Auntyji: Who put ricotta in my palak paneer?

Improvised palak paneer is a no-no for Auntyji, as are other mangled versions of India’s centuries-old cuisine

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Dear Auntyji

My wife is a fabulous cook, and she makes simple dishes very tasty and nutritious. But she can be a bit of a… purist, if you like: she would rather dip her hand in urad batter and fry it in hot oil than to change her dishes from the traditional ways. For example, she will only use ghee for tempering the dal – she won’t use a substitute. She will never, ever, add apricots or grapes to her chicken curry, or fish sauce to add umami flavour to her palak paneer.

So the problem is this. An Aussie friend Sam frequently asks for recipes from my wife, and then when he makes the dish, he improvises. This would be ok, if not for the fact that he then offers a tasting platter to my wife for her opinion. My wife is a polite person, but she simmers like a sambaar when she tries these mangled offerings, such as improvised palak paneer. I want to spare her this torture. Do you have a suggestion?

Auntyji says

What is wrong with these amateur cooks who think they can take a dish that has been eaten for generations, from one of the world’s oldest civilisations, and then improvise it? Are these people so ignorant about how offensive they are being? The solution here, my aloo baingan, is for you to be the man and not the mouse you’ve been so far. This is all your fault for indulging your besharam friend.

So the next time he takes a palak paneer recipe and then offers a tasting platter of an improvised morsel, please step up. With great ceremony, I want you to taste the food and then make a face as though you have been offered mitti laddoo.  Remove the food immediately – with great disgust – from your mouth and look aghast at your friend as though he has just tried to poison you. Then, summon all your outrage and ask, “WTF Sam, what have you done to this delicious dish?” And if he looks befuddled and tries to explain that he added fish sauce or grapes or ricotta cheese or whatever to the dish – interrupt him immediately and say, “This is a dish my people have been eating for generations and we have followed a time-honoured recipe.” Then stare at him thoughtfully and ask in a quieter tone, “Is it because you are white that you think you know better than us?” Then walk to the fridge and look inside for a can of beer while he wonders what the hell just happened.

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