I’VE BEEN HAVING a rough couple of weeks. The older of my two sons left for college and along with all the crying in his empty room (me), worrying over course selection (him), the usual pangs of loss (both of us) and the trips to the post office to send him packages, I had an even bigger problem.
Ben, in what has been a revelation to me, turns out to have been my culinary compass. I had spent the better part of two decades building meals around what he liked, needed or craved. He’s my big eater and because he would eat things the rest of us also liked, I built our meals around what he had had for lunch, or what he asked for, or what I thought would be a happy surprise.
Now, as person who prides herself on always figuring out something to make for dinner, I have been at a loss, looking for inspiration when I never needed it before. There have been a few tuna sandwich nights and lots of pasta, since that’s what my younger son, Sam, prefers. But even my amiable husband started wondering where my mojo had gone and when was it coming back.
Faced with a head of cauliflower and not an idea in sight, I took a look through Sanjeev Kapoor’s How to Cook Indian (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011). My problems were not nearly over as almost every recipe had about a thousand ingredients that my pantry lacked, but it was start. I had dog-eared a rice pilaf with potatoes and cauliflower. Now, I have to beg Kapoor’s forgiveness because my dish is a complete bastardization. Lacking 10 of his 15 ingredients, I came up with my own version. But I also need to thank him, because it got me back to the stove.
So what did I make? I made a pretty good pilaf.
I sautéed a thinly sliced red onion in a couple of tablespoons of butter (sorry, Kapoor, no ghee here), a couple of teaspoons of mild curry powder (I know, I know, pre-made curry powder—it’s what I had) and some salt. I added cauliflower I had broken into very small florets, a cup of cooked chickpeas (my addition) and 2 small potatoes diced into ½-inch-or-so cubes. I added a cup of uncooked jasmine rice (close enough to the basmati the original recipe called for) and let everything sauté for a couple of minutes, mixing so it all cooked evenly. In went 2 cups of water and I let it cook, covered, on low heat for 15 minutes. I let the pilaf sit for another 10 and, voilà, I had dinner. A few lamb chops would have been great too, but my husband was so happy to see me back in action, he had the good sense not to suggest it.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick