A local woman who has a restaurant came to my authentic Indian cooking class today. When the students went around the circle taking turns introducing themselves and speaking about what the attraction was that brought them to the class, her story surprised me. She shared that she disliked Indian food. She had a particular isue with the spice cumin, that she said made her feel ill. Smelling it was not a problem, but when it was used in dishes she found it overpowering and literally sickening. Another student suggested perhaps she has an allergy to the spice. When she would be visiting her daughter in San Fransisco and they would go to and Indian restaurant, she would bring her own food.
We continued talking about cumin for awhile, two participants shared that they love cumin, and one woman shared that in traditional Mexican cuisine, cumin is used often in the north, but not in the south. I agreed with Laura that cumin can be overpowering and told her, “Well, most of today’s recipes happen to feature cumin, and in fact I had planned to give you all a lesson in cumin! Are you open to having any cumin in the food or do we need to make two batches of the dishes?” She said that a little cumin would be all right and the other students agreed to this adjustment.
We proceeded to the kitchen and I gave a tour of the different stations I had created, one for each dish we were going to prepare. When we arrived at the beet, tomato and cucumber raita station I passed around a small bowl of raw cumin seed for each person to smell. I asked them to hold that smell in their minds. Then I passed around a dish of roasted and ground cumin seeds. The difference between the two was impressive and we passed them around again to really anchor in the smells and the differences. I then explained how to roast cumin and how doing so changed the character of the spice.
When all the dishes were ready, we spread them on the buffet table and served ourselves. Up on the terrace where we dined with a divine view of the mountains, I asked the students how they were enjoying the meal, if they had a favorite dish. Everyone said the meal was delicious and that they were enjoying it completely. I looked at Laura, wondering how the meal was going down for her, especially as I had added a little extra roasted cumin seed to the kachumber salad at the last moment. I felt a little guilty doing so, but in the name of giving my students a true experience of authentic Indian cuisine, I felt I needed to, as the dish really wouldn’t have it’s unique taste without it.
Laura looked at me smiling and reported, “I came to the class disliking Indian food. After this meal, my experience of it has changed. Even with cumin in the dishes I feel fine. The food has gone down well and I feel great! My stomach isn’t upset at all. I’m leaving this class with a new opinion of Indian food: I like it a lot!
"And now you know the secret," I beamed. "When you go to an Indian restaurant, ask the waiter to ask the chef whether the cumin in the spice blends have raw or roasted cumin. If raw, you can specifically request that the chef roast the cumin in your dishes."
Laura took this information in, eyes unblinking. "Now I can go to Indian restaurants with my family in San Fransisco and I don’t have to bring my own food!” She proclaimed.
Of course Laura’s turnaround was gratifying to me as a teacher: because of the class and what she had learned about how to use cumin, she had a different experience and opinion about the cuisine. Laura had received a gift by coming to the class. But I had received a gift as well: I was surprised that not liking the cuisine she chose to come to the class. How many people would do that? I can’t imagine I would. And what a lesson: by immersing herself in something she didn’t like, she learned, gave herself the chance of a new and different experience, and through her bravery and openness, emerged liking the very thing she had arrived disdaining.
Now there’s food for thought.
Robin Rainbow Gate
I help people midlife and beyond to find their inner power, health and well being through slow living
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