Cooking and eating food can often evoke memories. For senior Nimish Adhikari, lightly frying paneer and sautéing onions, bell peppers and tomatoes remind him of his younger brother. Each dish prepared for us was one of his family member’s favorites, he and his mom sharing their love for daikon and his dad preferring the channa dal. His mom is not the type to give out recipes. When Nimish asked, in preparation for this column, she said, “just cook it.”
In Nepal, Nimish explained, they don’t have specific names for dishes. For example, if one were to say they were eating carbonara, we may already know that is some egg, cheese and pork cooked with the heat of the freshly boiled pasta. If somebody were to ask what Nimish and his mom’s favorite dish is, he would say daikon. If they wanted to recreate the delicious flavors and textures, one must start a conversation and further inquire about the preparation, which starts with slight charring of the sliced onions and daikon. As Nimish added tomato and cumin, the white crisp and peppery radish transformed into something so wonderfully tender and spicy.
This was the first meal Nimish’s mom taught him to cook, the first meal she cooks whenever Nimish returns home, and the first meal they ever ate together as a family, right before he left for boarding school. Before then, Nimish’s home was always full with eight to ten people who would join them for dinner time.
While the daikon made our mouths water, Nimish proclaims it was always his and his mom’s worst dish. He instead raved about how his neighbor, who was like a grandma, would always invite him over for a meal of daikon when he returned home.
We also feasted upon channa dal prepared in a pressure cooker, which had traveled over 7,000 miles from Nimish’s home. He told us that dal is a ubiquitous word that encompasses everything from beans to peas to lentils cooked into a consistency ranging from soup to paste. The dal we ate that evening was made from pressure cooking split chickpeas and turmeric in some water. It was soupy, just like Nimish’s dad prefers. The magic of the meal was from toasting coriander, clove and dried chili in ghee with some onion and tomato. If we were to add the spices as the chickpeas cooked, Nimish explained, the flavors would have been diluted. This method allows them to develop, bringing them to the tip of our tongue.
All three dishes were served with rice, presented in the traditional style. This consists of a neat mound of rice in the middle that is topped with dal and surrounded by the daikon and paneer.
While dishes in Nepal go unnamed, Nimish calls the fried paneer dish “Tigris Paneer,” in reference to his brother’s birth name which he feels is cooler than his own.
He also named this column. Thanks, Nimish!