Twenty five years ago, Alli Joseph was a nervous young wife with no experience in the kitchen cooking dinner for her new husband.
Joseph had grown up in southwestern India. Her marriage had been arranged and she knew her mother-in-law was a great cook.
Talk about being under pressure.
"After the wedding, I started learning cooking. Before that, I didn't know anything," Joseph said. "When I made the first dish at my husband's place, I was shaking."
It's been a quarter century since Joseph's fledgling attempts in the kitchen. Today, she and her husband N.J. live in Galloway Township, where they are raising their two daughters and where Alli Joseph's kitchen repertoire includes a host of Indian, American and Italian dishes.
"Our kids like all kinds of food, I can't give them Indian food two or three days in a row, or Italian food two or three days in a row. They want a mix of things," Joseph said.
In some ways, the girls take after their mother, who has always enjoyed trying different kinds of foods.
Joseph grew up in Kerala State in India. When she was a child, she enjoyed such Indian food as chicken curry and beef ularth - a kind of beef stroganoff with coconut and spices. There also was Chinese food available in Kerala, and Joseph enjoyed that too.
After becoming a dietitian, Joseph left India, but returned to meet and marry her husband.
N.J. Joseph was living in New Jersey - he now works as a table games supervisor at Caesars Atlantic City - and then she moved to the United States after the wedding.
The new bride wasn't only cooking for her husband. Joseph's mother-in-law also was living with them. But instead of being critical of her daughter-in-law's cooking, the older woman set out to teach her son's wife all she knew.
"My mother-in-law was a very nice lady. Basically, I learned cooking from her," Joseph said. "She told me how to cook each dish. I picked it up fast. I learned good things from her."
N.J. Joseph also learned from his mom. His wife proudly talks about her husband's cooking skills.
"He makes all kinds of things. He is very creative," Joseph said. "I always tell him he should go on TV."
"I just help her," N.J. Joseph countered. "She's a good cook. Excellent."
Alli Joseph is a fan of TV cooking shows. She also searches for ideas in recipe books. Her tastes are eclectic, and she's always willing to try something new. She also likes to experiment with dishes and add her own touches.
"I make all kinds of things," she said. "My favorite things are pizza and Italian dishes. I like cheese very much. In Kerala, cheese is not that available. After coming here, I really enjoyed having cheese."
When she makes Indian food, she tends to stick to dishes popular in Kerala, which is known as a center for exporting spices. In India, different regions have different styles of cooking, she said. Chicken curry in Kerala is sweeter and not as hot as curries in other parts of the country.
When Joseph makes a curry, she mixes her own spices.
"I mix them individually," she said. "Before I cook, I mix them up and keep it in a bowl. Then it becomes very easy."
Joseph has begun teaching her daughters - Katherine, 23, and Helen, 21 - to cook. But they are not as interested in learning Indian recipes.
"They have the aptitude for cooking. They download recipes online and make dishes," she said. "The Indian dishes are a little tough, so many spices - this and that - they don't do that normally. They prefer to do Italian or Mexican."
The girls also like steaks and cheesesteak, Joseph said.
Joseph is happy that her daughters will know more about cooking than she did when first married - not that that first meal turned out so bad.
"It came out good," she said. "Or maybe my husband just suffered through it and said it was good."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Kerala Chicken Curry
•12 chicken drumsticks
•2 large onions, sliced
•1 tablespoon garlic, sliced
•1 tablespoon ginger root, sliced
•1 green chili, slit lengthwise
•10 curry leaves
•1 heaping tablespoon ground coriander
•1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
•1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
•1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
•1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
•5 cloves star aniseed
•1/2 teaspoon cardamom seed
•1 teaspoon salt
•2 tablespoons vinegar
•1 cup coconut milk
•1/3 cup oil
•6 tablespoons water
•1 cup water
Grind the star aniseed, cloves and cardamom seed. Add these ingredients to coriander, turmeric, fennel seed, black pepper and cinnamon. Mix with 6 tablespoons of water, keep aside.
Heat oil in a 2-gallon pot and saute onion, garlic, ginger root, green chili and curry leaves until the onion is translucent. Add the wet spice combination and saute for 2 minutes. Add chicken pieces, stirring well to coat the spices for about 1 minute. Add salt, vinegar and 1 cup of water and stir well once again. Cover. Bring to boil, then simmer until chicken is soft.
Taste for salt and vinegar. Add coconut milk, stir, bring to a boil then turn off the heat. Let stand for 30 minutes to thicken. You may garnish with golden brown fried onion. Reheat if necessary before serving with rice or bread.
Nutritional information per serving: 466 calories, 8g saturated fat, 35g total fat, 160mg cholesterol, 30g protein, 7g carbohydrates