Wednesday, September 8

The weekend with Val

This past weekend has been highly anticipated for about the last year and a half. There has been much build up, and let me just say, I was not disappointed. Why was this past weekend so highly anticipated, you might be wondering? Well, because my close family friend Val opened her kitchen to me and taught me some of her traditional Indian cooking methods and recipes, or course! And a wonderful time it was, indeed.
Now, let me preface my cooking experience with Val, with a brief history of my personal connection to India. One of my first Indian experiences was in the second grade, when I attended my uncle Brad's Indian wedding ceremony, in which he married my aunt Sujata. I remember vividly, the colors and smells and excitement in the air on that day, as the beautiful women prepared themselves for the ceremony and others prepared the food for the reception. It was from that point on, that I was in love with Indian culture. At such a young age, I was completely fascinated by the unknown culture of my new aunt.
Then, one year later my brother Ben, a kindergardener at the time, met Bryan. Bryan's parents, Val and Lax are both from India but have raised both of their sons here in Wisconsin. It was Ben and Bryan's friendship, that brought our families together. Since then, our families have remained close and shared many special times with them. It seems that almost every holiday since I can remember, has been shared with them, and my holiday dinner plate has hosted a variety of foods, of both American and Indian decent.
The culmination of my connection with India occurred this past January, at which time I was fortunate enough to be able to travel overseas, to the beautiful country itself. Traveling with my dad and several others from my school for a school business trip, I was transported into the place I dreamed of as a child; there were colors of every hue on almost every surface in the country, the food was flavored in such a beautiful way and with such deliberateness, and the people were so loving and kind and breathtaking. It was this time in India that confirmed my love for India as well as deepened my personal and emotional connection.

In one week, Bryan is heading off to school at Princeton (yahoo!), so this past weekend, Val and Lax hosted a lovely farewell party for him, with a beautiful spread of traditional Indian dishes. On Saturday, I was so fortunate enough to share in the excitement of the celebration, by sharing in the food preparation. Together, Val and I prepared three dishes: Chutney (which I suppose isn't considered a dish, though I could definitely eat it with a spoon), Roti and Paratha. Today, I will share with you the recipe for chutney. I will save the other two for another time, after I have practiced them so that I can give you the best directions possible (I hope you understand!)

Here are the basics of what I learned. However, so much of this cooking experience was benefited by the personal connection and experience with Val in her kitchen, that these recipes can do it no justice:
3 cups of fresh mint
3 cups of cilantro
The juice of 2 limes
15 small green chili peppers
2 inches of fresh ginger
12 ounces of shredded coconut
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
Cumin to taste
1. Remove the mint leaves from the stems (save the stems and any less desirable leaves... these can be dried and added to tea, later). Peel the ginger and grate into a thick paste, using a cheese grater. Remove the stems of the peppers.

2. In a food processor, puree the ginger, peppers, coconut, salt, sugar, cumin, lime juice, 1/2 of the mint, 1/2 of the cilantro, and just enough water to allow the ingredients to liquify. Gradually add more mint and cilantro until desired flavor and consistency is reached. The final chutney should be thick but not dry. You can store extra chutney in an air tight container for several days or even a week.
Chutney is used as a condiment, similar to how some people use ketchup. Pretty much, it can be used on anything (this is probably an exaggeration, but I wouldn't mind using it on anything...) as a flavor booster. Val grows her own mint in her garden. I am not sure how well mint does indoors, but I have to imagine, based on the dense growth of mint in her outdoor garden that this hardy plant would have no problem flourishing indoors as well.

Happy eating! (stay tuned for more of my weekend of food adventures, soon!)

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