Flavors at Home: Newlyweds, Virtual Cooking and Biryani

Goat biryani from the My Two Souths cookbook (Urmila Ramakrishnan / KQED)

In light of the shelter-in-place order, many of us have resorted to cooking at home, revisiting old recipes and getting creative with our pantries. Instead of our usual Flavors Worth Finding column with recommendations from restaurants, KQED staffers are sharing the meals they’ve been making at home to find some comfort and grounding during uncertain times.

You know that honeymoon phase, the one they say newlyweds have for the first year of marriage? That blissful state of nesting and enjoying married life is a little different in 2020. Writing this, it's been 128 days since I rounded the marital fire and said my vows. February 22 feels like both a distant, vague memory and like last week. The days have melted away during shelter-in-place, and, now, more than half of our honeymoon period has faded. We’ve hunkered down at home, made career moves, burned through all of the good TV, tried and failed at sourdough, witnessed uprisings for racial justice, grappled with finances, gained the Covid-15(+), used every one of our registry kitchen gadgets, felt paralyzed and questioned how to do more, celebrated our first Loving Day as a married couple, postponed our honeymoon indefinitely and cooked until we couldn’t cook anymore. 

Couple walking around the marital fire
Writer Urmila Ramakrishnan and her partner Zak Kirchner participate in the Saptapadi, seven rounds around a holy fire that represent their vows in the Hindu tradition. (Maloman Studios)

Let’s back up, though. In my partner’s family, we are one of two couples in interracial marriages. And our marriages happened a week apart. Zak and myself on Feb. 22, and his cousin Grayson and wife Sasha on Feb. 29. We both tied the knot when coronavirus news started to transform from small murmurs to national news. 

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Zak and I both wanted to foster new traditions as a family, and one of those was procuring what we hope will one day become an heirloom: A modern take on vintage cast iron pans, with that coveted smooth bottom. We got our beautiful kitchen tool as an engagement gift, and we wanted to continue the tradition. So, as a wedding gift to Sasha and Grayson, we bequeathed them a pan of their own and a cookbook that spoke to both of our new relationships: My Two Souths

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Zak’s maternal side of his family hails from the American South, and Sasha and I both have ties to South India’s state of Tamil Nadu. This book by Asha Gomez is a celebration of those two identities, almost to a T. Gomez, who is Keralite and hails from Atlanta, reminds me of my own culinary twists and turns as a Tamilian-Bengali-Malayasian-Indian growing up in suburban Minnesota. But, moreover, it’s a reflection of our attempts to combine Zak’s Southern heritage with my own multi-layered culinary identity. Where Gomez creates a skillet chicken hash pie reminiscent of samosas, we’ve attempted to make our own Malaysian version of biscuits and gravy with prawn sambal flavors. It felt like a fitting gift, one that we would share and cherish. 

Chicken Skillet Hash from My Two Souths. (Urmila Ramakrishnan / KQED)

While sheltering in place, the four of us got together virtually the day after Loving Day to make biryani from the book for the first time. Biryani, for all intents and purposes, is a labor of love. It takes time, patience and faith that all the elements will come together to create this hearty flavor of comfort and complexity. This biryani involved a first-time trip to our local Middle Eastern market in search of goat, getting to know Sasha better in between bouts of active dicing, sautéing and adding seasoning in that cast iron pan. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the legalization of interracial marriage than that, and it’s a tradition we hope to keep in the years to come. 

For Asha Gomez’s recipe on goat biryani, click here

For her cookbook, click here