four days after i declared myself vegetarian over three years ago, i boarded a plane to India with 21 people i hardly knew. i was scared, shy, and had no idea what to expect. i worried i’d be the only vegetarian on the trip, so new to this lifestyle that i’d either crack or be a nuisance.
i had no idea that meatless dishes wouldn’t just be easy to find in this country, but that they’d take up half of every menu. i had no idea that i’d create lasting, incredible friendships on that trip (friendships that led to a love of vegetarianism, health science, and running). i had no idea how much my mind would expand, how curious i would forever be of other cultures. i had no idea how much i’d change or how much i’d think about that trip after returning home. but days, weeks, months, and years later, i’m still dreaming about the intricately decorated temples, reminiscing about meditation with buddhist monks, drooling over the distant memory of fresh dal and real chai tea.
a year after my trip to india, i took a food journalism class where we kept a blog. one of my favorite pieces was about india; i hope you enjoy it (and that you’ll give yourself a taste of india with the dal makhni recipe at the end!).
“We had spent the last 18 days traveling through India, learning about the country’s rich religious and cultural customs. We had eaten at restaurants and slept in hotels, visited temples, mosques, palaces and museums, and traveled by bus, train, and plane. We read books about what life is like in India, but had yet to visit an actual Indian home.
Our tour guide had sung his city’s praises daily. “Jaipur is a great city,” he’d tell us, urging us to hold off on textile purchases until we got there, because Jaipur has some of the best. What I was looking forward to the most, though, was dinner.
That evening, all 22 of us dressed in whatever clean clothes we had left and stumbled onto the bus. It was dark outside, and the bus rumbled along and bounced over the unpaved roads. It crept in to our guide’s neighborhood, pulling up in front of a tall, slim house.
It didn’t look big enough to accommodate us all, I thought to myself. I imagined us trying to cram ourselves in around one small table.
We walked into the house, quietly gazing around, taking in the marble floors and marble staircase. It was simple but elegant. Climbing the stairs, we stepped outside onto a small patio, and then one by one climbed up a small ladder to a larger rooftop terrace.
I paused at the top, taking in the scene. Underneath a starlit sky were several small, round tables, each covered in a white patterned tablecloth. The place settings were adorned with plates and silverware, and gold cloth napkins folded into bishop’s hats.
As our guide invited us to sit down, he floated over toward me and said softly, “There are samosas; you like them.”
That was true. I had been searching for samosas every day since we arrived on the Indian subcontinent. They hadn’t been listed on the menus of any restaurants we ate at, and when they were served on the train, I had been sleeping, missing the treat.
Waiters glided around, gently placing these perfect morsels on our plates. My heart fluttered with excitement, finally finding this treasure I’d been searching for; my mouth watered.
Cracking through the fried outer shell, the samosa’s insides crept out onto my plate while steam and the scent of spices exploded into the cool night air. The smell of garam masala, turmeric, and coriander wafted through the air, the spiciness of it all warming my body from the inside out. The sweetness of the chutney both complemented and competed with the heat of the samosa.
As we ate our meal, we listened to the sounds of drummers and watched beautiful women in brightly-colored, sequined skirts twirl around, stacking bowl after bowl on their heads, never letting them come tumbling to the ground.
By the time we returned to our hotel, we’d eaten to our hearts’ content and danced into the latest hours of the night. We’d finally experienced a true Indian home in the most sensational way possible: with friends, great food, upbeat entertainment, and hours upon hours of bliss.”
D A L . M A K H N I
slightly adapted from Oh She Glows
/ i n g r e d i e n t s /
1 package steamed lentils (~2 cups)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp mild yellow curry powder
1 bay leaf
2 tbs minced fresh ginger (peeled)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup cashews
2/3 cup water
/ p r o c e s s /
you can find the process here.
serve over basmati rice. makes 4 servings.