Indian students are a pampered lot: pretty much all of us are fully supported by our parents, with mothers only too happy to provide good nutritious timely meals. And we take all of this for granted, including the state subsidy, and the scholarships for grad studies. (I have an opinion on GATE scholars and scholarships, but it doesn’t go down well with dinner for some. Later. But I would like to state, for the record, that it is not birthright, and yes, you are supposed to try to get at least passing grades.)
Attending grad school in the US taught me a lot of things. It is hard work for most American students to put themselves through school. In my pottery class, which I was taking for fun (but getting grad credit for, nevertheless – I wasn’t going to let my credit hours not count towards my degree – every cent counts!) I met this young girl, who had a full time job, was a single parent, and was getting herself an arts degree taking evening classes. And I thought what a cushy life most students in India have. We think school is work enough.
With that kind of student routine, it would be a miracle to not want to reach out for packaged, microwavable ‘food’. And it is expected that you are going to gain 15 pounds as you start college – the Freshman 15, as they are called. And, believe me when I tell you, that I lost 15 pounds in the first semester of grad school! Being away from my little son and husband had something to do with it; having to multiply everything with 35 (the exchange rate at that time) had something to do with it ; not having spare change had something to do with it. Eating home-cooked food had a lot to do with it, as did living 20 minutes (walking) from the studio.
That first semester the only coffee I had at the Union was the one that came free with a 3 hour work stretch at back kitchen. To buy it was 52c, and that was Rs20 I could save! The typical poor Indian student.
For a brief bit, before I became a TA, I worked in the college cafeteria. I would get up really early, at 5:30 (the hardest part!), so that I could still have my half-hour-meditation with the-morning-cuppa, then walk the 20 min to the Union and get to work rinsing and chopping spinach and lettuce, peeling carrots (mostly), and doing other vegetable preparation work for the salad bar. All this was fine. But the other workday, a late-morning-running-into-lunch-shift, also involved flipping burgers. In front of all those people! It took great will power to not throw in the apron and the hair net, and run out and go home. What was I doing flipping burgers in a college canteen, with a five year professional degree and seven years of professional work experience under my belt?
I learnt a lot in those 6 or 8 weeks behind the counter. I learnt why they don’t need to add fat to the meat patties when they ‘grill’ your burgers – the meat is so fatty that there is a little gutter at the lower edge of the sloping hot plate to collect the melting fat. It is removed by bucket-fulls. Indian lamb is way lean. I learnt how to make patty melt with ham: two buttered slices of white bread grilled with a slice of cheese and another of ham sandwiched between them. Very yum. I learnt that America wastes an unbelievable amount of food – fries have to be dumped in the trash if they have sat out for more than a few. As do burgers. It is the customer’s right. Imagine having to do that when I could not afford to buy one! Irony. And, yes, meat and chicken and fries and onion rings, are all fried in the same deep fryer.
And, another lesson I learnt was that there is no job that is lowering. It is the proud who work. There are other ways to make money. There is dignity in work. Period. And some of my co-workers were computer engineers from India.
One of the tasty meals that would sustain us during that time were the ‘burgers’ my sister used to make. She is a vegetarian and I, an omnivore. But I don’t suffer from dilemmas. In Rome, do as Romans do. So I ate beef burgers too. Like most Indians, I love my veges as much. And these burgers have lots of them: cabbage, carrots, peas, and of course, my fav, the potato, which BTW, is a very nutritious vegetable. Quick to put together if you use a pressure cooker to cook the potatoes, these can be dressed up to your taste. Ketchup, mustard, hot chili sauce, coriander chutney, slices of lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, a slice of cheese (or not), pickles – whatever you like. Guaranteed to keep those Freshman 15 at bay.
(inspired by my Sis’ recipe)
makes 8-10 big burgers
4 medium potatoes
2 C chopped cabbage
1 C grated carrots
1C tender fresh peas
½ cup grated beetroot (optional)
3 T cracked wheat (dalia), soaked in a little water for half hour
1 slice of stale bread
1 t baharat (or garam masala)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped coriander and green chillies
lettuce leaves, sliced onions/tomatoes/cucumber
Boil, peel and mash the potatoes. Blanch the cabbage till it wilts, squeeze, and add to the potatoes. Blanch the peas. Crumble the bread and mix all the ingredients, except the beets. Take a portion of the mix, stuff with a spoonful of grated beet, roll into a ball, and flatten to into 1cm thick patties. Shallow fry to a golden colour. Toast the sesame baps, layer the burger over the slice of cheese, lettuce, sliced tomato, cucumber, onions…You could serve the burgers with these good looking pickles, as I did. A very satisfying meal indeed. The son did not approve the addition of beets, BTW. Picky teens!
Visit Nandita at the Saffron Trail for another avatar of the vegetarian burger.