My Family Recipe

An Indian Salad for My Mother, Who Taught Me Everything

Kachumber is a crunchy, vibrant dish with a rainbow of flavors and textures.

September 24, 2019
Photo by Del Sneddon

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that's meaningful to them and their loved ones.

I grew up with my Punjabi family in a small town in West Bengal, India. Childhood home pleasures were basic; there were none of the gadgets and emerging mod-cons of the day (I was 12 when our first black-and-white television set arrived in the house, and we were absolutely transfixed by it!). For us, there were more simple pleasures, such as playing cricket and badminton and the get-togethers with family and friends at the many festivals, weddings and religious celebrations. These events created such fervour and joy for us all; they were occasions for dancing, singing and, of course, food.

From a young age I’d sit and watch my parents cook; my father would grind the spices and prepare the mixes for my mother, which she would cleverly use to liven up a variety of everyday foods. I remember my mother feeding me as a small child on our veranda, introducing me to a wealth of flavors, textures, and techniques, all of which have stayed with me ever since. She was my first instructor in life and her influences are strong in the way that I cook today.

My parents didn’t speak English, but they made sure we went to English medium school (a type of school in India where students are taught the same education syllabus as children in the U.K.) and they provided good wholesome food for us. All our food was plant-based, as we rarely ate meat, only ever on special occasions. Indian food is strongly influenced by religion, culture, rituals, the caste system, wealth and poverty; people who can’t afford to drink clean water cannot afford to eat meat or drink milk either. Even for those who do have the means to eat meat may only do so occasionally, and vegetables and lentils play a huge part in these dishes.

I remember my mother feeding me as a small child on our veranda, introducing me to a wealth of flavors, textures, and techniques, all of which have stayed with me ever since.

Many of the dishes I grew up eating were cooked for me in my homeland by my mother and her friends. Food is woven through my childhood, and it features strongly in all my most cherished memories. As a child in the school holidays in India, my siblings and I would head off on long train journeys with my mum, kept happy with her beautifully packed picnics, featuring street food from each state, which we’d eat when the train stopped at each station.

My mum’s passing has made me realise how much I miss her and how much I crave the flavors of those train journeys. I now try to recreate those sights and smells of childhood in the U.K. Food certainly helped me when I missed my family and the friends that I grew up with, and it gave me hope of making new friends in a new country, too, by sharing it as I had at home. And although I am no longer living in my homeland, I have never forgotten my roots.

Excerpted from Zaika: Vegan Recipes From India © 2019 by Romy Gill. Reproduced by permission of Seven Dials. All rights reserved.

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Romy Gill MBE

Written by: Romy Gill MBE