To find a teenager who likes to cook is rare in these days of social media distraction. To find a teenager who obsesses about perfecting something is rarer still, which is why Eva Bakshi’s culinary adventures got my attention.
Under an uncharacteristically bright, blue and balmy April evening in Mumbai, Eva, a sunny 14-year-old from Calgary, Canada, told me about her experiments with avocado toast, which sounded simple enough to put together—after all, what is there to do, really, than lather some creamy avocado on a toast?
What she made for herself after a craving one day “wasn’t very good”, she told me, so she got to work, eating avocado toast “every single day” for the next week to perfect her recipe. Her approach to cooking was familiar: no recipes, a dash of this and a dab of that. Put it all together and see what happens.
Teenagers can be flighty or dogged. I tried to think what I was dogged about. Food was one thing—which is why I had the avocado conversation with Eva—drawing weapon systems was another.
I remember spending months trying to get right the proportions and details of the two things I liked drawing—destroyers and fighter planes. I went to an intelligence-services library, to which I had access, and pored over Jane’s Fighting Ships and Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, bibles on the subject. I liked to perfect the shape of anti-aircraft missile launchers, radar masts and main bow guns on destroyers and of air-to-air missiles, cockpits and insignia on fighters.
In the kitchen, I was obsessed with omelettes, an obsession that continued into adulthood and a topic that was once the subject of this column. As Eva did with her avocado toasts, I ate omelettes over many months to finesse variants and techniques.
It isn’t what you make but how you make it that makes the difference to what you cook at home, something that young Eva clearly understood. Read the recipe—which I have left in the original form that she sent me, so you understand her thought process—and you will know what I mean.
I have previously acknowledged being conflicted about young women cooking, especially here in India. I am delighted whenever my preteen decides to cook. Her repertoire has grown from dosas and fried eggs to cakes and pancakes. She can make her breakfast and pack her school lunch.
I like young people who like to cook because I think it is important that they contribute. More importantly, it is a vital skill when you leave home. It was for me when I did. As a rookie reporter, I earned ₹1,800 in late 1980s Bengaluru: ₹800 went for renting a room and tiny bathroom, leaving very little for petrol and food. So, I had to cook on my little electric stove and a pan, squatting on the floor next to my bed, enjoying bread, eggs and sausage masala.
But young women are expected to know how to cook in India, a distinctly unfriendly country for ambitious women who dare to break the shackles of tradition and conformity. So, while I do want my daughter to know how to cook, I do not want her serving hot chapatis to a future partner, a road to perdition.
Much of this may not apply to Eva, even though male primacy is evident in the West as well. The daughter of an Indian and a Briton, Eva—whom I first met when she was younger—appeared comfortable in both cultures and evidently had no problem with spice, wolfing down a spicy and typically Indo-Chinese manchow soup that made even her Gujarati father blink.
This fondness for manchow soup was bewildering but somewhat familiar, since I have seen others from the diaspora express a similar affinity to spicy offerings that were born in Chinese-Indian communities but were unknown to the cuisine of mainland China.
Like me, she appeared to like cooking for her family, especially her siblings, elder sister Maya and younger brother Janak. “Yeah, so the weekends I usually make breakfast at home because I enjoy doing it and I can also make really good pancakes,” she said. “And my little brother is obsessed with pancakes, so I usually just end up making them.” The other things that Eva cooked were “breakfast stuff”, eggs and more, apart from stir-fries.
Her siblings, she said, did not really assist but big sister helped her clean up “because I am really bad at it!” Cleaning up, of course, is an important aspect of cooking but more for men than women. Men who cook like to boast that they, well, cook, but a great many who do freely confess—to the chagrin of their spouses—that they leave the cleaning up to someone else, usually said spouse or domestic help. In the West, obviously, you clean up your mess or enlist your siblings.
Is there anything, I asked Eva, that she really wanted to learn to cook. She replied, “Manchow soup.” All right then.
Eva Bakshi’s Avocado Toast
(I have reproduced her recipe verbatim.)
Butter and toast. Caramelised onions fried with a little ginger and garlic (not too much), lemon pepper seasoning and chilli flakes; then avocado, a sprinkle of feta, a little HP sauce (a British brown sauce that you can replace with pickle), a softly fried egg laid over—pepper, salt, more chilli flakes.
A squeeze of lemon and basil but it’s mostly for presentation, and, if you have goat cheese, add it.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11 on Twitter.