Amma’s Corn Curry:
A Loving Ode to Cultural Ambiguity
My mother was my earliest teacher about food, cuisine, and the world outside our pre-internet cocoon in dusty, flood-prone Bombay. She was who I learned to cook from but also who taught me how to eat, how to market, and how to love food and feeding. Her love for cooking led to her teaching herself to cook cuisines beyond the traditional South Indian food my father preferred, and his mother demanded. Instead, she learned to bake carrot cake, cook Thai curry, Italian pasta, American burgers, and Arabic falafel, all within the strict confines of vegetarianism, so my sister and I could learn what the outside world smelled and tasted like.
Before YouTube and Google, our early childhood knowledge was based on books from the local library, cassettes that our aunts from America would send us, and the deep-seated belief that Amma knew all. She would tell us, “This is what Indonesian fried rice tastes like,” and we believed it. At that time, culture and appropriation were simply two words, strangers who had not yet held hands and made a mark on the world. In that safe space, nestled between palate-curious children and their mother’s attempt to stretch the boundaries of her middle-class dinner budget, Corn Curry was born.
Fragrant with garlic and ginger, spiced with green chilies, she would milk fresh coconuts for the gravy. She added cashews for an added depth of richness. She used a white corn cob, slightly chewier, and less sweet compared to the yellow, super sweet, ‘American’ corn that was slowly flooding the Indian market. Over the years, white corn became increasingly difficult to source, and finally, there came a time when all we had was yellow sweet corn. The curry, however, remained the same. Spicy, soulful, silky, and satisfying.
We would eat it, mixing the curry with ghee and hot rice. We would pick up the corn cobs, biting off the curry-soaked kernels while gravy ran in rivulets down our wrists. It was messy and magical; every bite a journey in itself. It tasted like a foreign yet familiar culinary landscape, unidentifiable as any one culture but undoubtedly like home, love, and family. Poppy seeds and coconut milk, cashews, and onions, all coming together to become what can only be considered the cuisine of my mother and my childhood.
Even after the Internet came to us in a noisy rush, the beeps and moans of a dial-up modem connecting us with people eating things both strange and wonderful, my mother’s corn curry never lost its place of honor. It was not traditional anything. It laid claim to no dramatic history or ancient origins. It did not belong to any nation, region, or people. It was instead, intensely personal, ours alone. A delicious secret that was exclusively part of the fabric of the Aiyer family. A cuisine passed down in a red cloth-bound handwritten book, an account of the magic created in Amma’s kitchen, of which I was the humble steward.
AMMA’S CORN CURRY – 4 servings
- Poppy seeds – 1 tablespoon
- Corn cobs (Preferably white corn) – 4 each
- Onion (Medium) - 2, Thinly sliced
- Hot Pepper- 3, roughly chopped
- Ginger - 1 1/2 inch, peeled
- Garlic - 6 cloves
- Cashews (Raw) - 1/2 cup
- Cardamom pods (bruised) - 2
- Cinnamon stick - 2 inch
- Cloves - 3
- Coriander Leaves - 1 cup
- Coconut milk - 1 cup
- Ghee (or butter) - 2 tablespoons
- Cooked, hot rice - 4 cups
- Lemon juice - just a squeeze
- Cut the corn cobs into 3-inch slices. Cook in a medium sauce pot until tender in salted water (10 minutes).
- Soak poppy seeds in 3 tbsp water for 10 minutes.
- Grind the onions, chilies, ginger, garlic, cashews, until coarsely ground.
- Add the coriander leaves and soaked poppy seeds, and grind until it is a smooth paste. Add just enough water to get the paste going.
- In a medium sauté pan, melt the ghee. Toast the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves for 1 minute, until aromatic.
- On a low flame, cook the paste until the aroma of raw onions is gone taking care not to let the paste burn, stirring often (3-4 minutes).
- Add the coconut milk, salt to taste, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add water if needed, so the consistency is a medium consistency.
- Add in the boiled corn cobs, stir to coat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add in a squeeze of lemon right after you take it off the heat.
- Adjust final seasoning with salt before serving over hot rice and ghee.