I was granted the gift of a decent ability to remember things. My capacity for recall has served me well enough; through years of English Lit exams, countless passwords and PINs, phone numbers and postal codes, and all the other scraps of information deemed vital these days.

For the longest time, I had my brother's Social Insurance Number memorized. I was without specific reason to do so, I just did.

Mysterious how the mind works. Doubly mysterious how it sometimes chooses to abandon you completely. In my case? That memory of mine has one specific failing, and a funny one at that. Pakoras.

It's not that I've forgotten them, that would be impossible. Those vegetable fritters were one of the reasons that ours was the most popular house for after-school snacks on our street.

My grandmother and mother made them with onions or with sliced potatoes most often, sometimes with cauliflower too. Crisp and tender, touched by spice, they were like onion rings and potato chips and french fries all rolled together, made that much better by the combination.

Sitting at the table, I'd concoct an accompaniment to the pakoras as we waited for them to be cooked. The glass bottle of ketchup and a plastic bottle of chili sauce was all it took. You'd pour some ketchup into a little bowl, then stir in a swirl of firey-hot chili sauce, being as miserly or as generous as you'd like. That's it, that's all, you were ready to go. (This sauce is not at all authentic, but the thing to a six-year-old palate.)

My preferred pakoras were onion ones. They would emerge from the oil open-weaved, with rings of onion coiling around each other. In those few spots where the batter collected, the pakora was soft and fluffy; where the batter was thin, it shattered with a delicate crunch.

Trouble is that Grandma, the maker of superlative pakoras, firmly disavows these lacy versions of my childhood memory as her intended result. For a split second I foolhardily considered a defense of my recollection, but you don't argue with Grandma.

Of course the mistake was mine.

As I examined this lapse in my reminiscence, I had two epiphanies. First, my well-documented greed is probably at the root of this. I wouldn't be surprised if my childhood self (or my adult self for that matter) saw it fit to only select the thinnest, snappiest, pakoras of the bunch; only those ideal specimens would have been squirreled onto my plate.

Second, I shouldn't expect myself to be a faithful narrator to this story. It is inherent to the nature of our most treasured childhood memories that they be viewed through the blurred lens of nostalgia. Of course it would be that in my recollection every pakora was my exact favourite.

Lucky for me, pakoras are not only in my memory. And now that I'm the one at the stove, I can indulge my fancy and make sure that every pakora out of the oil is, in fact, my exact favourite kind. Yes, I know, greedy of me. Again.

But I'll sit with spine straight and head high. To me, these are memory brought to life, or to our plates to be specific, with the bias of sentiment fully, marvelously intact.

INDIAN ONION FRITTERS

Pakoras are often made with a batter that includes a variety of spices and a leavening agent. This is my Grandmother's recipe, who believes that simplicity is best when appreciating the qualities of each ingredient. As I said, you don't want to contest her opinion; I'm smart enough to be a good little granddaughter and report it faithfully.

Since I do deviate from tradition in the way they are shaped, I've called these fritters to avoid any confusion. Ramshackle and rustic, the messier your clumps of onion, the more texture there will be in the finished fritter.

For the full pakora experience of my childhood, the ketchup chili sauce combination is a must.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup gram (chickpea) flour
  • 1 small red chili, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced cilantro
  • A generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Water
  • Oil for deep frying (peanut, vegetable or canola)
  • 2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced into thin rings horizontally
  • Salt and fresh lime wedges for serving
  • Ketchup and chili sauce for serving (optional, see above)

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, chili, cilantro and salt. Slowly stir in enough water until the mixture reaches the consistency of whipping (heavy) cream. Beat the batter well, so it is lightened and foamy at the edges. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove or in a deep fryer, heat oil to 350°F (175°C). When that's reached temperature, separate the onion layers into individual rings and drop them into the batter, stirring gently to coat. Using a fork, pick up a clump of onion rings and allow the excess batter to drip off.

Carefully drop the tangle of onions into the oil and fry until lightly golden on one side, around 30-40 seconds. Flip the fritter and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove from the oil and drain on a cooling rack set up over newspaper or on some folded paper towels.

Repeat, frying a few at a time, until all the onion and batter is used.

Enjoy immediately, with additional salt sprinkled over and a squeeze of lime juice. Offer a condiment of ketchup blended with chili sauce for dipping.

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite. To be safe, let's say 2.

Notes:

• A small amount of crushed dried red chili can be used in place of the fresh.

• Pakoras can be made with a variety of vegetables. Melissa has some phenomenal versions to offer.

A cabbage is not one to command an audience. Sure, it may tart things up a bit now and again, boasting some frilled leaves or turning scarlet for a spell, but that is the end of its attempts at razzle dazzle. Instead, it is a head down, hard working sort, like most cruciferous vegetables, happy to sit, unassuming and staid, waiting for your attention.

Growing up, I took cabbage for granted. We ate it either in the Indian fashion, sliced thinly and sautéed, punctuated by spice and dyed golden with turmeric, or it was presented as coleslaw - that ubiquitous backyard barbeque attendee, often overly sauced and unnaturally green.

It was only some time in the last few years that I began to appreciate cabbage. While I had liked it just fine, I cannot say I had previously been one to ardently seek out the brassica's company.

