Daily ritual: chopping veggies.
I've been thinking about cutting - and cutting - a lot lately with my grandmother, Patti. Every morning I rise at six, do my meditation, some yoga, and drink my coffee. Then I set up two pillows as a seat to get myself to "cutting" level at the table. Out come the cutting boards, kitchen knives - for Patti, a well-worn one - and for myself, a small, disposable purple ceramic blade. She assembles the proper stainless bowls, all miraculously fitting the ingredient perfectly once it's cut and placed inside. Then she peels squash, removes the strings on peas, chops the ends of okra, and takes the skin off potatoes. She instructs me on how to cut - this way for rasam, that way for dal; this way for subji, that way for topping upma. Everything has a cut.
In the states, there has been a rise in popularity of minimal vegetable cutting and chopping. This trend has, at least in part, been brought on by the emphasis on "whole foods." Whole foods, you say? Well, what do they look like? Whole foods, you ask? I'll show ya! And there we go, throwing whole lettuce leaves, beans, carrots, tomatoes, etc, into our foods, raw or cooked. We cut our veggies crudely and roughly and with gusto! It gives things a home-grown feel. And besides, I always felt many of those French cuts were so finicky. I'll never turn a vegetable again! [That'll be easy, since I've never bothered to learn how to turn a vegetable.]
But here, in Mohana's kitchen, cutting vegetables doesn't mean discarding 25% for the perfect shape. It's more about getting the most out of your food in this oppressive heat. Things spoil quickly. Depending on the size and freshness, any number of preparations can be made. There are recipes for green foods - pickles, tomatoes, etc; tender veggies; foods that are turning overripe or in danger of spoiling.
And every morning, when I sit down to cut, Mohana tells Patti what we're making for lunch and I generally find out, there's a cut for that. The cuts aren't fancy but they showcase each one of the ingredients. They're honed for these two people in this kitchen, and are also largely the way they were taught. It reminds me of prep before the restaurant kitchen became the de facto (back in mid-19th century France). It wasn't industrious and foolproof. Home cooks cut to maximize their ingredients and to make things look and taste delicious. They had a repertoire of dishes to use to prevent spoilage, showcase the bounty in times of glut and stretch in times of need. And regardless of whether their carrots were cut in perfect little squares, they made the most of their food and presented it with love and care.