My mother was the quintessential ‘there is no better cook than my mom in the world’ kinda mom — casual in the kitchen, whipping up the best meals, menus, dinner parties, teas and Eid trolleys — all extremely effortlessly. Interestingly, in her style of teaching, a cooking tip slipped into a conversation with ease, and the most important tricks were shared without reserve. She truly enjoyed cooking and being a stylish hostess.

My mother passed away on January 3, 2013, and I was undone! I then remembered her words, “Every time you are in uncharted waters, find yourself lost, frustrated, anguished, ready to give up, give it one hundred days, and see how you feel on the hundredth day.” 

Hence, I gave myself one hundred days to cope with her passing, and then on the one-hundredth day, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (an American travel and food show) debuted on CNN and inspired me.  

This Mother’s Day, as a tribute to your mother, try a recipe to stir up the nostalgia of her cooking

That summer I met, and later wrote to the then editor of dawn.com, (late) Musadiq Sanwal, in regard to doing a food column called ‘Food Stories’.

I wrote to him saying, “My weeks in Pakistan have been wonderful, filled with family, food, nostalgia and all that is wonderful about Pakistan. During my stay here I had the opportunity to travel to interior Sindh, Peshawar, Lahore and Faisalabad and taste the flavours of its hospitality, generosity and warmth of the wonderful people who live there. What struck me was the passion with which mothers, rich and poor, shared with me their dinner and lunches. There was always an endearing or interesting story behind a certain food. Since I have always been a foodie and, prior to this experience, had already been thinking of doing a series of write-ups, I think this is the time to do it. My approach to writing is to focus on one food at a time. The column is a tribute to the Mothers of Southeast Asia who pass on the traditions, flavours and passions of cultural cooking to their children and in turn preserve history.”

Musadiq loved the idea. We talked at length about a food column inspired by my mother and all mothers, passed and living, and how it could potentially transcend differences, religions, races, cultures, politics, and make everything feel like home. And that became the premise of Food Stories; the journey of food, mothers it belonged to, its uniqueness, little anecdotes that mothers share while cooking and feeding, and by passing on recipes.

I was greatly inspired to tell stories about food and, in the process, I learnt something about myself, and the delight of cooking, and the excitement and joy of doing it right.

My mother’s recipes came to save me and her words brought my life full circle. Today, in honour of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing my mother’s favourite recipe.

PULAO

INGREDIENTS (SERVES 4 TO 6)

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 lbs mutton, small pieces (preferably goat leg or shoulder meat)
1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 large onions 
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 to 1/2 cup oil
8 1/2 mugs water
2 mugs rice
Salt to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons yoghurt
1 teaspoon fresh ginger (chopped)
1 teaspoon fresh garlic (chopped)

METHOD

Slice one large onion in four quarters, add mutton, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, salt to taste and water. Bring it to boil and reduce the heat to medium until mutton is tender and stock (yakhni) is reduced to half its original quantity (4 1/4 mugs).

Remove mutton pieces from stock (yakhni), and strain the stock thoroughly through a sieve, discarding the fennel, coriander and onions. In a large pot, heat oil and brown the thinly sliced onion. Once the onion is golden brown add mutton, ginger, garlic, garam masala powder, cumin, salt to taste and yoghurt. Stir on high heat for a few minutes. Now add mutton stock, and bring to boil on high heat, adding the pre-washed rice. Maintain high heat until the rice fluffs and the stock is just a thin layer on the top. Taper the heat to low and seal the pot initiating the dum method (steam cooking initiation after sealing the pot). Let it sit on low heat for 30 minutes, Remove the lid — your perfect pulao is ready to be enjoyed. 

BEETROOT (CHUQUNDER) RAITA

Take two beets, discarding the stems. Boil until cooked. Remove from water, peel and slice julienne. In a bowl whisk two to two-and-a-half mugs yoghurt, add half a cup washed and chopped onions, salt, a pinch of black pepper powder, to chopped green chillies, add the beets, sprinkle with chopped mint and cilantro and serve with pulao.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 12th, 2019