Things my Grandfather Taught Me: Zarda
“One cup of sugar,” Baba said.
“Like – all together at once?” I questioned.
“Obviously not,” said Baba. When I did something very obviously stupid, Baba’s octave would always drop a little, and the exasperation would become more evident in his voice. This happened more often than you’d think – even though I was in ninth grade by now.
“Well, then how?” I asked desperately.
“You layer it. Like a biryani,” Baba said.
“I don’t know how to make biryani,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“And that’s a disgrace as well,” Baba said, without thinking twice.
Not that I wouldn’t mind learning about how to make biryani – I’m just not a very good cook. This might be because I don’t care about cooking since almost everyone in the house can cook better than me. Baba makes this kheer, and it’s unimaginably good. Once, we were having a party – and I remember coming home from school, and everyone was busy with party preparation. The thing that really nailed it in me that this party was bigger than normal ones was when I saw Baba, sitting at this giant kadhai, carefully stirring kheer.
Everyone in our family cooks. Daadi ma does it more than the others, but Baba is just as good. He just cooks rarely, and I think it makes it sort of special.
Which should make learning Zarda extra special.
“Put the cashews and the kishmish. Layer it. One layer of the sweet things, and the one layer of rice.”
“Okay. How many cashews?” I asked.
“As many as you think,” Baba said, exasperation evident again. I must be a frustrating student. I was a bit of a failure when it came to cooking, and a bit of a disgrace when it came to know about the food Baba knew about. When I told him that I didn’t know what Zarda was, Baba was frankly horrified. He ordered the ingredients to make the dish almost immediately – instead of doing the normal thing and ordering it from Dastarwhan.
Baba works on instinct, especially when cooking. I do too – but when Baba was cooking, I was always nervous about cooking something wrong. Daadi ma and Papa tended to measure everything they made, but Baba would simply work without measuring a thing.
It was a good dish. I didn’t think sweet rice could taste so good, but it did.
You know the really funny thing? Later, when necessity forced me to become a better cook, I always worked on instinct, without measuring a thing. Baba would have liked that. It was a good way to approach cooking.