Maybe I have mellowed or maybe I have learned to look for quality, but just like how the flashy boy in highschool would not garner a glance from me these days, cabbage with its homely appeal, is now what catches my eye. Pickled, roasted, boiled and braised, I adore it it in all its ways.

Shredded fashionably thin, cabbage loses its burly quality; in a warm pan its broad shoulders slouch and soften, relaxing. Its curls become mussed, and once the succulent strands are tangled with sweet onion and apple, napped with bacony, vinegar-tinged juices and freckled with black specks of mustard seed, its subtle charms are fully realized.

Sautéed cabbage is far from new, and some might not consider it the most exciting of dishes. But, dear reader, in these flannel blanket days of February, I do not want the sharp, clean edges of the new. I want full, rounded flavours that comfort, not challenge. This is a dish with boy-next-door appeal; seemingly plain, but once you get to know it, you will be won over.

SAUTÉED SAVOY CABBAGE WITH APPLES

Although deeply-flavoured, this dish plays well with others; it can be served alongside all manner of roasts, or as here, with some grilled sweet garlic sausage.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 rashers of thick cut bacon, cut into horizontal strips
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced thinly
  • 2 small apples, halved and sliced thinly (I like Galas)
  • apple cider vinegar
  • 1 medium savoy cabbage, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup water
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper

METHOD

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Leaving the rendered fat in the pan, remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined dish to cool and drain. Set aside.

Still over medium heat, fry the mustard seeds and cumin until the seeds begin to pop and the cumin is aromatic. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the apples, and cook for about 2 minutes; the apples should have picked up some colour.

Splash in a good bit of vinegar to deglaze, about 2-3 tablespoons, scraping up any bits of food that may be stuck to the pan. Tumble in the cabbage, tossing it to coat with the onions, apples and collected juices. Add the water, continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, and the cabbage is wilted and just tender. Sprinkle in the reserved bacon, tossing to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Serves 4-6.

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By all accounts I enjoy a good chat. It has always been that way; in fact, I do believe that somewhere I have an old progress report bearing the following glowing review: “Tara is a chatterbox. Sometimes distracts others.”

A distraction indeed; between instant messaging, e-mail and the telephone, rarely does a day go by without a good gab with a friend or family member.

Whatever the topic - sensational shoes, starlet shenanigans or all things sparkly - these chats are our chance to not only catch up, but also forget about the distance that is sometimes between us. Time differences and schedule conflicts fall away and all we are left with is common ground and usually a good laugh.

It was such a discussion that inspired our Sunday night this week. Across an ocean and over e-mail, a dear friend and I were considering an all- too-important issue; what to feed our grumbling bellies. Lucky for me, the hours separating us worked to my advantage - while I was still searching for supper ideas, Michèle’s was already tucked in the oven. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I decided I would follow her lead and recreate her menu on this side of the Atlantic.

To serve alongside our matching roasts Michèle had found a truly delicious-sounding recipe for roasted red onions over at Epicurious.com. She assured me that hers smelled fantastic roasting away. However, as I was already eager to use the pretty little yellow onions my father had given me, I suggested the substitution.

Looking ahead to the inevitable roast beef sandwich lunches, I wanted a final dish closer to a marmalade relish than a simple vegetable side, so I asked her opinion of adding some honey and swapping out the vinegar. The consultation continued; the minutiae of our preparations were covered from roast beef internal temperatures to ovens, from green beans to brussels sprouts and the questionable need for potatoes.

In the end, after countless messages back and forth, my family and I sat down to a meal that I did not feel I had prepared alone. I had made it with a friend.

And what was one of my first thoughts this morning? Talking to that friend to compare notes.

Oh Mrs. Kline, if only you knew - I have not improved in the least in all these years since Kindergarten. Thank goodness for that.

Jammy roasted onions
My own creation, of sorts. Inspired by Epicurious, adapted from collaborative conversations with Michèle. Makes a wonderful accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats and poultry; with the velvety sweetness of the onions offset by the resonant twang of balsamic.

Shown above in a sandwich of toasted ciabatta, rare roast beef, field greens and a homemade horseradish aïoli similar to Ina Garten’s horseradish sauce.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 spring fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon honey
About 1 1/2 pounds (700 g) small onions
8-10 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 450ºF (230ºC).

In a small saucepan, combine butter, olive oil and herbs. Warm slowly over low heat. Once the butter has completely melted and the herbs are fragrant, remove from the heat and stir in honey. Allow to cool.

Trim the roots of the onions, but leave intact; peel and slice into quarters lengthways.

In a roasting dish, toss the onions, garlic and herb oil mixture. Once well coated, drizzle over balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and toss again.

Cover with aluminum foil and roast in the middle position of the preheated oven. Every 20 minutes, peel back foil and turn onions with a broad spatula. After one hour, reduce oven temperature to 300ºF (150ºC). Roast for an additional 30-45 minutes, until done to your liking.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Will keep for about a week, refrigerated in a sealed container.

Notes:
• Shallots or cipollini onions can also be used; in this case, cut in half or leave whole.
• Use a roasting pan that just fits the onions and garlic in a single layer; too big of a pan and the balsamic and honey will burn, too small of a pan and the vegetables will steam rather than roast.
• For a sweeter, darker version, substitute an equal amount of dark brown sugar for the honey.
• For fans of strong flavours, these onions can be used to top crostini. Add Cambozola and broil for an over-the-top snack.

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