By Abby Aagenes, Asst. Kitchen Manager
Growing up, I really had no idea what I wanted to be when I got older. I have always been pretty creative, but that didn’t seem like enough to follow a career path into the arts for me. My mom was always good at putting food on the table for dinner every night. Meals were usually a simple hamburger helper or even cold sandwiches, yet dinner was the place my family gathered every night to talk about our days. Dinner was what held our family together.
Around the time I was 8 years old, my grandfather took me to an Asian buffet for lunch. Little backstory about my “Papa”: he’s a jolly fellow, knows how to tap dance, can sing bass, treble and soprano, and he wears flipflops with specially made “thong socks” year-round. His favorite thing was to tell us grandchildren all the weird things he used to eat, just to scare us. So when he took me to the buffet, I was a little hesitant about what I was going to find there.
Well, if the seemingly endless serving tables filled with all sorts of colorful dishes, all new to my eyes, weren’t enough, the exotic mix of aromas was intoxicating. To have my papa all to myself certainly meant that day would remain etched in my mind. Papa told me the names of each item on my plate. I remember the excitement in his voice at introducing these delicacies to me. I also remember his hesitation, and curiosity, waiting to see how I would react to taking a bite from his Spicy Beef Tripe Soup. It wasn’t too spicy for me, but it was a good thing I didn’t know what tripe was at the time. Still, like everything else I tasted that day, it was perfect … no doubt made a little tastier because I was with my Papa.
That buffet lunch with my Papa inspired me in so many ways. From that point on, even at such a young age, I knew I wanted to be a chef, and at the same time the experience also spurred my curiosity about cultures and food different from my own. I would never suggest that eating an ethnic dish, even one prepared with great devotion and authenticity, is the same as truly engaging another culture by meeting people, traveling to their homelands. But what I will say is that when we open our minds, and our palates, to the remarkable breadth of culinary traditions around the world, well, maybe that little taste can inspire bigger steps toward understanding and connecting as a world community.
As it happens, I met my fiancée, Abhijeet, shortly after I finished culinary school. He began teaching me about Indian food, especially from his state of Maharashtra. The first recipe that he taught me is Dal Soup, which I am including below, or you can follow this link: Abby’s Dal Soup.
Bottom line: if you’re interested in learning about another culture, a good place to start can be in the kitchen.
· 2 cups red lentils
· 6 cups water
· 1 white onion, chopped
· 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
· 3 garlic cloves, minced
· juice 1/2 lime
· 1 tsp turmeric
· 1 tsp curry powder
· 1 tsp cumin seeds
· 1 tsp ground coriander
· 1 pinch cayenne pepper
· 2 whole clove pieces
· 2 cardamom pods
· 2 tablespoon canola
In a large sauce pot add oil, garlic/ onion and all spices and saute on medium until onions are translucent and spices are fragrant.
Then add water and lentils and bring to a boil. Once boiling cover and reduce heat to low.
Simmer for 30 minutes or until the dal has thickened.
Then add lime juice.
Serve with brown rice and a sprinkle of cilantro.