Abuela's Special Vegetable Soup

Chunky vegetable soup at your house was a treat.  The fun began when you started to prepare the vegetables. I was the happy recipient of your discarded strips of potato and carrot peel, celery ribs, fennel stalks. Butter knife in hand, I set to work industriously in the covered patio outside your kitchen.

We both chopped, sliced, and stirred in unison, you at the kitchen counter; me, at a picnic table, listening to your crystalline voice. You always loved to sing.

Abuela in her garden

Abuela in her garden

You brought your soup to the table with a radiant smile. My pretend soup ended up in the trash. 

You didn’t complain if your 11 grandchildren made a mess, but you never tolerated rude language. “¡Te voy a poner una papa caliente en la boca!” The threat of a hot potato in our mouths was an effective deterrent.

Years later, when it was time for me to make soup for real, I asked you what made your soup taste so special. Your green eyes twinkled and you settled down for a chat, matecup in hand. The secret ingredient included flavors from the land of your ancestors, Spain.  

“Mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a heaped tablespoon of smoked paprika and heat over a low fire until the paprika dissolves,” you said. The paprika imparts a smoky yet subtle flavor. “Make sure you don’t burn it, or it’ll taste bitter. Then trickle this infused oil on the soup.” 

These orangey-red pools of oil carry flavor, family traditions and childhood memories. 



- Ana Astri-O’Reilly is a fully bilingual Spanish-English travel blogger and writer originally from Argentina. She now lives in Dallas, USA, with her husband. Besides writing on her travel blogs, Ana Travels and Apuntes Ideas Imagenes, Ana has published travel and food articles in a variety of outlets as well. She likes to eat good food, read good books and play tennis (she’s a beast at the net!)    

How To Say No

Work long hours and travel frequently to keep a steady income for your mother and three younger sisters. Soon enough, the five of you will shrink to three. 

Let your skin darken from too much sun, and your hands grow callouses where they clutch the handlebars of your genuine imported Italian Vespa scooter; your one indulgence. Bury your nose in the newspaper and allow your mother’s complaints about your complexion to wash over you. Keep your nose buried when she asks when you’ll marry. 

The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

Store away the Nos you want to say. You’ll need them later.

Cultivate a fearsome moustache, at first for gravitas at work, and then to scare your nieces and nephews into good behaviour. Your moustache and the bulging of your eyes allow you the freedom to not raise your voice to them. 

Marriage in your forties will release the Nos.

Learn to drop your voice into a resonant baritone when you say No. Imbue the two syllables of the Malayalam word with all the resistance and rejection you’ve locked deep inside, all the Nos you’ve never said; vēnda.

Speak little, laugh often and heartily, and raise your voice only to say No. Vēn-DA.

When your wife, constantly moving, constantly talking to fill the silences you leave, insists you have a second helping at lunch, boom vēnda without looking up from your plate. Laugh unrestrainedly when your tiny grandnephews giggle at the scene. Pull them, still giggling, onto your lap and teach them to say vēnda too.

The author's uncle with her children in 2006

The author's uncle with her children in 2006



author's note: Malayalam doesn't have a generalised word for No. Instead, it directly negates verbs. Vēnda means "doesn't/don't want".

- Asha Rajan