Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Accidental Vegetarian

Some say that India is the best place in the world for vegetarians. The dietary restrictions on so many Indians make a veggie friendly society inevitable--Jains and Buddhists often adhere to a strict vegetarian diet, Hindus don't eat meat, and Muslims don't eat pork. Evidently, there's not much to be had at an Indian McDonald's (oh yes, Ronald can be found here), just a Crispy Chicken or Fillet-o-Fish. Looking back over the past week, I realize that the only "meat" I've consumed was a couple pieces of fish I ordered while indulging at The American Diner in Delhi. This is a stark contrast to the very carnivorous diet I practice in China.

Being a vegetarian is certainly a personal and conscientious decision and a life choice I do not think I am willing to commit to. However, I do believe that if someone wanted to transition into vegetarianism, Indian would be the best place to do it. I'm nearly becoming one myself without trying, much to the credit of delicious Indian food. With meat (namely chicken, mutton, or fish) or without, the food here is simply amazing. I probably should add that a willingness to try new flavors and spices is imperative in appreciating the cuisine. As stated in a previous blog, I, for one, am fairly adventurous when it comes to food and beverage. Whatever your tastes, I definitely think you should give Indian food a try.

In an effort to expand my knowledge of Indian food and improve my kitchen prowess, I signed up for an Indian cooking course. In Udaipur, the small city in Rajasthan where we are currently staying, there is no shortage of establishments offering such courses. Everywhere I turn is a sign advertising "Cooking Lessons;" our guesthouse even provides classes. I decided to go with the highly recommended Shashi ( For 500 rupees (about US$11), I would be educated in the art of making masala chai, chutneys, pakora (a batter fried snack of veggies or cheese), curry, rice pilaf, naan (unleaved, white flat bread), tomato sauce, and even paneer (cheese).

My class included three other students, all of us foreigners eager to learn Shashi's secrets. She took us to her small kitchen and over the course of five hours taught us the basics needed to create an Indian feast. Afterwards, we dined--the results were delcious beyond my expectations. Though I was bound to secrecy, I will reveal one recipe here for anyone interested in cooking up an authentic Indian curry:

Eggplant Potato Curry (serving size: 2 people)
1 small eggplant, cut into chunks
1 large potato, halved lengthwise and then cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, cut into pieces
1 small piece (half the size of a thumb) piece of ginger, cut into pieces
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 pinch cumin
1 pinch turmeric
oil (any kind)
fresh coriander (if desired)
1. Put eggplant chunks in a bowl of salt water. Set aside.
2. Put garlic, ginger, 1/2 the diced onion, and salt into a mortar and grind with pestle into a paste.
3. Put 2 tbsps of oil and heat over medium high.
4. Add cumin and remaining onion to heated oil.
5. Add the garlic/ginger/onion paste to the pan. Cook.
6. Once the onion has browned, add coriander, chili, and turmeric.
7. Add 1/2 cup water and simmer, uncovered, until water evaporates.
8. Drain eggplant. Once water has evaporated, add the eggplant. Cook, covered, for 2 minutes.
9. Add potatoes. Cover and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
10. Add tomatoes. Cover and cook for 3 additionally minutes, stirring occasionally.
11. Check to see if potatoes are tender. If tender, curry is ready.
12. Sprinkle with fresh coriander if desired. Serve with rice or flat bread.

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