There are so many things that are worth celebrating fathers for -- trips to the VHS lending library to rent out Jurassic Park (for the twelfth time), lighting sparkler after sparkler for the kids on Eid, being ecstatic even though you only placed fifth in the school race. Those little things that are actually big things. For Fathers' Day this week, we spoke to five stay-at-home dads about one such big little thing that we believe is especially worth celebrating -- cooking for their children. Here's what we uncovered.
Samar is the editor of India Spend and has been a stay-at-home dad for close to five years. After quitting his job as the managing editor of the Hindustan Times, he moved down south to Bangalore, and has been enjoying fatherhood bliss in the Garden City ever since. He says that there are several things he loves about being a stay-at-home dad, not least of which is not having to shave for days. The best part, however, as every one of the stay-at-home dads we spoke to attested, is watching his child grow up. "I was there for all the wonder years. The swimming and cycling, hanging out with friends," he says.
Samar has been cooking for his daughter ever since she could eat solids, and many of his adventures have been chronicled in the column he writes for Mint and HT's Our Daily Bread. He continues to cook breakfast for her everyday (double-fried eggs), and although she's generally a fan of his cooking, her favourite remains his roast chicken, aptly named Babyjaan's Roast Chicken. Her other great love is pork biryani, or more specifically, the pork fat in the pork biryani. But that's a story for another day.
Babyjaan's Roast Chicken
Serves one toddler and parent
5 pieces chicken (preferably legs and thighs)
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
½ tsp jeera (cumin) powder
½ tsp coriander powder
1 flat tsp sumac (available at most major food stores) or 1 tsp paprika powder
1 tsp pine nuts (optional)
½ tsp sesame seeds (optional)
2 fragments of star anise
A splash of soy sauce
Salt to taste
1. Marinate the chicken in all the ingredients.
2. Tuck the star anise and cloves into the chicken.
3. Arrange in a baking tray, cover tightly with foil and bake at 190 degrees Celsius for an hour.
4. Allow to stand and cool for another 30 minutes. Serve.
Babyjaan typically eats the chicken (one-and-a-half pieces, if she is good and hungry) with a baked potato (wrapped in foil and slipped amid the chicken pieces). If there's no potato, she eats her chicken with chapatti or rice.
Gautam John took an 18-month sabbatical from Akshara Foundation to spend time with his young baby, Anoushka. He was 35 at the time, and lived to tell the tale. "The best part of being a stay-at-home dad is the chance to build a very special relationship with your child. I was able to witness all the little changes -- the first time she crawled, when she took her first steps and said her first words." His only grouse is that it all goes by too quickly.
Cooking for her is something he deeply enjoys. "I still cook at least one meal a day for her. These days, since I've returned to work, it's usually dinner. Anoushka has very eclectic taste in food, something my wife and I are very proud of. From kachiyamor and aila fry to sashimi, she enjoys all of it. I'm thrilled to be able to expose her to these flavours." Young Anoushka's evolved palate is treated to scrambled eggs for breakfast, a piece of fish for lunch, and plenty of Asian flavours when dad's in charge of dinner. Gautam's go-to dish is a sous-vide chicken. He warns us that a sous-vide bath is a prerequisite, but on the upside, won't require more than 15 minutes of active prep. "This one is all about the garlic," he says.
Gautam's Sous-vide Chicken
Serves one hungry 2-year-old
1 full leg piece of chicken, with the skin
8 cloves garlic, smashed
8 pepper corns
20 g butter
Pinch of smoked paprika
Pinch of salt
1. Put all the ingredients in a bag and immerse in a sous-vide bath at 75 degrees for 90-120 minutes.
2. Remove from bath, pour juices into a saucepan and pat the chicken dry.
3. Add rice to the sauce and fry, with a little water to cook.
4. Put chicken into a skillet, skin-side down, and fry to a crisp.
5. Serve hot with rice.
Suman, who is a stand-up comedian and writer, quit his IT job to stay home and write novels when he was 38. One novel, Ranga Half-Pants, and a baby later, he tells all his friends to take time off and watch their kids grow. "A lot of dads don't have time to experience that magic," he explains. It isn't always rainbows and butterflies, however, and he admits that it is scary to suddenly be responsible for another human being. It also doesn't help that sleep deprivation is a major part of child-rearing for most parents, at least for the first few years. "However, ultimately, watching a child grow from close quarters makes you a better person. And teaches you patience."
Cooking for his family has been a learning process for Suman. He says that when he first quit his job and moved to Kolkata where South Indian food isn't readily available, he would call his mom who would dictate the recipes over the phone, and note them down in what he calls his "Little Black Book."
