Last week, I started teaching college freshman at the University level. I assigned “Indian Takeout” by Jhumpa Lahiri as their first reading. I selected it because I love to cook and because I long to go to India.
I told them this along with a story of an Indian girl I met when I was at a summer leadership conference at the same university quite a few years back. I will never forget her though I am sure she has forgotten me. She was from India and her parent’s came to this country to give her and her siblings a better life. She was very Americanized and she hated all things Indian. She told me she could not hug her father immediately after he’d return from a trip home to India because he “smelled like India.” I want to smell like India. It made me very sad to hear her say that. I will gladly take what she hates if only for a few weeks in my lifeline.
This dish is full of Indian spices I recently acquired after reading and watching television shows on Indian cuisine. I have to admit this dish made me weepy. The ginger, the fennel seeds, and cinnamon made me recall a place I have never been.
Biting into a cardamom pod, which I don’t recommend, is a lot like what it must be like to visit India. It hurts just like it must hurt to witness the extreme poverty that is common in the country. It’s sweet like the scent of the flowers, musk, and fruit bearing trees that mix in the warm air. It lasts like the sights and sounds of the beauty and devastation will once I finally get to take it all in. Until then, I have this dish to remind me of things to come.
1.5 cups of brown basmati rice
2” slice of ginger, peeled
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon each of roasted fennel seeds, green cardamom pods, ground cumin
1 cup of coconut milk
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
or 1lb of boneless, skinless chicken
2 tablespoons of EVOO
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
2 cups of kale
½ cup of vegetable broth
1. Bring a large pot of water and salt to boil and add the rice. Boil for 25 minutes then drain well.
2. While the rice is cooking, combine ½ cup of coconut milk, fennel seeds, cardamom pods, cumin and salt in a bowl. Add the chickpeas or chicken. Cover and refrigerate while the rice is done cooking.
3. Warm the olive oil in a Dutch oven or another deep pot or pan. When the oil is hot, toss in the onion and sauté them until soft about three minutes. Add the ground cinnamon and keep on sautéing for another few minutes.
4. Reduce heat. Remove half the onions from the pot and set aside. Add the broth and the rice. Add the kale, the chickpeas, and the rest of the coconut milk. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Note: If you don’t have a Dutch oven, I recommend checking on it every 10 minutes of so. My rice stuck to the bottom of the pan because there is no such thing as simmer on my POS stove. I digress.