Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shevai with Balsamic Tomato Sauce (Indian and Italian Fusion)

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As a fairly small child, sitting in the vestibule outside temple biding time until lunch, I asked my mother about the caste system. To which she answered, “You know, it used to be that if you left India across the ocean, you were out of it all together.” There I was not even in middle school yet, and my mother was basically explaining that my soul was lost. We have a wacky dark streak in our family that stretches back generations.

As unreligious as I was, excommunication from faith was not what struck me. It was the vastness of the ocean. The fact that these people were walking onto boats and later onto TWA planes, hopes in their hearts and scraps of their material lives in their hands. And, for their trouble, they were given basically given a ‘see you later’.

I can only imagine it was eternally freeing—frightening and freeing. In that moment the verboten became delicious. We often joke that it must have been a moment verging on the spiritual awakening when my bad-Hindu father tasted his first bacon double cheeseburger.

My girls, Maybelle and Lily, are heirs to a rich heritage of those who quit faraway homes, picking and choosing what food tastes to keep and what to chuck. An accent-lilting Indian grandmother often makes them home food for dinner but then takes them out for grass-fed burgers. On their father’s side, they are descendents of the hard-scramble mountainous spine of Italy. Their great-grandfather’s whole town left Italia because they had apparently lost their taste for rock farming.
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But, here is the where the math starts just muddy. If it were only some Lamarkian genetic food memory that exercised its powers on the taste-buds, my children would want Indian food ½ the time. Anyone who has fed children knows that they are capricious little beasts, who demand food that is at moments banally monotonous and at others perplexingly new. My first came out loving beans, and my second seems to think cauliflower is the bee’s knees. I like both, but the fist-pumping strength of their desires to eat these foods every night of the week seems amazing. Where did these loves come from?

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In my short parenting history, I have learned just a smidge about feeding little ones:

*Fuel, engage in, and cultivate their healthy food desires (We grew eight kinds of beans from seed this year.)

*Introduce foods that you love—and then don’t be broken hearted when they don’t share your tastes.

*Let them help you cook. Have them help you cook. (These two are different.)

*If you blog, have them help with picking the menu, plates, etc. Talk about your pictures. Let them take pictures. (Even at three and a half, Belle helps with this.

*Make some foods over and over. Kids like routine.

*Play lots of dance music while you are cooking. (This is the equivalent of a Julia’s glass of wine while you cook with the toddler set.)

*And, the last bit of advice, mix it up. Don’t assume they won’t eat something because it is new.

One day a few months ago, my mother got it in her head that she would make shevai (sounds like if you say Chevy said with a cross between a southern twang and a French nasal). She served those noodles up without even worry if the girls wouldn’t like them.

Shevai are rice noodles from south India eaten by many ethnicities including my own Konkani people. The process is fairly simple. Soak rice until the grains are sopping and translucent (overnight), grind with water or coconut milk, steam into a gelatinous mass, and then extrude through a press.
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The difficulty rating on this dish, for me, occurs because of the extruding. Think of it as the equivalent of pushing drying cement through a tea strainer. Making shevai always conjures images in my mind of my aunts and grandmother finishing making shevai, arms flexed in the air a la Rosie the Riveter. For your labor, you are not only the owner of gorgeous guns but also pillowy soft, toothy threads of noodle. These turned out to be a fan favorite at home, though the name was quickly changed by Belle to be called shimmy. As the cheeky mother than I am, I have also taught her the accompanying dance. Traditionally, they can be eaten with Indian pickle or with a sweet jaggery and coconut sauce.
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But, traditional is a word I have always only understood ever so tenuously. We serve our shevai with an Italian inspired tomato sauce so delicious you will want to lick the pan. This sauce was inspired by one that my Belle makes with her dad from the Silver Spoon for Children. The secret is a little bit of brown sugar. And isn’t shevai just a gluten free Asian angel hair pasta? And what’s better than spaghetti and sauce for breakfast even if it took a wide detour through India? (Or maybe because of that detour.)
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In the end, who we are, and by extension, what we love to eat, is the result of such perplexing alchemical processes, it’s probably not be worth doing the calculations. It does have something to do with the magic of being born into a family who nurtures you. So, if someday my girls venture off on their own across a wide ocean, if they leave me and my cooking behind, what of our kitchen will they take comfort in? Let’s not do the math.

My first entry for the Project Food Blog should exemplify my blog: good writing, global food, and family.

I am also sending this onto the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop hosted by A Moderate Life,
girlichef, Hunger and Thirst, and Frugality and Crunchiness with Christy

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Recipes:
Shevai
Balsamic Curry Leaf Tomato Sauces
Bell Pepper Quick Indian Pickle (Achaar)
Spicy Orange Achaar

36 comments:

Joanne said...

This was such a lovely post! I felt like i was there with you, caught between the push and pull of so many ethnicities, histories, and worlds. And then, at the end, finally acceding to all of them and letting go...saying let's just combine them all! Beautiful.

SS blogs here said...

Nice blog!

Baking Barrister said...

This was great! When I thought about PFB entries, this was the kind of thing I imagined--something that explains truly who you are and what you do without coming right out and answering the prompt. Beautifully written and beautiful photos.

Ben said...

Wow. This was really a pleasure to read. What a great way to kick off Project Food Blog. Already looking forward to your Challenge 2 post, and I am subscribing immediately.

The Cilantropist said...

