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India is such a cornucopia of distinct cultures, historical backgrounds and religions, that somewhere in the subcontinent there is a festival for everyone in the world. It is rich in pageantry, color and diversity. Best of all, it brings the peoples together.
Christians lived in India for centuries even before the arrival of the Bristish. St. Thomas, believed to have been one of Christ's twelve apostles, came to India in the first century A.D. and he spent his life preaching the doctrines of Christainity. St. Francis Xavier, a great Catholic missionary spent major part of his life in India. His remains are preserved in Goa, former Portuguese colony in western region. Christians are in a very small number, though, there are pockets for example, in Bombay, Calcutta, Kerala and Madras where you will find majority of Christians. Some historic churches in the country are impressive. Goa is called as the "Rome of the east" on account of its many spectacular churches large and small, that dot the landscape.
In the subcontinent all leading cities, towns and churches celebrate the birth of Christ with singing, entertaining guests, and decorating beautiful trees during Christmas. Since the British-Raj, however, Christmas has gained more popularity. Usually it is followed by the grand finale of Hindu feasts, Diwali, festival of lights celebrated in October-November.
As youngsters while growing up in India, my brother, my sister and I would look forward to Christmas too; especially to those "exotic" goodies -- cookies, candies, fruitcakes, pastries and assorted other cakes, a sweet change from the hot and spicy versions of 'Indian' snacks. Now I smile to myself when my children start the countdown before Christmas. They look toward decorating the tree, gift-wrapping, visiting friends and dining.
Serve the following dishes as part of an Indian feast or accompany with Western courses.
Mixed Nuts and Dried Fruits Curry
Nuts and dry fruits curry makes an elegant vegetarian entrée at the holiday table.
2 tablespoons mild oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 ½-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
2 green chiles, stemmed and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups chopped tomatoes
3/4 cups mixed nuts (almonds, pistachios and cashews)
1 cup plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 tablespoons butter or clarified butter
4 dried apricots, chopped
½ cup sultanas or raisins
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
2 squares silver or gold leaves
Cherries for garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy pan over moderate heat. Add the onion. Stir and cook until onion starts to brown about, 8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and chiles. Cook 3 to 4 minutes more. Add the spices and cook until aromatic. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until soft. Turn off the heat and transfer to a blender container. Add 1 tablespoon of mixed nuts and puree until smooth. Set aside. Mix the yogurt and water and keep until needed.
Heat the butter in the same pan over moderate heat. Add the remaining nuts and toast for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the apricots, and sultanas. Stir for 1 minute. Add the spice-onion puree. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the yogurt mixture and salt. Bring the curry to a gentle boil, and simmer, covered, until thick, for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with gold leaves and cherries. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Fragrant Cauliflower with Purple Poppy Seeds
I have replaced traditional white poppy seeds with the purple ones. The appearance is prettier.
1 pound cauliflowerets
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup grated fresh coconut
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
3 tablespoons mild oil
1/2 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons purple poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup water
Place the cauliflowerets in a casserole. Combine the vinegar, lime juice, turmeric and salt in a small bowl. Pour on top of the flowerets and marinate for 10 minutes.
Combine the tomatoes, coconut and cilantro in a blender container and process into a smooth puree. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds. When the seeds pop, stir in the onion, garlic and ginger. Stir and cook for 4 minutes. Add the poppy seeds, coriander and cayenne. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the coconut-tomato mixture and cook for 5 to 6 minutes stirring constantly. Add the cauliflower and the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook until the sauce is thick, about 6 to 8 minutes. Serves 3 to 4.