Saturday, February 13, 2010


Soon after I moved to Chicago, I attended a culinary tour along Devon Avenue. Indian retailers began settling on the street in the 80s, and over the years, it's come to resemble a Bombay side street. Toward the end of the tour, a local grocer guided us through his store.  As we passed the freezer section, he pointed to rows of frozen dinners featuring perfectly plated Indian meals.

“Just like mom’s,” he pronounced. 

Unable to help myself, I blurted out, "Not my mom's."

Unfazed, he pulled open the freezer door, picked up two of the sleekly designed packages, and handed them to me.

“You’ve really got to try these.”

After stepping out of the store, I handed the dinners to a woman who have clearly been coveting them.

Growing up in southern Illinois, I envied kids who sat down to Swanson's TV dinners.  I longed for a bite of the All American meals (country fried chicken, oven roasted turkey, salisbury steak) neatly compartmentalized in aluminum trays.  On occasion, my mom made pizza or pigs in a blanket from scratch. When she really let her creative juices go on Valentine's day, we divvied up a heart-shaped meatloaf.  But on most nights, we ate homemade South Indian dishes.  Dinner was one of the few things my mom could recreate from the old country. And, for the most part, the menu like our curfew and the policy on dating, were nonnegotiable. To cope, I created a disdainful jingle, "Rice is for mice..." 

Now when my mom cooks for me, I recognize it as a unique gift. The flavors are pure, not formulaic or masked by preservatives buzzing in the background. More importantly, her dishes possess a human touch forever missing in frozen dinners, including "Home-style" versions.  And If I’m dining by myself, eating her food makes me feel less alone. 

I know I’m not the only one who craves the comfort of home cooking. It becomes abundantly clear when I walk around with my cake carrier. The top is translucent enough to let passersby see the frosted cake nestled inside. I encounter a wide range of reactions from strangers, from shy glances to looks of desperation. The latter are often accompanied by passionate inquiries like, “Did you make that?” or “Is that for me?”  I’ve never sensed such longing in the frozen food aisle. 

So this Valentine’s day, if you’re searching for a unique gift, consider making heart shaped salmon patties for your loved one. They're sure to appreciate your unique human touch.

Heart-shaped Salmon Patties

Makes 6 patties


1-14.75 ounce can Alaskan Pink Salmon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1/4 cup finely minced green onion
1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 

Drain the salmon.  Place it in a bowl and mash with a fork until very flaky.

Beat the eggs and mix with the salmon.  Mix in the remaining ingredients. 

Heat a cast iron skillet to medium high heat.  Coat with 1 teaspoon olive oil.  

Place a heart-shaped cookie cutter on skillet. Spoon some of the salmon mixture into the cookie cutter and press to shape along edges.  Gently remove the cookie cutter.  Cook until the patty browns on the side touching skillet (about 8 minutes).  Carefully flip the patty and cook until the second side browns. Repeat with the rest of the salmon mixture.  

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