Lovely job with this post, extremely well written and definitely from the heart. <3 Perfect for PFB!

Michael @ Herbivoracious.com said...

I love this post. Very cool to see the deep roots behind this dish, and also how you've changed it. And I'm unfamiliar with these noodles, so I learned something new there as well. Beautiful photos too. I've got kids of my own, whose food preferences I find perpetually ... umm.. intriguing?

sra said...

MM, your blog makes for very nice reading - and drooling! The pix are great!

maybelle's mom said...

thanks all.

Foodjunkie said...

Any ideas of how to make a 9 month old like fruit? I have tried everything and she just won't eat them. Arghhhhh!

Christy said...

I come from so many different heritages that the water/blood is muddy! How wonderful your children are learning to both eat and love foods from theirs! Thank you for linking this to the hearth'nsoul blog hop!

Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen said...

What fantastic fusion!

a moderate life said...

MM, this is simply lovely! As the daughter of two european immigrants and the neice of a Sikh who also left india to start a new life in the late 50's I can totally feel this post. Very lovely recipe as well. The traditional foods are sometimes hard to make, but the outcome is always divine! Thanks for sharing with us on the hearth and soul hop! Alex@amoderatelife

Butterpoweredbike said...

I've really got to thank you for writing this post. It is exactly the sort of thing that we love to see at Hearth and Soul. It's true that I love food, that I could talk about it all day long. But it never really gets interesting to me until the backstory comes out. Context is everything, and makes recipes so much more precious.

girlichef said...

I absolutely adore reading your posts. All of the time! I want to wrap them all together and make them into a book!! Very touching and I love the noodles, too. Thanks so much for sharing it w/ the hearth 'n soul hop =)

FOODalogue said...

You definitely accomplished your goal to showcase your blog as good writing, global food, and family. A lovely story. Congratulations.
P.S. Very funny comment about voting opening on 9/30...!

Lawyer Loves Lunch said...

I wandered on over at BakingBarrister's recommendation and am glad I did! This is a lovely post and I think it'll be so nice for your kids to read years from now :)

Butterpoweredbike said...

MM - I'm so glad that you shared this recipe and story with Hearth and Soul. It fits so perfectly with the new theme of our blog hop that I'll be featuring your post among my Best of the Blog Hop this week :)

Melynda said...

What a beautiful and insightful post, thanks for sharing.

Caroline said...

being an immigrant myself, I can relate to what you have written here. A great post!

angi said...

One of my blogger friends told me I must read your entry and boy was he right. Your photos are gorgeous and your writing is most definitely one of the best I've read (and not even just within this competition). PFB aside, sign me up as a regular!

Marija said...

Eonderful entry! I voted for you :)

Good luck!

Michelle Clark Fry said...

Beautiful. It's been over ten years since I have chatted with you. Now we both have children and food blogs...not surprising when I remember Mayday picnics in the fields behind Laurel. Food and play were important to us then -- so funny that such moody punk rock teens could be so playful-- and remain just as important to us now. I wish you luck in your contest and look forward to rediscovering your life and reconnecting with you through your blog.

Lindsay said...

Fantastic Photos! Love the post! You've got a vote from me!! You can check out my entry http://tinyurl.com/2ec2hlq Thanks! Good luck!!

Asha @ FSK said...

Idiyappam!!! I love it! esp with sweetened coconut milk or mutton curry ;-))!! But it's such a tedious thing to make..I have never attempted it :)

Btw, lovely post!! And I just voted :))

P.S: I read you are konkini.. do you have a recipe for neer dosai that you can share?

Lane aka DinnerandConversation said...

Love the fusion and the photos! Great entry!

Diana Bauman said...

What a beautiful post. I adore what you do and completely agree about including the children. What life lessons they are learning. Voted for you!!!

Reeni said...

What a great post! I love hearing more about your heritage. And your daughter is adorable. I voted for you - best of luck!

lynn @ the actors diet said...

great post, and your pix are lovely too! good luck!

Johanna GGG said...

Lovely post looking back and looking forward. I find that children's eating is a mystery to me - still trying to understand Sylvia's approach to food which is fresh or lightly steamed, no sauce - routine is very good and she loves to see what is going on in the kitchen even if she wont eat it.

notyet100 said...

truly enjoyed reading thhis

FOODalogue said...

You know you have my vote -- I definitely want to see you in the next round.

Phoebe said...

Fabulous post!! I have a daughter named Lily too. Good luck with the competition! I'm looking forward to your next entry. You can check out my 1st post at http://studioofgoodliving.com/2010/09/project-food-blog-defining-myself-as-a-food-blogger/

christina said...

You have an endearing writing style and the pictures are beautiful. I don't have kids of my own, but love cooking with my friends' children so I loved reading this and bring back those memories. Good luck! you have my vote!
christina
www.diaryofdinners.com

Steph said...

Great pictures. Your passion for food and cooking is really shown throughout your posts. Best of luck in the competition. You've got my vote. :)

Jen Cheung said...

hey ya! you have a lovely blog here. Stumble upon your blog through foodbuzz. :) I voted for your blog. hope that helps. Good Lucky !!!! feel free to drop by!!


have a lovely weekend
jen @ www.passion4food.ca

Foodycat said...

This is absolutely magical. Maybelle and Lily had the right idea when they chose to be born into your family!

I think I have had something similar to shavai in Sri Lankan restaurants - stringhoppers, but the noodles are formed into little mats. So good for soaking up sauces.