A remedy for homesickness: crowdsourced recipes
Every year, Rensselaer brings together a group of diverse individuals, each from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, who are passionate in pursuing varied academic interests and are all unified in our shared experience of building a new life away from home.
As the 2014 film "The Hundred-Foot Journey" states, “Food is memories.” While campus dining halls do provide a variety of food options for students, nothing can beat recreating my grandma’s wholesome and perfectly spiced chakulya recipe in my dorm hall kitchen. To be honest—sorry aaji—this isn’t even my favorite Indian food to eat. I honestly prefer my mom’s palak paneer, sauteed spinach with cottage cheese, or cauliflower bhaji, spiced cauliflower, with dahi, plain yogurt, and roti, an Indian flatbread. But making chakulya captured my great memories of eating it with my grandma every time she visited from India.
I hadn’t realized that I had access to my grandma—a cooking master—as my tutor at the same time I was preparing to leave for college this past summer. I had so many questions: How will I make new friends? Will I be able to keep up with the work? But one important question would now be taken care of: How will I survive college without Indian food? Being the first generation in my family to have been born in the US, my grandma and I come from completely different backgrounds. Naturally, we can’t always relate to each others' experiences and views, but I know we love each other, so I try to connect with her in areas we can both relate to.
I decided to work with my sister and little cousin to help my grandma write a recipe book of her own. This way I would learn all of my grandma’s recipes, my grandma would enjoy her time teaching and writing them, and we could preserve the recipes for future generations in my family. I could also give the book to other family members like my older cousin who’s in college and definitely in need of some home-cooked meals, or I could take the recipe book with me to college. I decided to try cooking the first recipe in the book, my grandma’s classic chakulya recipe.
These measurements are approximate, because we typically season by taste. 1 cup lentils, 1 cup wheat flour, 2 teaspoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon cumin, garlic, curry leaves, 1 teaspoon red chili powder, salt to taste, coriander leaves, 1 teaspoon clarified butter, and one lemon.
- Cook 1 cup of lentils with 3 cups of water in a pressure cooker.
- Add water, oil, and salt to 2 cups of wheat flour. Knead the dough.
- Roll the dough flat and cut out small diamond-shaped pieces.
- Heat 2 spoons of oil and add mustard seeds, cumin, garlic, curry leaves, and red chili powder. Add water and let it boil.
- Add the diamond-shaped pieces to the boiling water mixture. Add salt. Let it boil for 10 minutes on medium heat. Keep stirring.
- Remove and blend the cooked lentils from the pressure cooker. Mix it with the mixture. Let it simmer for another 5 minutes on low heat.
- Add coriander leaves and serve hot with clarified butter and lemon wedges.
Cooking in my college dorm kitchen brought some—honestly many—obstacles. One was time: I couldn’t spend too much time cooking. I was just adjusting to my new schedule and I needed to study and finish my homework. Another was ability: I’m by no means a good chef. On the plus side, my grandma was only a FaceTime call away and she could help me as I cooked. After an hour of hard work and multiple calls to my grandma, I had cooked a delicious bowl of chakulya. It was incomparable to my grandma’s, but it was still fun to make and a nice break from eating sandwiches in dining halls every day.
While this recipe is a bit complicated for a dorm kitchen and a busy student (You should still try making it!), there are many talented students on campus that have found innovative ways to cook their favorite homestyle meals in their dorm kitchens. I’ve heard multiple students in the Union and on their way to class passionately sharing their interest with their friends in cooking their favorite meals. This inspired me to reach out in the form of a large-scale culinary project: I’m currently learning about and compiling the stories of RPI student-chefs with recipes from all over the world.
I’m no expert on how to cure homesickness. But my time cooking in my dorm kitchen at RPI definitely helped me feel more at home. If you have recipes of your own please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would love to feature your recipes in our new project.