I spent 5 months in India in 2010. Much of that journey has shaped my current life path in one way or another. This blog post would be too long to divulge all the pithy details now. But the one story that I tell more than others is how I left my craft of cooking behind on a journey to find something else. What I ended up with in the end, was a deeper understanding of the cooking world and the power of food.
I was 25 and had been traversing in and out of America, Europe and SE Asia for 4 years at that point on pennies, cooking for free wherever I could and making money just for the next plane ticket. As you do in your 20's. India had always allured but never felt right, until it did.
Once in India I ignored my urge to follow the food and instead dug deep into discovery of color, feel, history, and belief. Eyes wide and heart open, I left India completely broke and returned to Spain to sleep on friend's sofas and exist on nothing more than tortilla español and tangerines. My always logical and not-so-easy-to-convince father called to wake me up to my financial situation of late.
"you have $500 in your bank account, Ash. You cant even afford a flight home"
Running on fumes from my India awakening, naturally, my response was;
"Something is going to happen, dad, I can feel it! I am living in the open question of life!" (insert prayer hands and eye-roll emoji here)
A week later I was asked by a good friend in Mallorca to help someone she knew who was coming to the island for holiday. You know, fix up their cottage when they leave for the day, maybe set up breakfast. I was looking at an easy 500 euros to push me through at least 2 more months of the egg and orange diet. "Oh, and I told them you can teach yoga and maybe cook too, they are super stoked!"
I made a welcome Moroccan dinner on the Thursday they arrived- tagine, couscous with melted sweet onion marmalade, roasted vegetables and a fresh carrot, cilantro salad. I arrived in the morning to teach yoga and serve them homemade CA-style granola and superfood smoothies.
By that Sunday the couple had flown me to their home in Vienna to be their yogi chef. It's been 6 years and 11 countries that I have traveled and cooked for them in. On their boat, I was introduced to the Swiss engineer who is now my husband, and so many other soulmates have been met along the way though this work relationship. In the end, I always credit India to the gratitude of those turning events. India un-doubtingly has magic and power, if you let it in. I felt my heart open in a whole new way when I walked through her land and dropped into sacred moments. Shift happened.
Now that I am more ROOTED than ever before and growing my family, reconnections with Mother India will be far and few between. I foster my Yearning for India often with cooking. Filling my kitchen with the scent of steeping spices in homemade ghee, and Pairing ginger, lime and curry leaves wherever possible, and tucking into a satisfying dal on a monthly basis.
Here is my go-to recipe for everyday Dal. Made with coconut milk, ghee, and mustard seeds. Variations are easy to spin off of and creativity is invited. Spinach, diced carrots, or peas? I like to top mine with cool yogurt, fresh cucumber, lime and something super spicy. I would even suggest frying an egg in ghee and topping the dal and rice for a protein packed meal. This is a staple in our home. Enjoy.
Everyday Coconut Dal
3 cups red lentils (masoor dal)
1 medium yellow roughly chopped
1 cup tomatoes, canned, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons ghee
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
15 fresh or frozen curry leaves (optional but worth seeking out)
1 14-oz can coconut milk
- In a large saucepan, combine the lentils, coarsely chopped onion, tomatoes, cayenne, ground cumin, ginger, coriander, and turmeric. Add 7 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils begin to break down. Add salt (it's always best to add salt to any legume after they have been 80% cooked)
- In a frying pan, warm the ghee over medium to high heat. Once the ghee is hot, add the cumin seeds and the mustard seeds. Staying close to the pan, wait briefly until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Then add the finely chopped onion and the curry leaves and cook, until lightly browned. Stir often to prevent burning.
- Add the curry leaf mixture to the lentils along with the coconut milk. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the flavors have melded.
- Serve with basmati rice, fresh cucumber, cool yogurt, a squeeze of lime, and some spicy pickle relish, etc.
- NOTE: you can add fresh spinach or diced carrot, fresh chiles or even fresh ginger. Get creative and add ingredients where and when you see fit.