Andhra-Style Stuffed Eggplants, And Tips For Traveling Vegan In India

India is point zero for vegetarianism. More than 30 percent of the country’s billion-plus residents shun meat — in fact most people in this group have never, ever eaten a creature that once breathed– and this is perhaps the only place on earth where you can find as many exclusively vegetarian restaurants as non-vegetarian ones.

Which might make it appear odd that I often get this SOS from vegan readers: I’m going to India and I am worried I won’t be able to eat anything. Do you have any tips?

To another vegan, that question makes perfect sense. Because vegetarian India is also incorrigibly milk-happy.

India’s religion-based circle of compassion fails to embrace one of the most horribly abused animals in the food industry: the cow. And most Indians unfortunately turn a blind eye to the fact that the gentle animal they tout as holy gets pumped with hormones, is tethered all day in garbage-filled barns with hundreds of other cows, is denied veterinary care even when she is sick enough to be dying, and is given filthy water to drink. Most cows and buffaloes used for milk stand in their own feces all day and workers trying to manipulate them hit them with sticks and pull them by their tails. All this so people can have their fill of ghee (clarified butter), butter, yogurt, paneer and cheese, all significant components of the average Indian diet.

Vegans visiting India– and a growing number of vegans in India– very understandably want no part of this. But there’s no reason to despair either: while it is true that dairy is heavily consumed in India, the belief that it is impossible to eat vegan in the country is not just far-fetched, it’s a complete myth.

Here are some tips on traveling vegan in India:

–Eat more at South Indian restaurants like Udupi eateries, those incredibly delicious and low-priced outlets that you can find anywhere in the country these days and where you can always find vegan food. Steer away from sweets (although some like the gorgeous jalebi can be vegan) and from foods that specifically say they contain yogurt (and a waiter can guide you on this). At North Indian restaurants, stay away from foods with words like “dahi” and “paneer” in them. If you eat at Indian restaurants in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world, you probably already have a good idea of how that works.

– Explain what you want– or don’t want– to the waiter or, if possible, to the chef. Ask for an explanation of what is in a dish if you can’t tell by the name. And be patient if people don’t get you rightaway. Indians won’t quiz you on why you don’t eat meat because many of us don’t, and they won’t pester you with arguments about how meat tastes better because they know, thanks to their rich vegetarian tradition, that it doesn’t. But they will absolutely, positively not understand why you won’t eat milk products, which are the considered the food of the gods and the wealthy.

–Eating at cheap restaurants may be a bonus because they will not typically use ghee or other milk products which are expensive. But you might be able to make yourself better understood to the waiter and get your specific preferences more easily at an upscale restaurant that caters to tourists. Also, here’s one thing you don’t have to worry about: Indian vegetarian dishes almost never contain meat stocks– again thanks to the large vegetarian community here.

– Research eating choices at the places you are visiting. India may be known for its lacto-vegetarianism, but it is also home to a fast-growing community of compassionate vegans. Indian cities like BombayBangalore and Delhi have large and friendly vegan communities eager to help, and you can and should reach out to them for advice. Vegan India! has an extensive resources page, and Happy Cow has helpful lists of restaurants that are vegan-friendly.

–Learn local words for milk products and meat so you can make yourself better understood. India is gloriously multilingual and while you might not be able to learn how to say “curd” in 22 languages, you can get by in most places with a smattering of Hindi and English. Here are some Hindi and Tamil translations for words you might find useful:

Vegetarian: Shakhahari (Hindi), Saivam (Tamil)

Non-vegetarian: Maasahari (Hindi), Asaivam (Tamil)

Milk: Doodh (Hindi), Paal (Tamil)

Ghee: Ghee (Hindi), Nei (Tamil)

Yogurt: Dahi (Hindi), Thayir (Tamil)

Cream: Malai (Hindi). Not sure what the Tamil word for this is, but if anyone knows, please volunteer.

– When buying foods off the shelves, read the labels. Many Indian foods now do list ingredients, and they usually do so in English. If you plan to do your own cooking, tofu is widely available and so are soymilk and margarine/butter substitutes. You won’t easily find meat substitutes other than TVP, usually called soya granules or chunks, but that’s only more opportunity for eating gloriously healthy grains, legumes, veggies and fruits (and trust me, you’ll meet many you’ve never met before).

–Lastly, and I can’t stress this enough, lighten up. Don’t make a fuss if you happen to be served a sweet that contains regular sugar (often refined with bone char), or kick up a ruckus if you find your dal smells vaguely of ghee even after you specifically told the waiter you didn’t want any. Part of being a conscious vegan is educating people about cruelty-free choices without making your lifestyle look ridiculously rigid and unattainable. Just move on and better luck next time.

