The Sikh way with food
The author enjoys a Punjabi lunch prepared with love
One of the wonderful aspects of being in grad school at Chico State is that I’ve been able to meet people who come from many parts of the world. I met my friend Gursharan Kandola through a graduate-level multicultural literature course. Gursharan is a Punjabi who was born in India but who grew up in England from age 4 on. She and her family now call the United States home.
Recently, Gursharan invited me for a Punjabi “fast food” lunch. “These are the foods we prepare when people drop by unannounced,” she explained as she bustled about her clean, bright kitchen on the east side of Chico dressed in a beautiful selwar kameez. I had little familiarity with the items spread out on her counters: tins of spices (cayenne, cumin, tumeric, jalapeño, garam marsala), containers of flour and water mixtures, and chopped-vegetable concoctions.
All Punjabis subscribe to the Sikh religion, Gursharan explained, and practicing Sikhs do not eat meat, as the Sikh scriptures speak against doing so. “It is all about causing the least amount of injury through your actions and thus incurring the least karmic debt,” she said.
Spirituality is interwoven into every aspect of a Sikh’s day—even cooking. “My mother always listened to religious songs and prayed while she cooked, so I do the same!” Gursharan told me. As a spiritual person myself, I felt happy someone was praying for me as she prepared the food I would eat.
Gursharan learned to cook as all Punjabi girls learn—by watching. Punjabi mothers carry their children on their bodies constantly from the time they are born until they can walk. And from the time they can walk girls spend their time in the kitchen with their mothers, and they simply begin to do the many tasks involved with preparing a Punjabi meal.
Gursharan said that, during childhood, she spoke only Punjabi while at home, and she learned the traditional ways of a Punjabi girl. “I had no choice!” However, when she finished high school, she was lucky—she was able to convince her father she should go on to a college education. Her paternal grandmother tried to derail the process, as she believed Gursharan should get married right out of high school. But Gursharan, with her mother’s help, prevailed—and she completed a four-year degree in chemistry. She got married a month after graduating from college.
Before we ate our Punjabi “fast food” luncheon—foods that are apparently common in the chathouses (roadside cafàs) of India—Gursharan recited a Sikh prayer in Punjabi. I felt very blessed to be in a household where food and God commingled. The luncheon consisted of samosas, paukauras, dhall, imlee (tamarind) chutney, shole (garbanzo bean dahll), sabji, cheese paranthas, aloo paranthas, rotis, chai (real chai—not the kind you find in coffeehouses!), and yogurt with honey—everything made from scratch, of course!
My favorite of Gusharan’s dishes was the paukauras. The recipe is below.
4 medium-sized potatoes, diced
1/4–1/2 lb. finely cut spinach
1/2 small finely chopped cauliflower
one sliced onion
one quartered, thinly sliced aubergine, if available
graham flour (besan)
salt according to taste (about 1 1/2–2 tsps.)
1 tsp. garam masala ( this is a spice mixture that is common in India)
2 T. cilantro (fresh), finely cut
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
11/2 tsp. cumin seed (caraway seed)
3–4 chopped green chilies (according to how hot you like it)
3/4 cup plain yogurt
Mix ingredients together thoroughly and add enough graham flour (mixing it in with cold water) to bind all the vegetables together as a thick batter. Then take spoonfuls and deep fry in cooking oil until they turn golden brown in color. Eat while hot (although these can be eaten cold). These are very tasty with imlee (tamarind) or tomato ketchup.