The healing power of food goes beyond the palette and into the soul, forever changing the author’s life
My mum’s favorite memory of me goes something like this.
Me, her first-born, about a year old, sitting on the kitchen counter, chubby legs akimbo, thick dark locks pulled into two neat pigtails, large almond eyes watching intently as she slices red onions for a lunchtime meal. She looks away, checking on the rice bubbling away on the stove. When she looks back, I’m grabbing a dimpled fistful of onions destined for my mouth.
“Aaru! You won’t like that!”
Caught in the act, I keep my eyes squarely on her as I chomp down on the onions anyway. The pungent juice fills my mouth and my eyes widen. Mum braces for the imminent wailing but instead, I smile at her, juice dribbling down my chin. Then, I reach for more.
These are the things I think of when I eat and cook. Every bite harkens a memory, soothes a wound, knits a celebration into the fabric of my story.
Food has been the one sure thing when I didn’t know why God had bothered to breathe me into existence.
My sisters and I grew up with a distinct feeling of ‘other-ness’: Three Catholic girls from India, whose parents, in search of a better life, had settled in a burgeoning new city in the Middle East, called Dubai. We weren’t Arab so we didn’t quite fit into Dubai culture. We weren’t from the UK so we didn’t quite fit in at our British-run school. And being from a small Catholic community in a country that is predominantly Hindu? Yeah, that was weird, too.
But food always made us feel included. When my mum made a simple lunch of dal (lentils) and rice, it bonded us to our family back home who were probably eating that very same meal as the sun reached its zenith in the South Indian sky. A rich serving of the Kashmiri lamb curry, Rogan Josh, served as a time machine (a delicious DeLorean, if you will!) taking us back thousands of years to our ancestors, people we never knew.
Years later, after graduating from Northwestern university and spending four years as a producer at CNN, the bottom fell out of my heart. I had left the security of my job in New York for Los Angeles, where my college sweetheart (now my husband) lived. I had no job, no prospects and that fire for journalism that I’d kindled for so long was rapidly dimming to a dull flicker. A friend had given me two books as a wedding present: The Joy of Sex and The Joy of Cooking. I won’t reveal anything about the former (!), but I began to thumb through the latter, picking recipes to make everyday. The kitchen beckoned at my confused heart, promising to satisfy that desire to recreate comforting memories, that feeling of belonging, of mattering…it led to creating my blog which in turn, led to a cooking-variety show on YouTube, and finally, a chance at winning my own show on Food Network. Which I did. Which brought me to this moment, typing this to you. All because of the deep, healing power of food.
No longer do I wonder why I am here, why God made me. It was under my nose the whole time. I thought journalism would be the vehicle to help me punch some light into the darkness (my mantra), and yet it has been through food that I’ve had the most extraordinary moments of connection in my life. The emails, the comments on Facebook, the long, deep hugs after a cooking demo… I could never have dreamed such a life lay ahead of me all those years ago when I sat under the tree in my backyard here in LA, and wailed at the Lord to rescue me from the feelings of utter worthlessness that threatened to drown me completely.
And so, even beyond my hope that my recipes will help embolden you in the kitchen, my real prayer is that if you wonder about your true purpose, if there is Someone out there who cares about you and has a plan for you, that you will hear the newfound joy in my voice and know that YES, there is.
There is a reason you are here, and it’s for a purpose that no one else could ever fulfill but you!
Be encouraged, dear heart. The purpose could be right under your nose, just like that fistful of red onions was under mine oh so long ago. So, take my hand. Wait for it. Waaaaait for it. Ok, NOW! Mum’s not looking! Grab those onions and let’s go!
>Aarti’s cookbook: aartipaarti.com/cookbook