I grew up in a bursting-at-the-seams apartment building in Bombay and at any time of the day we were enveloped in the delicious scents and sounds and flavors of foods from around the country. The spicy-pungent perfume of the ajwain from Mrs. Sinha’s North Indian chana masala bubbling away on the stove. The popping of tiny black mustard seeds in oil which Mrs. Raval would then pour over her slippery-delicious, bright yellow rolls of Gujarati khandvi. The sizzle that rose from the red-hot griddle the instant Mrs. Iyer, a Tamilian, poured a ladleful of white dosa batter right in the center.
Bombay is not a very green city, but in our little housing society we had a few, precious trees, including a handful of fruit trees. There was a gooseberry tree that carpeted the ground with thousands of acrid-sour, translucent-green fruit for a few weeks each year. A guava tree that attracted beautiful parrots flying free in the wind– a treat for eyes used only to seeing caged parrots with their wings clipped and taught to spout inane human words.
There were a couple of coconut trees with their tall, ringed, brown trunks that shot all the way up into the sky and then burst into a cap of wide, dark green leaves with spiky fronds. And the crowning jewel: an ancient mango tree that each summer began to birth a profusion of green fruit: nothing ever stayed long enough on the tree to actually ripen, thanks to all the neighborhood kids who could aim beautifully with a pebble.
As a child, of course, I just knew to enjoy all this diversity and richness but not really appreciate it. Looking back I can see how it shaped me into the cook I am today.
When I make a mushroom biryani, I can jog my tastebuds for their memory of the rich food I’d eat at the home of my best friend, Shahnaz, whose family had uprooted itself long ago, just before India’s partition, from Lahore. When I make chana masala, I try to evoke the luscious scent of Mrs. Sinha’s kitchen. And I feel incredibly lucky to have the memory of how a slice of raw, green mango dipped in a smidgen of chilli powder and salt jolted each one of my senses alive.
All these memories of food and the incredible people who introduced me to them came rushing up this week when I sat down to write this post for Project Food Blog, a contest from Foodbuzz. If you’re a blogger, you’re likely already familiar with Foodbuzz, but if you’re not, they are a blog aggregator that I’ve been signed up with for the last two-plus years. This is a multi-step contest and the first step is to introduce my readers to what shaped me as a food blogger.
Holy Cow! is a confluence of my love for cooking, writing and animals, not in that order. I started cooking for the first time only in my early 20s, but when I did, I had a wealth of food memories to draw from because of the many cultures and cuisines I had been introduced to as a child. I became a vegan after I adopted my first rescue Lucy (about whom you will read more later in this post) because I realized I couldn’t love some animals and contribute thoughtlessly to the suffering of others. And I became a blogger because writing is always how I have best been able to express myself. A blog seemed the perfect forum to share with the world my animal-free versions of the dishes I’d always loved and the ones I was still discovering.
Now here’s what I need you to do: if you enjoy reading Holy Cow! be sure to vote for me between Sept. 20 and 23. And wish me luck!
Any food memory of my childhood would be incomplete without lassi which is, by far, one of the most popular items requested by friends coming over for dinner. When I became a vegan, those requests fell silent because the key ingredient in lassi, of course, is buttermilk or yogurt.
As children, my brother and I would sometimes go down to the neighborhood dairy farm to treat ourselves to some lassi. Now before you imagine up a pasture with cows, let me tell you that a “dairy farm” in Bombay was usually a small storefront that sold all sorts of dairy products like milk, ghee, butter and yogurt. The vendor would sit out front, stirring a huge wok of bubbling, reducing milk. He’d pour the sweet, cool buttermilk in tall, steel glasses, top it with a thick slice of cream, and hand it to you. It was divinity in a glass.
So making a vegan lassi, then, has been something of an obsession with me– both for my sake and that of my lassi-loving friends. And although I’d hatched a recipe for mango lassi long, long ago, I never actually got around to making it until this weekend. I wish I had– this lassi is so blissful, you’ll want to make it everyday.
I want to share with you news on Lucy and this is already getting to be a longish post, so I’ll stop chatting for a bit and get on with the recipe. Enjoy, all!
(Makes two servings)
2 cups mango puree (I use the pulp available in Indian stores which is really the best for lassi, if you want an authentic flavor)
2 cups vanilla soymilk (feel free to use vanilla-flavored almond milk which will result in a less thick lassi)
4 green cardamom pods, finely powdered
1 tbsp maple syrup (substitute with sugar if you prefer or leave out altogether if you like your lassi not as sweet)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy.
Pour into tall glasses, over ice if you prefer.
Garnish with some mint and, if you like, some vegan whipped cream.
I know many among you have been eager for news on Lucy who was diagnosed in April with osteosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer. The road since has been at times tumultuous and unpredictable and difficult but not for a moment have we regretted our decision to have her treated so she can be happy and healthy as long as possible.
Five months since her diagnosis, Lucy’s doing really well. She lost a leg– the one where the cancer was found– in April, but she has adjusted quite well to being tripawed. Of course, she can’t run up and down the steep stairs to the backyard as fast and as confidently as she once did, but that does not mean she stays away from them either: she just takes them on more slowly and sometimes — rarely — with a little help from a sling.
Lucy went through four courses of intense chemotherapy during which platinum-based agents were injected into her body. While she came through the first three courses with mild side-effects, she gave us a real scare after the last session when she had to be rushed to the hospital with a fever of 107 degrees (dogs usually have a temperature of around 101 degrees). We found out her white blood cell count had dropped to zero as a result of the chemotherapy, leaving her body defenseless against the smallest of infections. For two days she battled the fever and we prepared for the worst. But with the help of her wonderful doctors and plenty of IV fluids and antibiotics she did pull back and slowly returned to her old self.
Lucy is now on metronomic treatment, which is a small, maintenance-strength dose of chemotherapy, that she takes in capsule form each day. She has been happy, healthy, and so far there seems to be no sign that her cancer has spread. She loves to walk, as she always did, although she needs more sitting breaks because her three legs tire more easily. She even races around the backyard chasing squirrels with her little scampy brother, Opie. And she still tries to eat everyone’s food.