On Thanksgiving, sharing Indian food — and memories

Whenever Stuti Garg putters around her Woodinville kitchen, she's warmed by memories of cooking with her mother as a teenager, learning how to properly blend the spices that lend so much flavor to foods from her native India.

So when she arrived in this country from Mumbai (Bombay) with her parents in 1989 to study, she took a natural liking to Thanksgiving, a holiday that centers so heavily on food, family and togetherness.

"It's a time to share our food and our memories," said Garg, 35. She stood in her kitchen amid the scent of simmering Raajma Royale, a kidney bean, onion and tomato dish similar to American-style chili that she likes to bring to potlucks. On her counters sit tins holding curry leaves, turmeric, cumin. Bags of lentils in different colors line her pantry. In her nearly two decades in the United States, it's become increasingly easier to find her ingredients just about everywhere, she said.

Stuti and her husband, Anu Garg, run the Web site www.wordsmith.org, an online community of language lovers whose popularity prompted Anu to write two compilations of quirky, intriguing words.

Since moving to Woodinville in 2002, the Gargs and their daughter, Ananya, have gathered each year for a vegetarian Thanksgiving potluck with 25 to 30 friends from their church. Stuti enjoys trying foods from different cultures and noticing the similarities and differences. She likes sharing the cuisine of her home with others and takes great delight in seeing happy faces in response.

"We have a good group here and it's nice to be able to share that with friends," she said. Thanksgiving gets longer every year, she said. There's so much to talk about, so much to eat and so much for which to be thankful.

Preparing her favorite dishes is a way to connect with home and happy memories of helping out with her parents' dinner parties as a child. Her husband raves about her cooking and her daughter has begun grinding colorful spices with a mortar and pestle to help her in the kitchen. Stuti looks forward to passing down her cooking knowledge when Ananya becomes a teen, just as her mother did.

"Sometimes when I'm missing my mom I'll go cook that dish I'm thinking of," Stuti said. That could be anything from pigeon peas (a type of lentil) to okra to samosas (Indian pastries with a savory filling, available at many grocery stores and Indian restaurants). "I kind of relive my childhood doing it. The sounds, the aroma. Even now if I forget an ingredient I call her."

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com

Stuti Garg, a native of India now living in Woodinville, shows off a holiday dish called Raajma Royale.
Stuti Garg adds spices to Raajma Royale, a traditional Indian dish she enjoys introducing to friends during the holiday season. (JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES)