My husband looked at me, excitement on his face.
“Let’s buy a cast iron skillet. I believe dosas come out crisp and nice on them!”
One of his hobbies is browsing the Internet for all the latest gadgets and things which make life easier for the two of us. Like the time he found a slim plastic cabinet which could neatly slide into the narrowest nook and yet have space enough to keep all the masalas that make an Indian kitchen what it should be. Of course, he also picked up masalas from myriad cultures – West Indian, Arabic, Mediterranean… so that they could be displayed there.
My sister had already introduced us to authentic Christian meat and chicken masala from Kottayam made exclusively by one family.
Going back, my husband tries to cut the clutter in the house by buying various guaranteed products to cut clutter. However, he has finally realized, after three decades, that he is living with someone who must have been a magpie in her last birth. In fact, her entire family, her mother and her sisters, must have also come from the same stock in their previous births.
So, now we have fridge separators, under the sink organizers, magnetic wall strips for knives, S shaped hooks for hanging mugs, ladles, graters, and enough storage space for three households.
“How can one person fill up space with so little effort?” is his constant refrain. No prizes for guessing whom he is referring to! Sadly, he doesn’t see the mammoth effort it does take to fill space up at regular intervals. The iron skillet was one such buy on his part.
“Let us throw out all the other tawas we have,” he announced the moment the massive package arrived. I have always wondered why online shopping products come in such huge cardboard boxes. There is a process to process these packages, especially now that the virus could be lurking in or on it.
The package is deposited outside, then lifted gingerly and placed in a corner where there is no clutter! Once that corner is identified (with difficulty!), we give the box a couple of hours to air itself, and the virus, out.
Out come the scissors, and a half hour goes in peeling off all the tape, cutting through the cardboard, lifting out reams and reams of paper or bubble wrap, depending on the fragility of the product. At the end, right at the bottom of the massive box, nestles a tiny little packet that makes you feel triumphant, almost like the Seeker who captures the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter’s game of Quidditch and wins the match for his team.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the cast iron skillet, and its long slim ladle, emerged in all their glory with instructions to season the former well before using it. This was supposed to be a skillet for all seasons! Pun intended!
My husband and I took it in turns to nurture the new baby, rubbing oil on it, keeping it clean and well moisturized, just about refraining from dousing it with Johnson’s talcum powder as well.
Voila! It was time to make our first dosa. There was a wooden contraption with a blob of cloth along with it to oil the surface. However, anticipating how dirty that would get in due course, we opted for half an oiled onion to wipe it with.
The skillet sat on the stove, heating up gently, as I rubbed the onion on it, the tantalizing aroma riding up my nose as the surface sizzled. I took a ladle full of batter and poured it, going round and round to make it as thin as possible. What a lovely sight it was, the dosa getting crisp and brown as the ghee bubbled on its circumference, lifting it up slightly. One quick whirl and there it lay, a perfect, crisp, brown specimen that made both our hearts sing.
“Such a wonderful buy!” I exclaimed to my delighted husband. “Now we will have the best dosas in town!”
Maybe there is a hidden power that listens to such exclamations and decides to cancel them out.
Even as the seasoning and the oiling routine continued, our baby started showing traces of having a mind of its own. The first dosa would be perfect, the second one just the opposite. I would pour the batter out in all its glory and add the ghee, holding my breath. And it would stick like a limpet to the surface, almost like chewing gum stuck to hair. I would scrape and swear, sliding the iron ladle under the now set batter, which held on for dear life. Often it turned into a tussle, as I scraped the surface noisily, trying to salvage the bits and pieces which we would eat off the skillet as fast as they crisped.
Needless to say, my patience gave way and I soon went back to my old faithful non- stick skillet, which promptly began working twice as well as before. Maybe it had sensed that it was in danger of superannuation. Meanwhile, the cast iron one stood against the wall, with patches of rust forming on its surface.
However, my husband, never one to give up without a fight, went on to YouTube and looked at videos explaining how to maintain cast iron.
“Season it well. Wash it, and season it again!”
Once that was done, he dunked it into a large vessel with rice water (kanji), which was supposed to work miracles. For a day and a night, it lay there, undergoing a metamorphosis. When he finally took it out and washed it, it shone, almost as if it had been to a spa and back.
“Is it ready to use?” I queried my better half.
“Nope, now it needs another oiling!” was his sage answer. “Then tomorrow morning, you need to fry some onions on it, and then, it will be as good as new!”
I refrained from telling him that it was practically new! It certainly looked shinier and more user-friendly now. The onions were fried, the oil sizzled and...?
This story should have a fairy tale ending, right? The tawa, my husband and I living happily ever after, and all that?
The next day, I realized the all-blinding truth. Some things are best left alone. Amen!
Images: Courtesy Deepti Menon
Images: Courtesy Deepti Menon