From My Mother’s Kitchen

by Licia Canton

It wasn’t her choice to come to Canada fifty years ago. Like many others of her generation, she left a rural setting to follow a man to a distant metropolis. No doubt, she would have preferred to not live in a small basement apartment in a cold city where she didn’t have friends and didn’t speak the language. For forty years she worked in a wholesale meat plant with men who were stronger but less efficient than she. Even during the summer she wore steel-toe boots, cotton-covered steel-mesh gloves, a hairnet under a hard hat and a woolen winter sweater under her white butcher coat to keep warm in the refrigerated workplace. She might have preferred tilling the soil under the Venetian sun as she had done as a young woman.

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Asha Jain’s Aloo Gobi

When the Culinary Historians of Canada announced that May’s topic for the Canada 150 Food Blog Challenge was “Food from Mother,” the timing was perfect. At the beginning of May, I was busy preparing a conference paper for an upcoming trip to Toronto, and at the same time shopping for ingredients at specialty grocery stores around Vancouver. The two activities were related, because I was both researching and cooking from a Canadian play: Asha and Ravi Jain’s A Brimful of Asha (2012).

A Brimful of Asha traces the story of the Jain family when Asha and her husband attempted to arrange a marriage for their son, Ravi. Originally produced by Ravi Jain’s Toronto theatre company, Why Not Theatre, A Brimful of Asha has toured across Canada and internationally with Asha and Ravi performing as themselves. You can see this mother-son duo on stage this summer if you happen to be planning a trip to New York City. A Brimful of Asha is part of Soulpepper Theatre’s 20th-anniversary tour of eight productions that are heading to New York’s Pershing Square Signature Centre from June 29 to July 29, 2017.  The tour nicely coincides with Canada’s 150th.

Back in 2014, I was lucky enough to attend a performance of A Brimful of Asha at Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre on Granville Island. My Canadian drama students were captivated, particularly when Asha and Ravi welcomed the audience with a platter of warm samosas, and later graciously signed the students’ copies of the play when the performance ended. The published play extends this spirit of generosity by offering two recipes—for Aloo Gobi and Rajma— “from the Kitchen of Asha Jain”.

In the play, Asha relates her side of the story: how she very much wants her son Ravi to marry, to have a family, and to be happy. According to Asha, everything in life has “its charm at a certain time” (30). During the family’s original dispute, Ravi was single, in his late twenties, and nearing his “expiration date” for marriage. Time was of the essence, but Ravi only wanted to focus on his career. If you would like to know how this family conflict unfolds, I encourage you to see or read the play!

When you cook Asha’s recipes, you appreciate her motherly care. For Asha, timing is critical.  Adding spices is followed by waiting, and then stirring. Followed by more adding, waiting, and stirring. Attentive patience yields the best results, both in the kitchen and in life.  My hope is that in addition to her recent theatre career, Asha will consider a future role as cookbook author. Her Aloo Gobi and Rajma are stage-worthy.

Asha Jain’s Aloo Gobi (adapted from A Brimful of Asha):


Ingredients:

  • ½ head of cauliflower
  • 1 potato
  • ¼ cup of canola oil or ghee
  • 1 tbsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp. cilantro powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. mango powder (or lime juice — please see note below)
  • ½ tsp. garam masala
  • fresh cilantro (garnish)

Steps:

  1. Heat ghee on low heat. Add cumin seeds and cook for 30 seconds.
  2. Add cauliflower and potato (both chopped into bite-sized pieces) and stir until mixed and coated. Cover and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle cilantro powder, paprika, salt, and turmeric on top, but do not stir! Cover and cook for 5 minutes on low heat.
  4. Stir in spices until combined. Then cover and cook until cauliflower and potato are cooked through, stirring now and then.
  5. Sprinkle mango powder or lime juice* (*read note below) and garam masala on top, but do not stir! Cover and cook for 2 minutes on low heat and then combine.
  6. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

*NOTE: After trying 4 different Vancouver grocers, I had no luck finding mango powder, so I substituted with 1 tbsp. lime juice. My search for mango powder continues, as I will definitely be making this dish again.

Jain, Asha and Ravi Jain. A Brimful of Asha. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2012.

Text and Photographs: Shelley Boyd