A Passage Back to India
As you know, I spent a year in India for work a few moons ago. It was not an easy year, but one that I am happy, in the end to have experienced. The journey began just one year after my relocation back to the US from 2.5 years in the Philippines and it was a welcome move. I was not ready to repatriate from Asia, so when I got the tap on the shoulder and the now infamous, “Fran, would you move to India to help us out?” I knew I’d say yes. It didn’t matter that I’d been to India 29 years prior and that my memories were of heat, extreme begging, unfamiliar red-hot food, strong odors wherever we went, the scourge of Delhi Belly that threatened to extinguish all life from me and pollution — noise, traffic, pedestrian — that seemed impossible. It made no difference that as a teen I’d vowed to never come back to this uncomfortably unfamiliar country — ever again.
Fresh grated ginger, crushed garlic and cumin powder
What mattered was that I said silently, inside my own mind, “Move to Bangalore, India! ? Are you nuts? You said never again!” So I walked to the transport back to the resort in Vail, or was it Aspen? I can’t remember, the place is inconsequential at this point other than it was at an altitude of 11,000 feet and the altitude sickness was apparently not only wreaking havoc in terms of a constant, killer headache, but the lack of oxygen was obviously clouding my thought because I almost immediately — once I stopped my tongue from bleeding (I’d chomped down real hard) I said YES!
Tomatoes, Onions, Celery, Carrots, Cilantro, Lime Juice, Olive Oil and Chaat Masala
Little did I know just how difficult the year would be, but along with the hardships, there was great personal growth and discovery. I also came back from the experience with life long friendships having been established and a house full of silk rugs among other treasures. Among those I call friends is the “Rug man.” The Kashmiri purveyor of hand knotted rugs, pashminas, sandalwood tzochkies and more that sold his wares in a 2nd story shop one block off the dizzingly chaotic tourist and shopper’s mecca called Commercial Street.
Ground red chilis
Yasin became my oasis of calm on weekends. He was someone I could trust to have nothing but a cup of piping hot Kashmir tea, enlightening conversation and a rug or three or more rolled out, not in my honor, but in hopes that I would make yet another purchase to add to my growing collection.
My cell phone still rings at middle of the night hours every 4 – 6 months with the enthusiastic and ever-hopeful Yasin at the other end. While pat of me thinks he calls because he’s got a crush on the American business woman with money to spend on trinkets and silk rugs and … well, the list goes on. I know I had some kind of infatuation with the man that provided me with hours of escape from the sweltering heat under the Bangalore sun with stories of Kashmiri rug makers and politics and cigarettes during lazy Saturdays or Sundays.
The most remarkable call must have been about a year after I’d moved back to the US and was on a business trip to Jerusalem. I was at the dinner table with my boss/friend and a colleague waiting for our meal to be served when my cell phone rang. Through the scratchy connection I heard the familiar voice, the unmistakable Yasin greeting, “MADAME! Can you hear me?”
Aside from material things, what I brought back from India was a more substantial view into Indian cuisine.
Tonight while people were channel jumping in JTV in hopes of finding something well worth their time, I was scouring a cookbook for the best way to go on air with the promised Indian dinner.
It came off very well. The meal was DEElicious and while there were a lot of ingredients, putting it all together as not a time-hog.
All three recipes are courtesy of The Food of India a Journey for Food Lovers – Recipes by Priya Wickramashinghe and Carol Selva Rajah
This dish has a highly aromatic sauce flavored with cardamom. The yogurt makes the sauce deliciously creamy. If you don’t make your own yogurt, drain commercial yogurt overnight. This makes the sauce much richer by getting rid of any excess liquid.
- 3 lb. 5 oz. chicken pieces
- 25 cardamom pods
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 1/4 inch piece of ginger, grated
- 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
- grated rind of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons ghee or oil
- 1 2/3 cups coconut milk
- 6 green chilies, pricked al over
- 2 tablespoons chopped corander (cilantro) leaves
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Wash and pat chicken dry.
Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and crush in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. In a blender, mix the garlic with enough of the yogurt (about 3 tablepoons) to make a paste, or, if you prefer, mix them with a spoon. Add the caramom, pepper and grated lemon rind. Spread this over the chicken pieces. Covedr, and leave in the fridge overnight.
Heat the ghee or oil in a heavy pan over low heat and brown the chicken pieces all over. Add the remaining yogurt and coconut milk to the pan, bring to the boil, then add the hole chilies and the coriander leaves. Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Season with salt to taste, and stir in the lemon juice.
Stuffing vegetables is a cooking method used for special occasions. These stuffed capsicums (peppers) are simmered in a coconut-flavored sauce. The capsicums should be the small variety usually used in india. Red or yellow can also be used.
- 14 oz. potatoes, quartered
- 6 small green capsicums (peppers)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves
- 6 cardamom pods
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3/4 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon tumeric
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 3/4 oz creamed coconut, mixed with 1 cup water, or 1 cup coconut cream
Cook the potato in a saucepan of simmering water for 15 minutes, or until tender, then drain and cut into small cubes. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add the capsicums and blanch for 5 minutes. Refresh the capsicums in cold water, cut round the stem and remove both it and the seeds. Drain well upside-down.
Heat the oil in a small frying pan and cook the onion over medium heat until soft but not browned. Add the cumin, coriander, tumeric and chili and mix thoroughly. Mix in the potato and season with salt. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Divide into six portions and fill each pepper.
To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a deep, heavy based frying pan and bring slowly to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Season with salt, to taste. Add the stuffed capsicums to the pan, arranging them so that they stand upright in a single layer, and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Serve the capsicums with a little sauce spooned over the top.
A very healthy North Indian snack often served as a starter in restaurants, or with drinks. Many of the ingredients can be increased or decreased according to personal taste. The combination of cucumber and fresh coriander is very refreshing.
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 small cucumbers, finely chopped
- 3 1/2 oz ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
- 1 chili, finely chopped
- 1 green chili, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 3/4 cup unroasted peanuts, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chaat masala
Stir together in a bowl, the onion, cucumber, tomato, coriander, chilies and lemon juoice
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat, add the peanuts and salt and fry for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the pepper an chaat masala and stir fry for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the onion mixture. Season with more salt to taste just before serving. The seasoning is added at the end to prevent the ingredients from releasing too much juice before serving.
Serve in small bowls. Chucumbercan be eaten with spoon or scooped up in pieces of roti.
NOTE: I was out of cucumber and added celery and apple in it’s place. DEElicious!