Naipaul, like many of Trinidad’s natives, traced his roots further back to India– he was the descendant of indentured Indian laborers shipped into the Caribbean by the British colonizers (that’s why Caribbean food has strong overtones of Indian cuisine). I was a kid when Charu, who’s married to my cousin Neetu and who was a journalist for a Bombay newspaper, got the enviable job of interviewing Naipaul and accompanying him as the writer researched some of Bombay’s venues for a book.
Neetu’s sister, Maithili, was my best friend, and I’d spend a lot of time at their home. Every day Charu would return with stories that I don’t remember any more but which, I recall, dovetailed perfectly with Naipaul’s fame as a rude, cranky, egotistical and eccentric character. But there was no doubt that Charu was enjoying every minute he was spending with this legendary personality.
Just how lucky he’d been became clearer to me when I read my first Naipaul book (also Naipaul’s first): a short novel written in 1957, called The Mystic Masseur. The book was made into a movie some time in the last decade with Aasif Mandvi (the “brown guy” on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart) in the lead role and it was pretty good too.
Mystic Masseur remains, to date, my favorite Naipaul work because I’m a sucker for intelligent humor and irony, and this book has loads of it. The story centers around a Trinidadian of Indian origin, Ganesh, and the hilarious journey he makes from an unsuccessful masseur to a super-succesful mystic who “miraculously” heals people, to a politician.
What makes the book truly remarkable is the beauty of Naipaul’s writing, the delightful character of his words and how beautifully they capture the colloquialisms of the English spoken in Trinidad:
“My mother distrusted doctors and never took me to one. I am not blaming her for this because in those days people went by preference to the unqualified masseur or the quack dentist.
‘I know the sort of doctors it have in Trinidad,’ my mother used to say. `They think nothing of killing two three people before breakfast.’
This wasn’t as bad as it sounds: in Trinidad the midday meal is called breakfast.”
You could definitely have my Green Beans and Potato Curry for a Trinidadian breakfast, along with these delicious stuffed rotis that I posted yesterday. Here’s the recipe, adapted from a Sri Lankan curry from World Vegetarian. Enjoy!
2 cups french-cut green beans (I used frozen)
2 medium potatoes, diced
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp finely grated ginger
2 green chillies, minced
2 tsp Trinidadian spice mix (recipe follows)
1/2 cup canned or fresh coconut milk (should be quite thick)
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Heat oil in a skillet. Add the curry leaves and onions and saute until the onions turn translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the garlic, ginger and green chillies and saute another minute.
Add the green beans and stir-fry around 2 minutes. Now add the spice mix and turmeric and stir to coat the vegetables.
Add the coconut milk along with 1/2 cup of water, the potatoes and salt to taste. Bring the curry to a boil over medium heat, then cover, lower the heat, and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes or until all the veggies are tender.
Stir in the lime juice.
Serve hot with Stuffed Rotis or with any flatbread.
Trinidadian spice mix:
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
10-15 black peppercorns
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp of mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds
Roast all the spices together in a small, dry skillet until they turn a couple of shades darker. Be vigilant and stay with them– you don’t want them to burn.
Grind into a fine powder in a coffee grinder or spice grinder. Store any unused spice mix in an airtight jar in a dark place.
I’ll be posting the roundup of IAVW: Malaysian this weekend, so stay tuned for some great recipes. And don’t forget to send your entries for IAVW: Indian to Graziana at Erbe in Cucina all of this month.
Have a great weekend, folks!