EAT TO LIVE, LIVE TO EAT

Food and eating have always been central factors in my life. From any age I can remember, the same couple of images stay cemented in my head: my mom standing over the stove stirring a pot of something comforting and warm, the sight of my family around a dinner table tasting a plethora of appetizers: salty, sweet, umami, and to this day, it is the smell of fresh-ground coconut for chutney that greets me each morning when I awaken. Eating is something I have always enjoyed and very quickly I became aware of what different cuisines and flavors meant to me. My family never saw food as mere sustenance; I genuinely don’t remember a single instance where I have eaten fast food for dinner, and I can’t place a time when my mom sent me off to school as a child without a home-cooked breakfast. It is my family that trained the foodie in me. Each time my brother or I had time off from school, my family would be on the first flight out of Florida, and the first place after the airport, would be to taste that country’s native food. I fell in love with sushi in Japan, I experienced the flavors of spicy Moqueca with fluffy Pao de Queijo in Brazil, and savored the buttery, sweet sticky toffee pudding that lived in the pubs of Ireland. Every ingrident and experience was unique and intriguing. The dishes of a country brought me closer to the culture and the people who lived there, along with the recipes and stories passed down from generation to generation. Thannkfully, I gained all of my passion for food from my mom, who would bring home these recipes and recreate them in her own kitchen. Watching the way my mom can transform a simple set of ingredients, not only into a substantial meal but into something that leaves you feeling warm and loved and secure, still leaves me astonished.

For quite a while, I was embarrassed to call myself a ‘foodie’. Like many, I have gone through my own struggles with eating and understanding a healthy relationship with food. Constantly, I blamed these struggles on the fact that I was foodie, hating how cardinal it was for me. I wished I could be like my friends who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, who didn’t know or want to know what went into their food, who didn’t know the difference between porcini and crimini mushrooms. I loathed how food-focused everything in my life was. Still, as I have grown up and become more aware of the incredible opportunities and experiences I have been given, I have worked to amend my mindset. I am proud to be a foodie. Being a foodie doesn’t mean I am obsessed with food; it means that I appreciate and seek to form new experiences and memories through it. Instead of viewing the act of eating as mechanical and despensible, I view it as a vessel to enhance my knowledge and heighten my human experience. Because of food, I am able to remember certain events of my past with such clarity– I can almost taste it.

Today, in honor of the upcoming ‘foodie’s holiday’, I have chosen to share with you five recipes that I hold a deep emotional connection to. Emotions, just as dishes, come in a wide array and are brought up when recalling different people, places, or objects of my past. Whether they come from an exotic foreign country or are simply a childhood favorite, theses recipes are ones which ground me and remind me of why food is so important. These are the dishes that I live to eat because they fill my head with echoes of time past and my heart with love and comfort.

  1. White Dosa

The “Dosa” is a broad term encompassing the South indian delicacy of a thin lentil and rice savory crepe. Fellow foodies or those more adventurous with cuisines may have had the pleasure of tasting this crispy, fairly healthy dish often paired with tangy pickles and spicy chutneys. As a child, my mom experimented with every type of dosa in the book, from the classic fermented lentil dosa, to moong dosas, to rava and masala and egg dosas. However, for both my brother and I, there has always been one specific version which came to be our ultimate comfort food: the white dosa. I would eye the milky-white batter on the counter, easily distinguishable from regular dosa batter, with anticipation as my mom sprinkled fragrant ghee on top. My brother, who would awake hours later, would also have one delivered hot to his room as he soaked each bite in spicy mango pickle brought straight from India. I think the thing about white dosa which is so appealing is the creamy, velvety flavor. It doesn’t hold the same acquired fermented taste that the original dosa does, it instead is much more mild– really emulating the fresh flavor of coconut and ghee, and retaining the taste of any chutney it is paired with. The memories I associate with the white dosa are largely tied to my brother. Even today, when my brother comes home from school in Miami, my mom always has a fresh batch of white dosa batter waiting for him. As a child, I would parrot his request: “Mommy, can you make it extra crispy?”, but as I develop my own taste for this unique dish, I now have learned to appreciate the soft porous parts as much as the cripsy edges.

