This weekend was one of immense nostalgia for me. As I travelled to Bangalore with a fairly new friend to celebrate the birthday of a common friend, all I could think of was the year that passed by. You see, for me the new year doesn’t really begin from January 1st but from May 13th — the date I graduated from college. College has been a running motif in my writing- primarily of how big an influence it had in my life; because more than high school, college is what made me the person I am.
So, as the year passes by, filled with new adventures in an old city, new responsibilities, a healthier version of me that I have never experienced before, and a fulfilling social life, I began to think of how my last four years really set me up for the people and the work I do now. Having studied biology (and communication, which always seems to be an afterthought whenever I answer questions on what I have studied) and now working in public relations- the first thing college taught me was my ability to learn. In fact, the one thing I was always told by my college professors was that liberal arts doesn't only teach you a major, it teaches you how to learn. The learning comes from learning how to learn— something I loved to use in each of the hundred job cover letters that I sent between December and May of last year. Now I see that coming to use everyday. There are very few times that I have felt that the work I am doing is above my intellectual level. This might be because the work really isn’t hard (unlikely) or I just have start studying for the GRE and that feeling would rush back right away (highly likely).
Food is something I learnt only in college. My inclination to make food before I left for college was very low. In fact, I was stressed learning how to make basic dal in 2013 but zoom to 2017, I was cooking meals like the brown Julia Child of Granville — tall, fat, and always excited to host. I would bake (and sometimes burn down an oven) sweet potato fries for a Friday night pregame, cook butter chicken for Koffee with Karan and mojito nights, or a quick garlic chicken fried rice for nights that needed to be spent in the library but there was no way I could have a second turkey lettuce wrap from the cafeteria that day.
The garlic fried rice was part of a slew of different recipes that incorporated my standard set of asian sauces namely— rice vinegar, dark soy sauce, sriracha, pure maple syrup from Canada, and sesame oil. These were pantry essentials that I took some time to get used to but once I did, there were few stir fries that didn’t have a mix of these essentials. Like with anything one makes, there were reasons to the techniques I used to make the recipe. While most recipes called for sugar to caramelize and bind the sauce, I always chose pure maple syrup because it added a more complex flavor that complemented the perfectly fried (at times burnt) garlic and helped balance the sharp charcoal bite of any ingredient that might have been overcooked; I cooked with veggie oil but added a fried egg cooked in sesame oil on top. This actually allowed the sesame oil to envelop the rice and not burn since most of the cooking was done on a high flame and sesame oil has a very low burning point; lastly, I would char the bottom of the dish by flattening out the sauce-infused rice evenly over the pan, reducing the heat and letting it cook off for about five minutes. This gave the bottom a crisp texture that always reminded me of Sunday morning Poha at home where mom and I would fight for the crispy bits left stuck on the pan.
College taught me a lot. Things that I will never forget and for that reason I will always think of May 13 as a milestone date where I get to review my year and feel as proud as I do today, hopefully. For now, enjoy this recipe as I continue to celebrate my one year of adult-(ish)-hood in a plane, orbiting over Hyderabad as we wait for the thunderstorms to clear from Delhi and I can get my five minutes of sleep before a new week of work begins.
Glimpses from the week
1/2 cup cooked basmati rice (day old rice is ideal)
250 grams of chicken breast, cut in cubes (or pork. The picture displayed uses pork)
6 cloves of garlic, 3 minced and 3 chopped finely
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
6 button or cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thin
1 large egg
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Handful of fresh basil, stacked, rolled, and sliced into a thin chiffonade
For the sauce
2 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup from Canada
Slice the chicken breast through the width of the protein. Pat down the moisture and add to a hot pan with half a tablespoon vegetable oil. Cook on side once you get color and flip.
Take out the chicken, add the remaining oil and add sliced garlic. As the garlic begin to aromatize, add onions and reduce the heat. Cook down for 4 minutes as the onions caramelize.
Add the minced garlic, ginger, and mushrooms. Increase the heat to a high heat. Don’t move the veggies a lot. Move them only a couple of times.
Add rice. Move around and then add all the sauces. Mix well for a minute.
Pat down the rice evenly on the pan. Reduce the heat and allow to caramelize. About 4 minutes.
Take off the heat and serve with a single fried egg cooked in sesame oil. Garnish with basil leaf chiffonade and red chili powder.