This is the first in a new column on le sauce: cook love. Quite simply, it will feature cooks that inspire me and have influenced how I cook or how I feel about cooking and eating, and whose stories and thoughts on food I want to record and share.
For the very first feature, who better to introduce you to than my mom! My mom has worked tirelessly all her life, and in no small part, feeding me was part of that work. I was an avid eater and a picky kid all at once. I knew what I liked and I wanted what I wanted (not much has changed), and my mom did her best to comply, but not just to fill my pie hole and gain a moment of silence, but because she is absolutely passionate about food too. She is curious about ingredients and techniques, she’s a perfectionist when it comes to both, she has a well-honed palate and she loves to eat foods that are new to her.
She’s also the best kind of critic–she is honest and doesn’t hold back, but she offers constructive criticism because she wants the best result in the end regardless of whether she’s eating my food or the food of a great chef. I can always expect a call about how a recipe that she shared with me, that we tested, re-tested, and nailed, still could be tweaked in her opinion. She’ll go through the work all over again to get it right, not because anyone else is judging it, but because she wants it to be as delicious as possible. And when she’s eating something she really enjoys, with you, happiness floods the table. I love eating with her and I’m glad that in adulthood, I finally can keep up and cook with her! Without further ado, a little from my mom…
What is your favourite snack?
Something we were never without in the house was bread, so toast with lots of butter and hot lunu miris slathered on was very welcome. Accompanied by a hot cup of plain tea with lots of sugar.
What made you begin cooking?
I loved cooking from the very young age of 5 or 6. The neighbours’ daughter and I used to cook rice in little clay pots, build our own fire outside in the wood shed. Sometimes it was half raw but it was the best meal because we did it ourselves. The accompaniment for the rice was a simple kiri hodi (milk curry.)
What inspires you to cook now?
Now I do it for the simple reason that I love to cook and entertain people. Even though we do not invite people like when we were young, I still like to cook and send food to people who do not have the time to do so. [YS: My mom has been known to arrive with bags of cooked food for my working cousins with three little kids. …Or me.] It just makes me happy when I give food to people. And with all the cooking shows on TV now, I just feel I have to try (the recipes) out and then enjoy them with my family and friends.
Where was your favourite meal or what would your favourite meal be (places, people, the food?)
I had some very, very tasty dishes in India.
I would love to eat my Aunty Queeni’s food but she is not in this world anymore.
I’d love to eat all the street food in Sri Lanka.
What would you like to make that you haven’t made or made successfully?
I would like to make all the complicated sweets that we have in Sri Lanka.
…nothing is as hard as it seems.
Any tip or advice for cooks?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. You may not get it right the first time you try a dish, especially if it’s the cuisine of another country. But nothing is as hard as it seems. Adjust seasonings and make it your own. Substitute ingredients and see where it will take you.
Any other stories you’d like to share with us?
When I was in my teens and I cooked any dish, my dad always commented that it was really very tasty. He never knew I cooked it. It made me very proud. And later on when he took meals to work, he always asked me to serve his plates because presentation was very important to him. I arranged his meals very artistically. He shared these with his assistant, who was a British fellow. The steaks or stews had to be perfect, the vegetables perfectly boiled and arranged nicely and seasoned just right. He would never entrust this job even to my mother–not that she couldn’t do it, I’m sure. I’m positive that he bragged about the fact that his daughter made the meal to anyone who was sharing the meal with him that day.
Some of my mom’s recipes you must try: curried beans, spiced beets and her pumpkin curry with ground coconut and mustard paste.