Today marks one year of my marriage. This day one year ago, I left the home I had been in all my life to go to a new house I was to make my home. It was an exciting and happy time – my wedding was an incredibly successful event and all members of my family were able to attend from all parts of the world. The entire month of August was spent with family dinners, going out, dholkis even after the wedding, gifts and prayers and most importantly, it was spent with that warm fuzzy kind of love that stays in your heart till long after. As a new bride, I was stripped of all household responsibilities and wasn’t allowed to cook, clean and essentially do any work till normal life began to settle in. Those weeks were the best time of my life and not only myself, but all my family members hold it very close to their hearts.
However, throughout all the celebrations and jolly times, I overlooked one small thing.
I didn’t know how to cook Pakistani food.
In fact, I had NEVER cooked a chapatti in my LIFE.
Before marriage, I was adamant I wouldn’t cook Pakistani food after I got married. I wasn’t particularly fond of it and I was far better at cooking lasagnas, pastas, pies and soups. I always knew my husband was a curry guy all the way and could not fathom a dinner without a chapatti – I just chose to ignore it. He’ll change, right?
Eventually, the month of August finished, all the guests left and normal life began to settle down. I was silently handed back my rights to cook and clean. And that’s when my curry cooking skills (or lack thereof) become a pressing matter for me.
Love does crazy things to people, I tell you. Where before I was adamant I wouldn’t get into the whole curry cooking business, I suddenly couldn’t bear the thought of cooking food my husband didn’t like. It felt heinous to cook up a quinoa and mushroom pilaf for him when he would have much preferred a traditional Pakistani Chicken Pilau. He never said a single word to me, but I knew I had to get myself together, do some learning and do it FAST.
The first dinner I ever cooked for him was Palak Murgh – Spinach and Chicken curry. I cursed myself over and over for never observing my Mother when she would cook, as she used to cook this particular meal often. I consulted all my aunts, my Mother and my in laws for what to do, how to cook this, where should I begin, what spices to use.
At that point, I wasn’t well-versed in the art of cooking. Everyone has their own style, their own special touches and their own preferences when it comes to cooking – I had yet to find this out. As I asked everyone for their take on how to cook Palak Murgh, I was told a vast variety of different things. ‘Boil the spinach separately and then add it to the chicken’ said one of my aunts. ‘Add a few pods of cardamom when you fry the onions, it tastes good’ ‘Add a dollop of butter at the end’ ‘Add tomatoes’ ‘Don’t add tomatoes’ I heard them say.
When I got down to it, I tried keeping all the advice I had been given in mind as I set out to sauteing the onions, unaware of how much I should brown them. Then garlic and ginger – do I add garlic and ginger? I seem to recall someone, oh I don’t remember who, saying not to use garlic and ginger in vegetable dishes. Do I use the paste or fresh? Oh lord, I don’t have a garlic press, what to do?! Tomatoes? Should I add them? Oh I don’t know. And good Lord, do I add water to the chicken? Maybe I would have been better of making daal!
I came out of the kitchen in one piece that evening to set the table for dinner. I placed my dish out on the table in front of my husband. A huge dollop of butter, about half a cup of it, sat in the centre of the serving dish, which had managed to make its way all around the rim of the dish, looking much like a pool of butter surrounding the spinach. My husband plated himself some curry, then scooped a bite with the
burnt and blackened chapatti I had cooked, strings of spinach trailing behind. ‘Did you cut the spinach?’ He asked me. ‘Oh, it didn’t occur to me to cut it. No one told me to cut the spinach. I think Ammi makes it like this.’ OMG I didn’t even chop the spinach I internally shrieked. He shrugged, then took a bite. Into something hard. Turns out, he had just sunk his teeth into two whole cardamom pods…
So my first curry was a disaster. I was
devastated quite upset but very firm that I wouldn’t let it put me down and I would persevere and not give into the comfort of cooking a tuna pasta bake. Thankfully, my unsuccessful period didn’t last too long. I went on to cook a streak of very successful Pakistani meals which earned me great praises, including Aloo Keema, Baingan Gosht, Kheer and Besan Ke Laddoo. Alhamdulillah (all praises for God). But no matter how many lovely, delicious and well received dishes I make, I always remember my flop of a Palak Murgh curry.
Marriage has taught me so many things and has made me grow into someone I’m very proud of. I spent my first year of marriage studying for my final year of University, so I have learnt invaluable lessons about time management and organisation. I’ve learnt how to maintain a happy and loving marriage – something I’m certain I will continue to learn about as the years go by, inshaAllah. I’ve learnt about the importance of the family ties and how thankful I am for my family circle of aunts, uncles and cousins. I’ve learnt how it’s OK not to succeed the first time around and that persevering always leads to positive results. I’ve learnt it is the unsuccessful things we do that teach us far more than the successful things.
I’ve also learnt how much more easy going through the unsuccessful times is when you have a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold and a comforting smile to go with it all. Though it didn’t take me long to adapt to Pakistani cooking, when it didn’t go quite right my husband never harshly criticised, never pushed away his plate and never said anything hurtful. For this, I will be forever grateful as without his love and kindness, I would not be as confident a cook as I am now.
Today, a more confident and experienced Fatima is revisiting the Spinach & Chicken curry she had previously botched. My hands work much faster, I am much more reliable at knowing what spices to use and which to step away from. I know exactly what ratio of spinach to chicken to use, and after a very long battle, I can finally serve my meal with warm and fluffy chapattis. A year on, I heartily enjoy a good curry and feel a bit incomplete when I haven’t had my chapatti for while. In ode to the two cardamom pods my husband bit into, I always use cardamom when I cook anything with spinach in it – but I’m making sure I grind it into a fine powder to avoid any unwanted surprises. I am very happy to share this recipe with you all.
Enjoy, with love x