A favourite author, and a delectable salmon main course!
Rohit and Pia read and cook; and maintain the wonderful blog Two Admirable Pleasures. Pia reads and reviews a book, and Rohit concocts a brilliant recipe to go with it (think Mint Juleps with The Great Gatsby, or an Apple Pie with Tom Sawyer). This week they read Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest, and have just the right dish to go with it!
If you’re like me, you have a set of favorite writers whose books you anticipate in the time it takes to write them. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of them.
Lahiri’s new book, The Lowland, is the story of two brothers who are born and raised in Calcutta, in a relatively middle-income household. While they have similar trajectories throughout their childhood, as they mature into college age, one heads into the field of environmental science, pursuing a Masters and then ultimately a PhD in Rhode Island, while the other dances dangerously close to the Naxalite movement, a violent uprising with Communist ties that sought to redistribute land to the landless. While one brother’s loneliness looms palpably over his studies, the other’s fierce tenacity and obduracy to fight for what he believes in brings trauma to his family and the dutiful brother is called upon to pick up the pieces of his broken family.
While most of the story takes place in New England, Bengal and Bengali culture are omnipresent. From the food he cooks to the manner in which he raises his daughter, this is a quintessentially Bengali story, right down to the book’s politics. While mustard is used all across India, mustard paste is unique to Bengal. This time, I wanted to try my hand at making one, so I let Rohit off for the night from culinary duties.
I used our molcajete, a Mexican grinding stone, to pulverize ground turmeric, cayenne pepper and brown and yellow mustard seeds to a powder, mixing in some water to create a paste. Then I brushed the paste onto a large slab of salmon, a meaty fish that would stand up to the pungency of the mustard paste. I dropped some cumin and fennel seeds and dried red chilies into sizzling oil and set the salmon filet on top.
Never one to waste salmon skin when it’s been crisped to perfection – especially in a homemade mustard paste – I served that alongside the piece of fish with fragrant jasmine rice and some not particularly Bengali broccoli for greenery. Rohit, the resident Bengali in our home, proclaimed my mustard fish to be on par with kasundi, the Bengali mustard of his childhoods spent in his grandparents’ home in Calcutta.
While I didn’t fall head over heels for this book like I had in the past for say, Unaccustomed Earth (which I finished in bed, wracked with sobs), I did have a realization: my writing style is similar to Lahiri’s. I don’t know what that means about me as a writer – does that mean that I wouldn’t actually like my own work if I were reading it as a naïve reader? I found that we narrated similarly, with dialogue that seemed interchangeable. I wonder if she would agree.