When you make it known that you’re going to India- everyone that you tell manages to dig up a trying-to-be-helpful (but not) horror story, which they proceed to recount in all its gory detail. All of these stories revolve around illness- and 90% of them focus on the stomach and its inability to correctly digest. Being one who was blessed at birth with a greedy but incredibly temperamental stomach, I have to admit that I was a little anxious. But here I am safely back in New York with nothing more than a few sniffles from the plane air vents and with cravings for raw food, beef and tap water. I must just be one of the lucky few who manages to return with their Imodium still neatly packed in away in it’s box- and having witnessed the hygiene India, I’m guessing that I was not just lucky- but very lucky.
In any case- I successfully managed to challenge my taste buds and set my mouth on fire at each opportune moment despite sticking to a mainly vegetarian (and a cautious one at that) diet. And whilst the break from meat still gave me savoury satisfaction, I’m rather pleased to be back in a country where cows don’t wear halos and the pigs don’t eat the street rubbish.
Early on in Rajasthan my sister and I discovered Thali, meaning ‘plate’, which refers to the large metal plate that they are traditionally served on. Each ‘plate’ contains little cups that contain vegetarian curries, dhal (lentils), raita or curd, pickle, sometimes masala dosa and unlimited quantities of chapatis and rice. Of course the highlights of the trip for me were the three cooking lessons that we had. I had no idea how simple Indian cooking could be and all the curries we cooked contained the four/five staple spices: turmeric, coriander, salt, chilli and sometimes garam masala*.
The other ingredient that you will be seeing popping up in my blog again soon is gram flour, which is made out of ground chickpeas and is used in place of white flour to make naan, chapatis, pakoras and dumplings. Having had limited success baking with other gluten free flours, I can’t wait to start to working with it. My sister and I’s favourite “preparations”, which I will attempt to recreate at home and post at a later date were chana masala (chickpea curry), pakora (spicy fried batter coated vegetables), ghatta curry (curry with lentil dumplings), paneer curry and dhal.
The biggest culinary surprise of the trip though- had to do with my new-found love for…okra. For any regular readers of my blog you will know that me and the so called ‘lady fingers’ have had a less than amicable relationship in the past. I’m not sure what bought about the sudden change in my palate but the okra that I ate in India was divine- deep fried like chips, no batter just crispy okra halves and another time it was stewed in a delicious curry. This new love has pleased me to no end- and okra and I have resumed our peace talks. Watch this space.
Back home, I’m busily stocking my cupboards with gram flour and spices and looking forward to actualising the flavours of Rajasthan on my own- because whilst it’s great to be eating with cutlery again, everything tastes just a little bit bland now.
*Garam Masala is a ground spice mixture containing, bay, mace (and/or nutmeg), cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cumin, cardamom and sometimes black mustard seeds, chilli, turmeric and coriander.