INGRIDIENTS (Serves 6):

  • 1 Cup Long-Grain white rice
  • 2 Tablespoons shredded coconut
  • Ghee/Oil for cooking
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt (or to taste)

METHOD:

  • Soak the rice for 6-8 hours or overnight
  • Blend rice and coconut to a watery consistancy (should be as thin as water)
  • Add salt
  • Heat a nonstick pan (preferabbly a crepe-style pan) until very hot
  • Add batter to pan and rotate pan to cover the entire surface (think of making crepes)
  • Sprinkle ghee/oil over entire surface, lower heat and cook until edges are crips and began peeling away
  • *This process takes practice, so just be patient with it and keep trying 😉 *

2. Green Fish

No, this is not green eggs and ham. I guess the more eloquent, proper name for this dish would be ‘Cilantro Chutney Fish’, but to me it will always be called ‘Green Fish’. The first time I remember eating this was at one of our many infamous house parties as a young child. Playing with dolls in my room, my mom called me out to have appetizers before dinner was served. Even as a little girl, I eagerly rushed out to the living room to get my grubby hands on the snacks. Immediatley, I went straight for my favorite dish: fried baby corn. At this point, my palette, although diverse, would not accommodate any seafood whatsoever. I hated fish especially. Ironically, if you gave me the choice between ‘baby corn fingers’ and ‘fish fingers’, I would actually choose the vegetable. But, as always, my mom brought the plate of fish to me and earnestly said her time-tested catchprase: “If you don’t try, you don’t know”. The thing is… I knew. There was absolutely no way that slimy, green, soggy piece of fish was anything but an alien from another planet. The way my mom worked though was that, ‘unless you have at least one bite, you cannot say you don’t like it’. This was the most annoying rule, even so, I took the smallest piece I could and stuffed it in my mouth relecutantly. Turns out–my mom was right. That night, I did not have another piece baby corn. I was eating more and more green fish. Today I commend my mom with her mantra and incessant demands that I try different foods because now I can say with full confidence that there is not a single food I ‘do not like’. The green fish, I later learned, is one that is quite simple to whip up (compared to some other complex seafood recipes my mom prepares). Maybe that is why I enjoyed it so much as an exploring six-year old: it was simple, and it was fresh, and it was colorful.

INGRIDENTS (Serves 4)

  • 1.5 LB Fish of choice (ex: Cobia, Halibut, Tilapia, Grouper)
  • 1 Cup Cilantro leaves
  • 4 Thai or Seranno green chilies
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Neutral oil
  • 4-6 Garlic cloves
  • 1-2 Lime or Lemon (for serving)

METHOD:

  • Grind cilantro, chilies, cumin, and garlic in a food processor or small blender
  • Slice/filet fish into 1-inch pieces
  • Add ground paste and salt to fish, marinate for 30 minutes-1 hour
  • Heat oil in a pan and pan fry filets on both sides
  • Serve hot with lemon or lime

3. Chicken Salad Croissant

I have a very tumultuous relationship with the chicken salad croissant. It is quite different from the other dishes on this list and I debated whether I should even include it at all. In the end though, I realized that if I was going to portray all the vivacious and cheery memories of food– I would also have to include some of the tougher ones too. Growing up, chicken salad was a cold, creamy food I learned to love. Honestly, I once again learned to enjoy this salad because of my mom, who always bought both chicken and seafood salad in tubs from the grocery store. With her in the summer, I would snack on the dip slapping it on everything from crackers to carrots, and of course, the flakey, warm croissant. Naturally, my mom with her perceptive nature noticed my fodness of the sandwich and began buying the Boars Head version for my school lunches. Chock with sweet cranberries and slivered almonds, I would devour the whole thing and wash it down with chocolate milk before going out to recess with friends. I guess the more dismal part of this story, as there is with any of them, is that the little girl had to grow up. As I previously mentioned, my relationship with food and the simplicity that described it at some point, took a sharp decline. I won’t get into the details but essentially, I was convinced by the world and my own perfectionist brain that food, like the chicken salad croissant, was something to fear. I became obsessed with eating in a way that was ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ and it became a means of gaining control in a time where I felt lost and confused. I know that many others face similar struggles and that certain foods, especially those tied to childhood can often become what is known as a ‘fear food’. That’s where the chicken salad croissant becomes bitter-sweet for me. In the early days of healing my relationship with food, I can clearly remember my mom going to the store and buying me a chicken salad croissant for an after school snack. I sat, with the sandwich in front of me as large as a mountain, one which felt unthinkable to overcome. Sitting with my mom for over an hour as I ate each bite of that croissant felt like both a failure and a triumph. I now know, after many tears and arguments and discussions, that food is something meant to be enjoyed and cherished. The chicken salad croissant no longer seems like a mountain, but there are still days when the thought of it dauntts me, and to that I say: a little chicken, a little mayo, and the smile of a young girl with a chocolate milk mustache, is worth so much more than rigidity around food ever will be.

