One of the challenges of adjustment from international to domestic living lies in the kitchen. How do I create the tastes that my palate has become accustomed to in this new land? Going from red pepper, garam masala, white cumin and turmeric to simply salt is distressing. A kitchen full of fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and ginger is doable, but all the smells, sounds, and sights connected with the process seem too difficult to duplicate.
And then you meet someone who has lived in the United States for a while and assists you on the way, helping you realize that shortcuts are our friends. Not only did she convince me of the time factor, she convinced me of the taste. The someone was Sonja Williams. Sonja is one of the best cooks I know. She learned well from her mother-in-law, Sheila Williams. Sheila is ethnically Indian but lived in Pakistan, the Emirates, and now lives in Toronto,Canada. Sonja, originally from the United Kingdom, lived in Jamaica, Pakistan, the United States, and she too now lives in Canada. Between the two of them they know every trick of creating delicious Pakistani meals with what’s available in the western market. Without the luxury of time and kitchen help that they had in India and Pakistan, they have figured out how to make cooking work in their busy schedules .
So here’s one tip: When you make Chicken Tikka Masala, sauté the chicken, onions, garlic and spices. Then just before serving mix tomato/basil soup with sour cream – add to chicken and heat up. Amazing! If you don’t have tomato soup, try vodka spaghetti sauce mixed with sour cream. Delicious.
And here’s my second tip: Use a packet like the one pictured below from Parampara. They are delicious, quick and easy. They come in chicken masala, lamb curry, chicken makhni (butter chicken), chicken tikka and the list goes on. Saute onions and chicken pieces (either with or without bone), add the mix as per the instructions, cook and serve with raita & naan or rice. These mixes work well with a slow cooker, ensuring you’ll come home to a house that smells like your past life.
For a long while I was embarrassed of my “cheater’s curry” thinking I was an impostor and had let myself and others down. The more time I spent with Sonja, the less of an impostor I became. She did this well and without apology. How many people use Betty Crocker or Pillsbury without apology? Parampara is the Pakistani Pillsbury only so much better than anything a dough boy can offer.