– Ten Step Vagharelo Bhaat –
fried rice, prepared with turmeric and vegetables
often served with a side of plain yogurt
(1) Flip the switch, twist the knob. The yellow bulb over the strip of kitchen in your one bedroom apartment will flicker on; a hiss of gas and a halo of blue flames will erupt over the stove.
(2) Tip the oil. Let it spill, enough to coat the bottom of the blackened pot. Creak open the cabinet under the sink. Stick your arm in and rummage until your hand grasps the round dabho of masalas, the metal cool against your palm. Inside, you will see bowls of cumin, turmeric, and mustard seeds nestled around a tin of red chili powder.
(3) You watched two years ago, before you left home again, as your mother measured out spoonfuls of spice for you. She reached for the plastic bins stored so high, you can only reach them by hoisting your body onto the granite countertop. For each dish, the masalas are the same, she said with a laugh, her tight curls shaking. Learn them, and you can make anything.
(4) She is right: cooking is malleable— but laden with patterns that work. Now, you wonder if this is the immigrant way: teach your tongue to cradle the English, learn the anthems of excuse me and please and thank you, educate yourself, choose a responsible career, marry wisely, and you, too, can become anything.
(5) Heat the oil to begin the vaghar. To vhagar is to renew. If our rice, our rotli, our savory cake-like dhoklas, our handvo sits in the fridge for more than a day, we pull it out and vaghar it, coating it in oil and blending in fresh garlic and spice and salt, serving it as a new meal. You do not waste in this household. You transform.
(6) Drop spoonfuls of cumin into the oil. Wait for the sizzle, for the seeds to be encased in oily froth and bubble. While you wait, open the freezer and squeeze frozen cubes of garlic from Trader Joe’s into the pot. Before the garlic burns, scrape your knife against the wooden cutting board to push in slivers of yellow onion and cubes of diced bell pepper and a handful of peanuts. Cook until the onions grow dark.
(7) Add turmeric, chili powder, coriander/cumin powder, and peanuts. Quickly, stir in the jasmine rice and quinoa you prepared in the rice cooker. Add salt, being careful to not overmix.
(8) If it still doesn’t taste right, call your mother. Put her on speakerphone. Wipe away the sweat beading on your upper lip, and explain to her how it tastes bland and god, the onions are burnt and the rice is overcooked and— add meetu, marchu and dhana jeeru, she’ll say. Don’t worry. The masalas take time to learn.
(9) Serve hot, for one. Take a picture of the yellow rice, and WhatsApp it to your family.
(10) Store leftovers in Tupperware. You are learning. Perhaps, next time, you’ll experiment— shred some fresh garlic, toss in a handful of peas. You’ll make it for your mother one day. When you take the rice to work tomorrow, your co-worker will compliment your dish. You will crack a smile, offer a spoonful, and think: this is progress.
Prachi is a writer and student based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with a background in anthropology and migration. She has worked as a culture reporter for The Pitt News, and as a writer for both Sampsonia Way and Pitt Med magazine.