I haven’t celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi for years, because neither Desi nor I are big on religious rituals. But when this festival rolls around each year I cannot help but miss those wonderful days of my childhood in Bombay when my cousins and I would wake up early in the morning, filled with anticipation for the five fun-filled days that lay ahead of us.
There was that raucous trip to the idol-maker with my father and uncles to pick up the clay Ganesha idol, beautifully formed and painted in garish but still pretty colors. On the walk back to my uncle’s home, where the idol would sit in a decorated niche for the next five days, we would shout ourselves hoarse screaming “Ganapati Bappa Moraya,” (Salutations to Ganesha) in an effort to out-cry every other group carrying their own little idol to their own home.
It was a time to meet relatives, those you met regularly and those you only saw once a year when they came to pay their respects to the deity. It was a time to get together with girlfriends and make the rounds of every home in the neighborhood that had their own Ganesha idol, simply so we could eat the prasad (a sweet offering for the deity) that was distributed to guests. It was a time of eating some of the most wonderful food made by the women in the family who would all get together in the tiny kitchen at my uncle’s home and turn out the most amazing dishes.
On the evening of the fifth day, the idol would be carried to the sea, where it would be immersed. It was a poignant time for us kids, although I can imagine now that the adults were perhaps more than just a little relieved after the busy five days.
All this reminiscing made me want to cook up some wonderful Indian sweet today, but unfortunately I just didn’t have the time. So instead I am going to share another dish that I made for last night’s dinner and which, to me, is special enough: Navratan Kurma.
The word “kurma” works like magic on Desi who for some reason will eat anything with this suffix. But he is more than a little partial to Navratan Kurma which incorporates spices and vegetables with the sweetness of fruits and nuts, and is quite delicious. It is also typically rather rich because it uses a good amount of cream.
I replaced the cream with a ground paste of cashewnuts, which is a much healthier substitution and which goes perfectly with the fruits and spices. In fact, even in my pre-vegan days, I’d often use cashewnut paste or pistachio paste as a substitute for cream in meat and vegetable dishes.
I used vegetables I had on hand, including sweet potatoes, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots, but peas, beans and peppers would also be great here. I also added some soy yogurt, which I love, to the recipe, and I think it really enhances the taste.
3 cups mixed vegetables, chopped in a fine dice, and then cooked or microwaved until tender. (I used a mix of potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini and carrots and nuked them with about 1/2 cup of water for around 8 minutes in a microwave-safe bowl covered loosely with a ceramic dish.)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 cup soy yogurt
2 pineapple rings, chopped (I used canned)
1/2 cup cashew nuts, soaked in about 1 cup of water for about half an hour and then ground into a fairly smooth paste (I like a few bits of cashew in there but you could grind it very fine if you prefer).
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
For the masala, powder in a spice grinder:
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp poppy seeds
2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon
2-3 dry red chillies
In a saucepan, heat the canola oil. Add the onion and stir occasionally until brown spots appear.
Add the ginger and garlic and stir another minute. Do not let them burn.
Add the powdered spices and stir until coated with oil and lightly toasted, about a minute.
Now add the tomatoes and turmeric and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes break down.
Add the soy yogurt and let the paste cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add salt.
Add the cooked vegetables and mix well.
When the gravy comes to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer on a low flame for another five minutes for the flavors to incorporate.
Add the pineapple rings and cashewnut paste and heat until just warmed through.
Turn off the heat and garnish with coriander leaves.
I’ll leave you with a picture of Freddie after his appointment today with the cardiologist who sedates him every few months for an ultrasound of his sweet little heart which is functioning with a broken mitral valve. The old guy was completely out of it when Desi took this picture, in fact he still is as I write this, but he still looks awfully cute, doesn’t he?