"Adhya is a picky nightmare," he says. But she does love a good paripu saadam, which simply put, is a bowl of steaming rice, with dal or paripu, and a dollop of ghee. Occasionally, Suman sneaks in some rasam or sambar into her paripu sadam, for the sake of variety.
A simple yet delicious preparation from Suman's Little Black Book is anna podi, which he refers to as "that killer powder from Andhra." His mother picked up the recipe from her neighbours in Chittoor, and as it happens, anna podi makes for the perfect accompaniment with some paripu saadam.
Suman's Killer Anna Podi
Makes 2 cups
2 cups peanuts
2 cups roasted gram dal (pottu kadalai)
15 dried red chillies (or more, if you like it hot)
A small ball of tamarind
Salt to taste
Pinch of asafoetida (hing)
1. Roast the peanuts and chillies (without oil).
2. Mix peanuts with the roasted gram dal.
3. In a ladle, heat a spoonful of oil. Turn the stove off.
4. Add the tamarind to the heated oil.
5. Add the fried tamarind with oil to the peanuts, roasted gram dal and chillies.
6. Add the asafoetida.
7. Add salt.
8. Allow to cool
9. Grind to a fine powder.
Tastes best when mixed with rice and a little ghee.
Rajesh Mehar, 36, juggles working from home (for an IT company) and raising his two children, aged 5 and 2. "There's not much I don't love about being a work-from-home dad -- except maybe random people ringing on my doorbell through the day! I love being able to have lunch with the kids, and have them climb all over me on my coffee break."
Rajesh is responsible for preparing the non-vegetarian dishes in his household, and cooks when he has time to spare and an idea he wants to experiment with. "I only bring back a dish if it was a huge hit the first time around," he says. One dish firmly on this hit-list is his aunt's "hybrid Kerala fish curry." He pulls out an old audio recording of his aunt's voice that guides him through cooking it, and assures us it won't take longer than 45 minutes, and is worth every bit of trouble.
Aunty Padmavathi's Kerala Fish Curry
1 kg of seer fish (or any other fish), sliced thick
Lemon-sized ball of tamarind
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1.5 tsp of red (Salem/Guntur) chilli powder
3-4 tsp dhaniya powder
1.5 tsp salt
7 green chillies
½ a coconut chopped coarsely
3 big onions chopped coarsely
3 big tomatoes chopped coarsely
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion chopped in long thin strands
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1. Mix all the ingredients mentioned under Spice Mixture A to a thick consistency in water.
2. Place a large pot on medium heat and add the coconut oil. Before the oil starts to smoke, add the chopped onion and curry leaves. Allow the onions to caramelize slightly but ensure they don't burn.
3. Add the mixture from step 1 into the pot and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add Ground Mixture and stir it in. Wait till you see the beginnings of froth accumulating at the top.
5. Add the fish pieces in gently. If the fish pieces are not completely submerged, add just enough water to submerge them. If you prefer thin gravy, add more water as appropriate.
6. Cover and simmer. Check every 3-5 minutes until you can see the fish pieces floating to the top.
7. Add salt sparingly. Taste for correct balance of salt and spices. Add more salt until satisfied.
8. Switch off the stove at this point. Once the curry cools a bit, eat it with steamed rice.
Fish fry and pappadams go very well with this combination of fish curry and rice.
During Bijoy Venugopal's first stint as a stay-at-home dad, he was a freelance journalist and writer, which allowed him to be part of his daughter's early years. "What I loved most was being able to play such a big part in bringing her up. Being an active parent is its own biggest reward. The tough part was juggling both roles -- bringing up your daughter on the one hand, and writing on the other. But it boils down to a matter of priority -- and thankfully I always chose the daughter," he laughs.
Cooking for a toddler, however, proved to be a bigger challenge. "Aratrika didn't have a great affinity to food, and cooking for her was often very frustrating. But I'm happy to report that my second stint as stay-at-home dad allowed me to redeem my past sins. I make a chicken curry that is honestly quite street -- but she loves it!" To prepare this dish true to Aratrika's tastebuds, Bijoy avoids any complications such as onions and tomatoes. "I once added a few peppercorns, which she then proceeded to carefully pick out and set aside. It's really a very simple and unimaginative recipe, but she seems to love it, what can I say?"
Bijoy's No-fail Chicken
½ kg chicken, marinated in salt and pepper
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of coriander powder
1. In a pan, heat some oil.
2. Fry the ginger-garlic paste.
3. Add in the chicken with salt, pepper and coriander powder.
4. Fry the hell out of it.
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