The weeks are flying by and this week we attempted to tackle the subcontinent of India in our alphabetical journey around the world. We actually live in an area with a large percentage of people of Indian descent. Most of them are Sikhs from the Punjab region of northern India. There are many Indian shops and restaurants and it’s very common to see men and women in traditional dress. From a very young age my children would notice cultural differences and ask in their innocent way, “Why is that woman dressed like that?” or “Why does that man have a cloth wrapped around his head?” So India was an obvious choice for our next destination to explore.
We started off with looking at some videos from India and my kids especially liked the ones of young kids doing bhangra dancing. We found a tutorial showing some easy steps and tried it out. Then we did the most hands on craft we could find; henna painting! This was a bit of a risk for me since I have absolutely no artistic ability whatsoever. I got the simplest kit possible with an applicator that let you squeeze the henna out like a tube of icing. It was very easy to use and I was able to copy a simple pattern onto my daughter’s hand. It wasn’t perfect, but considering we were combining a wriggly child and a klutzy mother it didn’t come out too bad. My son was very interested in the process, but flatly refused to let me try it on him.
From there we moved on to dinner. For once I had no problem finding the ingredients I needed. In fact my challenge was to narrow down what I needed from the huge selection of exotic ingredients at the local Indian food stores. Earlier in the week I asked a couple co-workers for advice on planning an Indian meal. They were very helpful and supportive, but both gave me the same sort of look that you might give someone who announced they were taking up running and planned to start of by running a marathon. I completely understand. Indian cuisine is extremely complex and it takes a lifetime to master it. There is no way that I could replicate a truly authentic Indian meal just by reading a few books and picking up a few ingredients. However, I was able to make a very tasty meal with Indian flavours and had quite a bit of fun doing it.
I decided to go with a vegetarian menu, partly because India has such a tradition of vegetarian cooking and partly because I just felt like it. I started with Basmati rice and a spicy lentil daal, and added a chickpea curry and a veggie curry. I also tried a dish called mattar paneer which used onions, peas and paneer, a kind of fresh cheese that I’ve seen in stores and always wanted to try. I also bought naan bread and made a cucumber yogurt salad called raita to counteract all the spice. We also had sweet, milky chai to drink.
And the verdict? Well for one thing I made way too much food! My husband and I enjoyed pretty much everything and we still had a lot left over. The kids? Well, they liked the bread. I set aside some of the paneer before I added spices to the mattar paneer dish and my daughter really enjoyed that. Pretty much everything else beside the rice was deemed “too spicy” but I had sort of expected that. For some strange reason my son loved the chai and drank two cups.
For dessert I made a kind of rice pudding called kheer made with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Some recipes called for coconut milk and since I had half of a can in the fridge I added that too. Once again my husband and I really liked the result but the kids weren’t too thrilled. I also bought some biscuits called Parle-G biscuits which I see for sale everywhere but I’ve never tried. They are apparently the best selling brand of packaged cookies in the entire world. They were perfectly decent, but probably about the blandest tasting biscuit I’ve ever tasted. Of course my son loved them and asked for more.
So that was a tiny taste of India. It was a lot of fun to experiment with some completely new and different ingredients and flavours and I hope it will give me confidence to explore more of what’s available in my own town.