15 January 2010

Turnip Soup (Corrected)

I had a long conversation with my mother about this, that and the other thing. She told me that she started reading my blog (everyone join me in saying hi to Amma: Hi Amma!) when she got back from Florida, as someone there told her about it. Hi to my friends in Florida too! OK, enough with the shout-outs.

She explained about the origin of turnip soup. I thought that it was a traditional South Indian soup. I was mistaken! In actuality, it was an invention of my mother’s, based on a Sri Lankan vegetable stew, made with potatoes, onions, and coconut. The reason she did the fenugreek in there was to make it healthier, as fenugreek is good for the stomach, the digestion, and life in general. It has alkalising qualities, which helps to balance out the environs of the stomach, and keeps things moving along smoothly.

The funny thing is that nobody ever thought twice of taking three, four, and five helpings of the soup, not caring about the traditional or not. The reason she did it her own way, is that she cooks the way I do: use what you have on hand, and make it work for your needs. It’s kind of why the turnip soup is such a good recipe to have on hand. Regardless of what you’re working with, you can make it tasty with just a few little tweaks here and there.

I think this is what makes cooking such a magical experience. Here you have me, who’s living in America, trying to hark back to my South Indian roots, and making food that my mother made for me. I make a modified version of what I grew up eating, because I’ve found ways and means that work for me. For example, in the original version of the turnip soup, my mother uses fresh grated coconut. I was able to do that for a bit while I lived in a Latino neighbourhood, and could have access to fresh coconut for about a dollar a piece. Once I moved to a better area, the coconuts suddenly became sub-par, and horribly expensive. For a while, I flirted with frozen and dessicated coconut, but it wasn’t quite the same thing.

Having your husband crack open the coconut, fiddle out the white part, and drink the juice from inside is an experience. Yes, the frozen coconut is technically the same as the stuff that I do from scratch, but it’s not quite as satisfying. The way Puppy does the coconut reminds me of how my father would do the coconut. He’d carefully strain out the water from inside the coconut, and offer it to either Amma or one of us kids first. He would certainly partake heartily and happily, but he’s still see to it that all of us got our share.

Then, he’d carefully remove the coconut itself from the shell, and leave it there waiting for my mother. When he taught Steve how to do that, it was his own way of welcoming Steve into the family. When Amma taught me how to make that soup, it was her way of passing on secrets from thousands of generations of talented cooks, all distilled into practical, easy to use knowledge.

Gives dinner a whole new edge, doesn’t it?