I have written before I did not learn to cook while growing up. I studied, read, played and then worked. I would come home to food cooked for me. Similarly, I did not go to the market to buy fish, meat or vegetables. On a side note, as I write this, it sounds so privileged but trust me, many of my compatriots grew up the same way in middle class Kolkata.
Due to my inexperience in shopping for food, I do not recognize half the fish that was bought, cleaned and cooked in our house. And I also do not recognize the zillion greens or shaak that baba brought home. Baba is a leafy green connoisseur. He can distinguish between palang shak (spinach), pui shak (no idea what that is called in English), shorshe shak (mustard greens) methi shak (again, no idea what this is in English), mulo shak (radish greens, if that is a thing), and many, many others. He diligently bought leafy greens, had our cook prepare them for the family and insisted we all eat it. I hated every one of them of course, turned up my nose and complained. Now, in my middle age, I crave each of them – slightly sauted with garlic, nigella seeds, dried red chilli, some mustard….
Anyway, yesterday I dragged my son and my husband to an Indian grocery store to buy Hilsa fish – one of the few that I know well. I also bought a huge bag of greens which I presumed to be spinach. This morning, as I opened up the bag of greens and inspected the giant leaves and sturdy stalk, doubts crept in my mind. Is this truly spinach?
Sean was in the kitchen getting in my way. In reality, he was making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. I asked him if he knew what those greens were. I made him smell the leaves:
“Is this spinach? This is spinach, right?” I wanted reassurance.
He shrugged, “I have never seen leaves so big.”
Now you have to know, our acquaintance of spinach is truly limited to boxes of baby spinach from the supermarket. Hesitantly, I chopped the leaves and started prep work for my ‘chocchori’ – a bengali version of veg medley.
“Listen, sue the store if I die by consuming these strange leaves. Make yourself some money. Profit from my death.” I gave him sage advice.
“Well, I can’t!” He replied.
“Why not?” I asked, puzzled. In this country you sue the heck out at the drop of a hat.
“You don’t know if they were selling these leaves to eat! For all you know, these may be meant for cleaning the toilet!”
I had just mixed the leaves in a pan with the other vegetables that I had painstakingly chopped and turned the stove on.
I turned and glared at him. He chuckled.