This is the story of a peanut curry.
Or rather, it’s the story of my peanut curry. It’s a dish that I first made some months ago in my continuing search for inexpensive ways to dress up healthy, inexpensive food to pack for lunch. I’ve made it several times over the past months for myself, but only this past week did I serve it to another person for the first time.
She liked it.
She nearly went as far as asking the special occasion that warranted putting this much effort into the dish.
I smiled and walked her through what I thought were the simple steps to making the dish.
Finding a love for cooking
If you know my background, you know that being alive in itself is a celebration to me.
And food is life.
For one, cooking good food can help you live a little bit longer. And few things are certain in life except that you’ll have to eat several times per week. Over the course of a lifetime, that’s tens of thousands of meals.
For many people, cooking and eating are just a matter of ensuring that you’ve taken in the requisite number of calories and the requisite number of nutrients.
But it’s no stretch to say that each meal grabs hold of every one of your senses. If you knew you were going to do anything tens of thousands of times, why wouldn’t you learn what it takes to add even a little bit more enjoyment to each of those times? In other words, why wouldn’t you want to learn all the ways to make each meal taste as good as it could get?
Food is also love. What better ways are there to tell someone that you value them than by showing them that you care about their health and about their enjoyment by preparing them a great meal?
But more than anything, cooking frugally is part of my chase to do something better today than I did it yesterday.
Because you see, a funny thing happened as I described the recipe to her; for every two steps forward in describing the details, I would take one step back. Yes, the tofu had to be marinated, but it didn’t just have to be marinated, but marinated overnight because it doesn’t take as quickly as meats; and not just that, you have to dry it first or else it’ll dilute the marinade. And I’ve been using lemon as the sole acid in my marinade, but maybe a bit of vinegar would really help it out. The peanut butter had to be freshly ground, and like other ingredients, had to be allowed to sit at room temperature a bit before being mixed in. And of course, the order and time that everything cooked mattered.
I hadn’t thought I was doing anything special, but whether I noticed it or not, with each iteration of making the dish, I had sought something better. I had cared more about picking, storing, and prepping the ingredients. I had sought the advice of the Internet, my parents, friends, and my own intuition. I had experimented and tasted often, and either corrected what I could or ate my mistake — still useful calories and nutrients, after all — and learned my lesson for next time.
Like cooking, this constant search for improvement is what separates us from the animals. How many millennia passed while chickens lay eggs within spitting distance of the fat underbelly of a pig in a wheat field, and none of the animals in observance even considered for a moment that a complete breakfast was RIGHT THERE?
I like to think that this search for something better influences other aspects of my life — whether it’s in doing the best I can at work, developing my relationships, and being kinder to others. In living a complete life, certainly cooking is no more trivial than these to me, and I’m excited to continue on my journey toward the perfect peanut curry.
For cooking is an art. That the pieces of art are transient by nature and might be experienced by no one but their creator make it no less so.