After nearly 15 years as an educated and consistent consumer of Indian food, one reason I’m now finally making the effort to make this food for myself is this: I’m tired of all the long faces. When people hear I’m married to a Desi guy, they get interested and excited. First, they get interested because they look at our kid(s), and I know they’re trying to figure out the genetic equation. This is especially true of my eldest son. I can sense the questions they’re thinking, though few people are so bold as to utter them aloud:

  • “Reddish hard, blue eyes? And he is Indian?”
  • “Blue eyes, milky-pale Wisconsin complexion? Is the Indian guy his stepdad?”

Anyway, my oldest is most like me, a three-generations filtered version of Euro-Milwaukeean: Germanpolishirish. We freckle on the shores of Lake Michigan in the summer and we attract cell-phone photographers when we vacation on the Arabian Sea.


Then people get excited. Everyone who likes to eat wants to know someone who makes Indian food. Some questions are uttered aloud:

  • “Can you make Indian food?”
  • “Tell me you make thalis!”
  • “Who taught you how to cook Indian food?”

Anyway, I feel bad saying “no.” Plus, the older I get the more folks I meet who are making the effort to learn how to make thalis and chutneys and curries for themselves. If they’re investing the time and patience to master moong daal omelets and that delicious, breakfast-time study in contrasts known as masala dosa, then why not I?

I took my first lesson from my mother-in-law (MIL) ten years ago. We started with bhel puri, but all I remember is the tamarind chutney. Bhel is mixed with 2-3 chutneys depending on the recipe, and the deep-brown, limey, syrupy tamarind chutney is the best. My MIL made this from scratch and she spent what felt like an eternity blending, diluting, spicing and perfecting the chutney. The chutneys need to be thin enough to spread easily and liberally over the puffed-rice/chopped-potato mixture that is the foundation of bhel puri. I asked my MIL to repeat the names of the ingredients, the exact ratio of water to tamarind paste. “Little bit of this, little bit of that; Pinch of this, maybe a few drops of that; It depends on what you like,” were her stock replies. I found the flexibility of her approach exhausting and indecipherable. I quit that night.

Now, with a few shortcuts and some words of advice to you, I am back. And I brought bhel.


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