with me and I vowed that when my girls arrived from India, I would not fall into the trap of thinking that cooking ethnic meals would be the sum total of their education when it came to their heritage. I think I went overboard though because I resisted Indian cuisine altogether until, that is, I noticed how my older daughter responded to an Indian cookbook she received the second Christmas she was home. My then 9 year old daughter pored over the pages (because this particular book had a lot beautiful colorful photographs). She pointed out various dishes and kept saying, "I remember this!" and "I LOVE this food!"

Her enthusiasm touched me and I realized that I had made a mistake in not incorporating this incredibly delicious food into our family dinners from the get-go. As I watched her flipping through the book, I asked her if she wanted to try one of the recipes. At this point I should probably tell you that I am not a cook and I was nervous about our venture, but I decided to give it a try. We made gulab jamin, which are basically donut holes soaked in sugar water. (And we choose this because it was one of the few recipes that we already had most of the ingredients―but more importantly, I actually recognized the ingredients we didn't have. The cooking went off without a hitch! My daughter loved making the gulab jamin and she loved sharing it with any and everyone she came into contact with. Since then we have made butter chicken, tikka masala, carrot halva, chole chaat, vegetable korma, mango lassis, and many, many others.

And we have all learned a lot since that first time we made the Indian dessert (also called "Indian sweet meats." I know that there is no such thing as "curry" in India; it's a combination of a lot of different spices. I know what cardamom pods look like; I know that the smell of garam masala (another combination of spices) is about the most luscious scent in the entire world; I know that if you keep ginger in the freezer it will last forever; and I know that the cheapest ghee (or clarified butter) in town can be purchased at the Miller Mart gas station on Iowa Street.

Indian cuisine is as varied as the dishes one finds in America, and my girls and I went through an Indian cuisine frenzy for a time when we cooked an authentic meal every Sunday and invited friends and neighbors over to share.

To think I now know that Northern Indian cuisine (which came from the Moghuls) is my favorite, with its use of lamb and chicken in silky yogurt sauces, is truly incongruent to how I see myself. I am one of those people who could live on peanut butter sandwiches and hard boiled eggs. But I love the complex smells that emanate from the kitchen when we prepare these meals and I love that my girls and I have a unique skill. But knowing about Indian cuisine is more than about the rewards I receive from having these lush smells floating around my house and the rich flavors settling in my mouth. I have since talked to my girls about my initial feelings about preparing these dishes, my insecurity not only in my culinary ability but my concern about mistaking the preparation of the meals for true multicultural education. When I asked the girls what they thought about our Indian meals, they both gave it thumbs up.

"It's something different from what my friends do," said my younger daughter adding that "It was cool!"

I know that our meals are only a peripheral way to teach multiculturalism, and I no longer see that as their purpose. I think our time together preparing this incredible cuisine has less to say about their culture than what it says about being in a family, which is a bond transcending racial and cultural lines.

Margie

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