It’s only recently, however, that I prepared tacos at home, having returned to my home country several years ago. Last summer, I prepared chicken tacos with my mother in my Kolkata kitchen. They transformed the 70-year-old woman, who had never set foot outside India, nor heard anything about Mexican cuisine.
My interest in tacos had been rekindled by an article by Mark Bittman in The New York Times: “A Taco Joint in Your Kitchen.” To me, it doesn’t matter in which country the kitchen is located. It would be my own kitchen, no matter where, and it would be my own mother who would be my companion.
So, off I went to hunt for a recipe. Bittman was realistic in the article: It would be difficult to prepare authentic corn tortillas at home.
“Your best bet is not the supermarket but a Mexican grocery store,” he wrote.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy them in Kolkata. So, I settled for home-made flour tortillas, the chewy Texas kind, thanks to an excellent article and recipe by Patricia Mitchell on www.texascooking.com.
So, in the humid heat of India, I made a stuffing of chicken by simmering boneless meat in water perfumed with cumin, garlic, onion, green chili, and seasoning, according to Bittman’s simple recipe. For sour cream, which is hard to come by in India, I drained thick, creamy plain yogurt in a strainer. I chopped the lettuce and prepared the salsa.
My mother began her new culinary journey by kneading the dough of flour, baking powder, milk, a little vegetable oil and seasoning. After the stickiness was gone, we covered the dough with a damp cloth to let it rest.
Fifteen minutes later, my mother divided the dough into nine balls of roughly equal size, and, according to the recipe, let them rest for another 20 minutes.
While the dough rested, I prepared another stuffing, for my mother wouldn’t eat chicken. My mother and I cut “paneer,” a tofu-like cheese, into 1/4th-inch slices, dredged them in seasoned flour and pan-fried them in vegetable oil.
We were now ready to make the tortillas.
“The dough is so soft,” she said, dusting the kitchen counter with flour.
She picked up each ball and patted it into a disc. With a rolling pin, she rolled out the disc, working from the center out, into a tortilla about 6 inches. I put a griddle, used to make rotis, which we have every day for dinner, on the stovetop. I placed the tortilla on to the hot griddle as my mother continued to roll out the remaining tortillas.
Mitchell’s article had said, “It will begin to blister.”
Sure it did, and I chuckled to myself. As each tortilla cooked, I put it into a casserole, although the recipe called for placing them in a napkin-lined basket and covering each with foil.
For the stuffing, I followed Bittman’s basics: the protein, which is the heaviest component, first; then the crunchy stuff, the lettuce; and finally the sour cream. For extra flavor, I topped with a spoon of salsa.
I wrapped each taco loosely around the stuffing, and started serving my family members. I tentatively put two tacos on my mother’s plate. Before I had progressed to my wife, sister and myself, my mother sat down to eat.
“Will you eat both?” I asked her, knowing her night-time appetite and indifference to international cuisine.
“Yes,” she said, already biting into a taco.
I stared at her. Beside me, my wife stood by, eager for her bite. I bit into mine, fondly remembering my Taco Bell days. The tortilla was soft – “Was it the milk in the dough or the baking powder?” I wondered – and the stuffing moist and mildly hot, the salsa adding the final zing.
We ate in silence: The taco had left us quite speechless. The only sound came from the crunch of the lettuce.
Finally, I said, “Ma, you were hungry, weren’t you?”
After a moment of silence, she said, “I ate two because it was something new.”
My mother was no longer apprehensive. She had started loving Mexican.
This is part of a series that Angshuman is writing about bringing home foods from his travel to his Mom in India. She taught him, now he teaches her. Read about Angshuman's wonderful mom click here and read how he taught her to make American apple pie click here.
About the author: Angshuman Das is a new media professional and freelance writer based in Kolkata, India. He loves to cook and write about food. He runs a blog, “Cooking in Calcutta,” at http://cookingincalcutta.blogspot.com.
And please read Angshuman's artice about his beautful mother: click for short version OR click for full article: cooking fish in Bengal and the delightful American dessert a surprise in Indian summer