Thanksgiving with Samosas
Getty ImagesI wasn't familiar with Thanksgiving until I arrived in the United States from India. I loved the concept of it right away: expressing gratitude and appreciation. But it took me a while to get used to the food that was traditionally served during this very American holiday -- at least in Ohio, where I was going to college, and where kind friends from my classes would invite me to their homes for the Thanksgiving feast.
The green beans were OK, though not as spicy as I would have liked them to be. Ditto for the mashed potatoes. (In India, we coarse-mashed our potatoes then sautéed them with onions and chilies). The boiled corn was acceptable, though it was too soft and got stuck in my teeth, not like the crunchy kernels we roasted over a fire and rubbed with lemon at home. The cranberry sauce, ridged from the can, was an amazing red I'd never seen in food items. I ate it with a spoon, slowly, suspiciously.
And the piece de resistance, the turkey: as a vegetarian, I watched with horrified fascination as it was carried, brown and glistening and dripping fat, from the oven to the dinner table, to be cut up with an electrical carving knife that resembled a buzz saw, until it finally spilled the stuffing that formed its guts. Dessert was the best part of Thanksgiving dinner. I sat in front of the TV, where usually a game of football would be in progress (another mystery to me, American football, so different from the soccer Indians played), gorging myself to bursting on apple pie and ice cream as I watched football and finally felt like an American.
Time passed. I graduated, got married, moved to California, got a home of my own, and began to serve my own makeshift Thanksgiving dinners: apple pie and ice cream (let's put the most important things first); salads of many hues; pasta, potato casserole and green beans, all suitably dusted with chili powder; and stuffed squash, as a substitute for The Bird. But I always felt faintly dissatisfied, as though something were missing, until my mother came to visit us one November.
When I explained the concept of the central stuffed dish to her, she said, "No problem. We'll make samosas."
"But mother!" I said in consternation. "They're too difficult."
"Not if I teach you," she replied. "It's time for you to learn, anyway. One of these days I'll be gone, and who will make them for my grandchildren, then?"
So we embarked on the long, laborious process: making the stuffing with chopped sautéed potatoes, cauliflower, peas and a million spices; kneading the dough, rolling it, cutting it into half circles that would be formed into cones, stuffing them, frying them in hot oil until they turned a golden brown and my boys clamored to try the first one. With two of us making them, the potato filled triangles, which looked like large wontons, weren't so difficult, after all. Throughout, my mother gave instructions, little secrets to make my samosas better than anyone else's. I've forgotten most of them, but I do remember one thing she said as I was filling my first samosa.
"Press gently, otherwise it falls apart."
It seemed to me that she sighed as she said those words. That she looked into the distance for a long moment. I wondered if she was remembering my father -- their marriage had ended some years back, in bitterness. I wondered if what she said was as true for relationships as for samosas.
Today my mother is no more. I still make samosas once in a while, for special occasions, and thank her silently when people praise the taste. And I still remember her words, which have helped me through many difficult times, and have taught me to respond patiently and lovingly instead of lashing out in anger.
Press gently, otherwise it falls apart.
For them, too, I thank my mother.
Award-winning novelist and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the author of One Amazing Thing. Her work has been published in more than 50 magazines, including the Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker, and her writing appears in more than 50 anthologies. Read her blog on Red Room.