INGRIDIENTS (Serves 4)

  • 3 cups Cooked chicken , chopped
  • ¾ Cup Mayo
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ⅓ Cup Dried cranberries , chopped
  • ½ Cup Sliced almonds
  • 1 Stalk celery , diced
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 Store-bought croissants, or crescent rolls baked according to package

METHOD:

  • Add all ingredients in a bowl (exluding the croissants) and mix until combined thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Warm croissants in the oven or toaster oven (optional)
  • Serve chicken salad on croissants

4. Khow Suey

Khow suey is a Burmese curry dish with noodles that has been just as much a staple dinner at my house as Indian chicken curry has been. Often times when I mention Khow Suey to others, I am met with blank stares. Even my mom, the most diverse and knowledgable person on food I know, only learned about this dish from her aunt in Bangalore who had spent some time in Burma. Again, reliabley, my mom added it to her collection and learned to perfect it, making it a comfort meal for myself, my brother, and my dad. It’s interesting to me how food can do that: take a part of the world I know nothing about and somehow transport me there in the matter of one bite. When I was young, I told my mom that I didn’t like Khow Suey. It was too complex for my childhood tastebuds and whenever she made it, I ended up eating plain noodles with a few peanuts prnkled on top. What I admire though, is that my mom never stopped cooking it. It didn’t matter if I liked it or not, in our household, you eat what was on the table. Of coursse, if my mom knew my brother or I weren’t the biggest fans of the meal she cooked, she would often make something special on the side, ghee roast chicken for my brother or fried pumpkin for me. But, the rest of the food would still be available and we were always encouraged to continue try it. Finally, by now, I have come to my senses and have realized that Khow Suey is one of the most satisfying and comforting meals out there. It includes noodles with a broth that is creamy, tangy, and spicy all at once. Topped with an array of hard boiled eggs, crunchy noodles, peanuts, lime, and fresh herbs, Khow Suey is a dish that should be apart of everyone’s family recipe book.

INGRIDIENTS (Serves 4):

  • 1 LB Chicken tenderloins or thighs, cubed into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 Teaspoon red chile powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 Teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai red curry paste
  • 1 Can (13.5 oz) full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 Cup water
  • 1 small onion, shredded
  • 1 box pasta (angel hair or spaghetti recommended)
  • 1/4 Cup neutral oil

toppings:

  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • Half cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Box La Choy crispy noodles
  • 1/2 Cup peanuts
  • 1/2 Cup green onion
  • Lime/Lemon wedges

METHOD:

  • Boil noodles according to package instructions, set aside
  • Heat oil in a dutch oven add: grated onion, ginger, and garlic and sautee until fragrant
  • Add chicken and sautee
  • Add chile powder, curry paste, turmeric, salt, 2 tablespoons of coconut milk, and water
  • Cover and let simmer until chicken is cooked
  • Add remaining coconut milk, simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat.
  • Serve family-style on top of boiled noodles and garnish with eggs, cilantro, crispy noodles, peanuts, green onions and lime/lemon.

