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Yummy Yummmm…from Around the World

As somebody who has always been intrigued and mesmerized by the diversities of cuisines, I have come to know of and tasted over the last year, I couldn’t resist but join the HARBUS team on their quest to unravel the secrets, to discover the truths behind some of those delicious and exotic dishes. Over the next twenty weeks, we take you on a gastronomical journey. We travel the world through our friends on campus and discover and explore their cultures and traditions through their delectable cuisines. Join us on this lip smacking journey as we travel through the yummy yum destinations around the world.

Our Destination 1: The land of over a billion people, speaking over two dozen languages; the land of the Himalayas, the backwaters, the beaches, and the deserts; the land of the Maharajas, the Taj Mahal, and the elephants; the land of Bollywood and the Slum Dog Millionaire; a land so diverse; a land of infinite variety-Namaste and Welcome to my home country-India!!

Indian cuisine is a careful blending of different spices, produce and meat. Regional differences in the form of culture, religions, climate, and local produce and also the myriad influences from rulers and travelers over the years have resulted in an intriguing diversity of delectable dishes. Every meal is a variety of dishes that complement each other in texture, color and flavor. The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, whole wheat flour and a variety of pulses. Coffee and tea are the staple beverages. Most Indian dishes are cooked in vegetable oil or clarified butter and use a variety of spices, the main ones being chili, pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, asafetida, ginger, coriander, and garlic. Cardamom, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon and rose petal essence are used in desserts. Diversities in cuisine also result in diversities in serving and eating styles. A Thali-a large plate with samplings of different dishes-is the most common style; however, eco-friendly leaf plates are also very common. In southern India, a cleaned banana leaf is used as a serving platter for all auspicious and religious occasions.

Festivals are an integral part of the Indian culture. There are a multitude of festivals in India, each with its own unique legend and significance. Irrespective of the particular festival, I remember them to be the happiest of occasions and always involved the coming together of family, friends and of course, good food. Desserts are as much an integral part of these festivals as are the ceremonies and the customs. I remember waking up on festival days to the irresistible aroma of some of my favorite desserts. As irresistible as the aroma was, I learned that the dishes were painstaking to make. But the novice cook that I am, I have experimented and tweaked them over time, and now have those same yummy desserts in some simple easy-to-make recipes.

Gajar (Carrot) Halwa: Gajar Halwa is a hugely popular north-Indian dessert. This dessert, made out of freshly grated carrots (Gajar meaning Carrot in Hindi), is served for almost all occasions including weddings. Halwa, in India, is used to refer to a broad category of desserts which are dense sweet confections. Although made from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, flour and lentils, Gajar Halwa is considered the most exquisite and exotic of them all. To make my quick and simple, but delicious, Gajar Halwa, you will need:

-Carrot (freshly grated) – 1 1/2 cups (approximately 4 carrots)
-Milk – 1 cup
-Sweetened Condensed Milk – 1/3 cup
-Sugar – _ cup
-Clarified Butter (Ghee) – 2 tbsp.
-Raisins & Almonds – to garnish
-Cardamom powder – roughly from 3 pods

Cooking time – approximately 20 minutes; Servings – 2

Cooking Procedure: Heat the milk in a thick bottomed pan. To the hot milk, add the grated carrots and the condensed milk. Cover and cook while stirring occasionally til the milk is completely absorbed. Meanwhile in another pan, fry some raisins and almonds in the clarified butter and keep aside. Once the milk is absorbed, add the sugar and the clarified butter and cook again til the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan. Add the cardamom powder. Stir again for a minute and garnish with the fried raisins and almonds. ‘Gajar Halwa’ is ready!! Wasn’t that easy? Serve this hot, and for some added indulgence, top with vanilla ice-cream…yummmmmm.

Payasam: Payasam, as it is called in Southern India or Kheer, as called in Northern India, is another very popular Indian dessert. Made from a variety of fruits, vegetables, lentils and cereals, Payasam is an essential dish of celebrations and feasts and is also made as an offering to gods in some South Indian traditions. Payasam is so much a part of every festival and function of ours that I couldn’t help but learn how to make it the easy way. For my Payasam you will need:

-Vermicelli – 1 cup
-Water – 2 cups
-Milk – 1 cup
-Sweetened Condensed milk – 1/4 cup
-Sugar – 1/2 cup
-Cardamom – roughly from 3 pods
-Raisins – to garnish
-Clarified Butter – 2 tbsp

Cooking time – 15 minutes; Servings – 2

Cooking Procedure: Fry the vermicelli in some clarified butter until it turns golden brown. Add the water and cook til the water is absorbed. Add the sugar and when the sugar is aborbed add the milk. Boil for a minute. Add the cardamoms and the raisins. Payasam is ready, too!! Serve hot or cold.

From the land of the Gajar Halwa and the Payasam, we now take off, all set to explore delectable destinations around the globe. Hope you enjoyed this short stay here and do join us next week at our next yummy yum destination-Greece!!

If you have an idea for a future destination for Niranjana, or a delectable dish recipe, please email: general@harbus.org with “AROUND THE WORLD” in the subject line.

October 13, 2009
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