More than 15 years ago, two international students from India, Lakshmi “Lux” Ashwin (PhD ’06) and Meghana “Meg” Chaudhary Joshi (MS ’03), arrived in Buffalo to begin their studies at the UB-affiliated Roswell Park Cancer Institute. They moved into an apartment near the South Campus, sharing space, expenses and chores—including cooking. Meg had years of practice in the kitchen; Lux could barely boil water. But through trial and error, hard work and laughter, the pair created, collected and/or adapted a significant number of recipes over the years. Those recipes form the core of “Roomies/Foodies: Fun ’n Easy Cooking for Desi Students Abroad” (Bloody Good Book, 2015), their charmingly unconventional cookbook rounded out by memories of their gastronomic adventures in that off-campus apartment so many years ago.
You were new to the country and embarking on a serious course of study. How did you make cooking so central to your lives?
Meg: If you wanted home-style food, you had to cook it yourself. Plus, we couldn’t afford to eat out all the time. We also really enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen after a long day and chit-chatting while chopping onions.
Lux: We’re both researchers, and once I started cooking, I felt there was a connection between that and science. You follow a protocol for science like you follow a recipe for cooking, and both allow for innovation.
You both now have jobs and families, and live pretty far apart (Meg in India, Lux in Singapore). How did you come to write this book?
Lux: In 2010, Meg visited me in Bangalore, where I lived at the time. We were going through our recipes, old scrapbooks and photos, and we decided to put it all together.
Meg: That was the only time we met face-to-face while writing this book. The rest of it was done over the phone, internet and Skype.
Any favorite food memories during your time in Buffalo?
Lux: Once, my mother sent me a recipe for fish curry. We needed freshly grated coconut, which wasn’t available anywhere. So we substituted desiccated coconut, soaking it to get the moisture back in, and combined it with the cheapest catfish we could find [see recipe below]. The result worked well—we fed 20-30 people at a dinner party.
What advice would you give to a newbie chef?
Lux: Buy “Roomies/Foodies”! (Laughs) I really want people to look at cooking as something approachable and fun.
Meg: It isn’t something only your grandma does. It’s for everyone, so don’t be intimidated. You can find your way around a kitchen.
Apply turmeric powder and salt to the fish.
Grind grated coconut, shallots, red chili powder and coriander powder to a coarse paste.
Add 2 cups water to the paste and boil in a kadai or flat-bottomed pot with salt and kokum.
Add the fish, ginger and green chilies.
Let the gravy boil for 2-3 minutes, then cover the pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the fish is done. (To mix the curry while cooking, hold the pot with oven mitts and gently rotate; using a spoon to mix may break the fish pieces.)
Garnish with coconut oil and curry leaves, and serve hot with rice.
*If fresh/frozen coconut is not available, you can substitute desiccated coconut by soaking the coconut in coconut milk or plain whole milk for a couple hours until it has completely absorbed the milk.
Recipe from “Roomies/Foodies: Fun ’n Easy Cooking for Desi Students Abroad,” by Lakshmi Ashwin and Meghana Chaudhary Joshi
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Lakshmi And I have cooked together a lot too. So I have first had experience of her creativity. One of my vivid memories is, lux found and had tried a good recipe for shrimp scampi. Now the recipient called for wine. I had been given a bottle of wine which I happily parted with to Lakshmi. Next thing I heard was her next creation was a blushing shrimp scampi because she used red wine instead of white!!! I assume it still tasted yumm. Wish Meg and Lux happy times in their culinary journey. I can't wait to get hold of their book.