5. Gudbud

I love the way my dad’s face lights up when he talks about Gudbud. Each time he explains what it is, his face takes on an animated expression which reveals to me that he has his own nostalgic memories of the dessert, and to have that passed to me is what I consider a great honor. Gudbud is one of my favorite desserts, which is surprising considering I am not really fond of most other Indian desserts. I find the sugar-syrup, rose flavored desserts a little sickly and honestly, I would rather have a warm chocolate chip cookie or a scoop of coffee ice cream. Gudbud is different though, it’s hodgepodge of components somehow complement each other perfectly. The dessert is probably foreign to many because it is very specific to my family’s region in India. It was invented in a restaurant called ‘Diana’ in Udupi, Karnataka and its exclusivity is one of the things I take a secret pride in. The word ‘Gudbud’ means ‘confusion’. It is made up of a glass of three types of iceream layered with nuts, jello, fruit, and tutti frutti. I have heard countless stories about Gudbud from my dad; how he used to eat it as a child with his schoolmates or how he would share the sundae with my mom on their ‘dates’. In the past few years, my dad has been on a mission to recreate Gudbud at home. We searched for the ingredients at Whole Foods and our local Indian store and finally, we concoted the old Gudbud. One memory I have of this dessert is being with our close friends that we invited home for dinner. All the kids lined up, with dad heading the operation, to create a Gudbud production line. One of us scooped the ice cream, one of us added the fruit, and one of us sprinkled the nuts. The tall glasses came out looking a little funny, and they may not have been the exact ones you can get in Udupi nowadays, but nonetheless, the ‘confusion sundaes’ left as all with huge smiles, and with each layer, we dug a little deeper into friendship.

INGRIDENTS (Serves 4):

  • 4 Scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 4 Scoops strawberry ice cream
  • 4 Scoops mango ice cream
  • 1/4 Cup chopped grapes
  • 1/4 Cup chopped apple
  • 1/4 Cup chopped mango
  • 1/4 Strawberry Jello, chopped into small cubes
  • 1/2 Cup nuts (almonds, pistachios, cashews, etc.) chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 Cup tutti frutti (Buy Here) OR replace with any gummies chopped into small pieces
  • 4 vanilla wafers

METHOD:

  • In a tall glass, start with a layer of 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
  • Add a second layer of: 1 tablespoon grapes, 1 tablespoon apple, 1 tablespoon mango
  • Add a third layer of 1 scoop of strawberry ice cream and top with 1 tablespoon of strawberry Jello
  • Add a fourth layer of 1 tablespoon of nuts and 1 tablespoon of tutti frutti
  • Finsih with a layer of 1 scoop of mango ice cream
  • Garnish with a vanilla wafer
  • *Repeat for 4 glasses*

“People who love to eat are always the best people” -Julia Child

Happy Living

Published by Ria Pai

Hi let me introduce myself. I was born and have lived my entire life in a beach area as a child of two amazing parents who immigrated to America from India. I love art, music and writing so I try to combine the three. I enjoy deep conversations on a number of topics from politics, to friendships, to fashion. I’m a natural perfectionist, but sometimes find this to be a bit overwhelming. I love mangos, dark chocolate and tea. I make art whenever I get the chance…painting, songwriting, dancing, and writing are all forms of art to me. Since I live in a warm area, I cannot stand any weather that is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and always find a way to swim in anything from pools to the ocean. I have one dog, a Lhasa Apso who I am envious of because he does nothing but eat, sleep, and lay around all day. I experiment with my style. I am horrible at geography and sitting still, and it’s not uncommon to find me with paint all over my hands. I like to wear bold clothing and I always find a way to wear the same white sneakers with any outfit I can. Hi, my name is Ria, nice to meet you.

4 thoughts on “EAT TO LIVE, LIVE TO EAT

  1. Thank you for the recipes sweetie!
    Loved, loved your article, which read to
    me like a grand conversation you and
    I could have had😍. I am proud to
    be a Foodie, benefited greatly by your
    Precious family♥️🥰🦃🍁
    Love, auntie Jan.❣️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dearest RIa, loved your article♥️ Wanted to wish you & your family a very Happy Thanksgiving 🦃🍁 We love you all lots & lots. ♥️ Auntie Jan & Uncle Dick Susie & Randy Sandy & George. 🙏♥️

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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