Passing down cooking techniques and favored family recipes from one generation to the next is a time-honored tradition. Many chefs have fond memories of kitchen sessions learning the craft from their grandmothers. These grandma-inspired dishes are loving homages to the women that created delicious and lasting culinary memories for their families.
Cauliflower, Peas, and Potatoes Curry at Chiya Chai, Chicago
Growing up in Katmandu, Nepal, co-owner Rajee Aryal spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her maternal grandmother. Her bajai (grandmother) was a Brahmin, so she was a vegetarian – and she was very particular about how she liked her vegetables prepared. To make her favorite curry, she would cook potatoes and cauliflower separately – so they wouldn’t get mushy in the sauce – in a mixture of turmeric oil, fenugreek seeds, jimbu (an onion-like Tibetan herb), and ajwain (an Indian herb whose flavor has been likened to anise and oregano). The curry was enriched with ginger, garlic, bay leaf, cumin, cardamom, and coriander. When the sauce was fully cooked, she would add the vegetables to simmer in it for just a few minutes before serving it. Aryal employs the same technique at the restaurant, where the dish has become the most popular vegetarian curry on the menu. Make a reservation at Chiya Chai.
Empanadas at Claudia’s Steakhouse, Washington, D.C.
Before she learned her 1-2-3s or her A-B-Cs, executive chef-owner Claudia Rivas learned how to cook from her grandmother, Mama Julia. Her abuela (grandmother) would butcher cows and use the tip of the tenderloin to stuff her well-loved empanadas, which were also packed with sofrito (a thick sauce made with vegetable and aromatic herbs), potatoes, carrots, raisins, olives, and hardboiled eggs. By the time Rivas was seven, she was making the empanadas and selling them to workers who were in her small town in El Salvador to gather coffee beans during harvest time. She fried the crescent-shaped pastries in a clay pot over a wood fire. Plucking them out, she’d place them on a banana leaf along with a little pickled cabbage. The version she serves today is almost identical, though they come dressed with a Peruvian huancaina (spicy cheese) sauce and a red pepper and cucumber relish. Make a reservation at Claudia’s Steakhouse.
Latkes at Imperial, Portland, Oregon
Chef Vitaly Paley was raised by his grandparents in a small one-room house with a modest yard in Belarus. His grandmother, Rosa, did most of the cooking, while his grandfather tended to the garden. All the ingredients were seasonal, because if you didn’t grow it, you didn’t have it. Paley recalls being a spoiled child because his babushka (grandmother) would cook a meal for the family and then ask him what he’d like to eat. His favorite dish was her latkes, known as draniki. She would grate the potatoes by hand before adding a little onion and an egg. They were fried in duck or goose fat until golden brown. He stood by her side and grabbed them when they were done, even if it meant singeing his fingers or his tongue. The latkes on the restaurant’s brunch menu follow the same recipe and come with smoked salmon, a duck egg and sour cream. Make a reservation at Imperial.
Ramen at Makoto, Miami, Florida
When he was seven years old, chef Makoto Okuwa started cooking by his sobo’s (grandmother) side at her home in Shizuoka, Japan. She taught him his cardinal rule of cooking: always put love and attention into your food. Though he has fond memories of a Chinese spicy shrimp dish she used to make, the one that stuck with him was her ramen. It was simple. She would sauté ground beef and pork with chopped garlic and chilies, which would go on top of egg noodles in her homemade chicken stock. Though he boosts the flavors of the ground meats in his preparation and amps up the spice factor, the restaurant’s namesake ramen is exactly the same. Okuwu had a chance to make his version for her just once – and she loved it. Make a reservation at Makoto.
Have you tried any of these grandma-inspired dishes – or do you prepare anything that brings up memories of your grandmother? Let us know here or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And don’t forget to enter to win the mother of all brunches in our Mother’s Day #MomSquadBrunch giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credit: Rebekkah Hubbard (Imperial).