And whatever you do, don’t focus so microscopically on the food– as wonderful as that is– that you miss out on the vibrant, high-fidelity and technicolor experience that is India.
***
Today’s recipe is one I snagged from everyone’s favorite Indian chef on YouTube, the VahChef. I had a bag of cute, tender, tiny eggplants that I bought at the Indian grocery store over the weekend and I wanted to cook them up into something special. I usually use these to make Bharli Vangi, a super-delicious, sweet-spicy Maharashtrian dish where you stuff the eggplants with a mixture of coconut, spices, jaggery (an unrefined Indian sugar) and peanuts and then cook them to melt-in-the-mouth tenderness on a low flame.

The VahChef’s also stuffs the eggplants but his recipe is from the state of Andhra Pradesh in South India and uses a different kind of stuffing that’s spicier.

The recipe was really simple to follow and I made just one big change and a small one: instead of deep-frying the eggplants in the beginning, as he does, I oven-roasted them. And I cut down drastically on the number of chillies.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy the weekend, all!

Stuffed Baby Eggplants, Andhra-Style (Gutti Vankai)

Ingredients:

8-9 small eggplants (I used the more commonly found purple ones, but if you’d rather use white or the green Thai ones feel free to). Make two slits in the eggplant lengthwise starting at the tip opposite the stem (not all the way through) so you have something that resembles a flower bud with four petals. Place on a baking sheet coated with a spray of oil, spritz with another spray of oil on top of the eggplants, and bake in a 400-degree oven for 8 minutes until the eggplants begin to just tenderize. Remove from the oven and cool.

For the masala:

Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet, then add one by one, roasting each for a minute over a medium flame:

2 dry red chillies

2 tbsp chana dal (bengal gram dal)

2 tbsp udad dal (black gram dal)

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

10 curry leaves

4 cloves of garlic

Cool the masala ingredients, then powder them coarsely in a blender or a spice grinder.

Place the masala on a dish and add enough water so that the spices come together in a ball.

Divide into 8 or 9 pieces (going by the number of eggplants you have). Stuff each spice ball into an eggplant, taking care not to break off any of the petals.

Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet.

Add the eggplants one by one (don’t overlap) and cook over a medium-low flame, turning over the eggplant four times, once every five minutes, to ensure it is thoroughly cooked on all sides. The eggplant should be fork-tender (meaning a fork should sink into it without resistance).

Serve hot with rice or chapatis and some dal.

**
Snow Dogs

As aggravating as snow can sometimes be to jaded old me, Opie and Lucy never fail to show me just how delightful they think it is:

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Poori Bhaji

Poori Bhaji(puri bhaji) is about as delicious as Indian food gets: and by that I mean pick-your-fingernails-with-your-teeth-to-devour-every-last-crumb delicious.

This is pure comfort food: the kind that gets made at every festive occasion in an Indian kitchen, no matter where in the world that kitchen is. The kind that kids carry to picnic lunches, the oil from the poori making transparent blotches on the newspaper it’s wrapped in. And the kind I feel like eating when I will settle for nothing short of pure perfection at the dinner table.

It wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say that there are perhaps as many versions of Poori Bhaji as there are Indian cooks. Although the poori, or the puffy, deep-fried bread, remains more or less the same except the addition of spices in some cases, the bhaji, or the vegetable component, varies drastically. It’s almost always made with potatoes but everyone puts their own delicious spin on the versatile spud: gravied, dry, spicy, mild, tangy with lemon, or alive with the spicy pungency of curry leaves.

When I lived in Bombay, one of the most popular places to go to if you were craving a plate of Poori Bhaji was Pancham Puriwala, a famously crowded and unpretentious dhaba/restaurant that sits not far from the grand Victoria Terminus railway station. According to Busybee, the now-dead but still-entertaining chronicler of Bombay’s eateries, it predates the British-era VT building and was started by an immigrant from Agra in north India who singlehandedly cooked and sold his Poori Bhaji more than 150 years ago.


The Pancham I was familiar with had grown into a much bigger establishment, but it still sold nothing but poori bhaji. Hundreds of people who worked around the busy Fort area would pour into the restaurant for lunch. It was — if I remember correctly– a salt-of-the-earth establishment with hardy wooden tables flanked by long benches. There’d be some pickles at the center of the table to spice up the meal. The place was intensely noisy and crowded and hot and humid — a microcosm of the city itself– but you could be sure to get your order fast from one of the skinny, super-efficient waiters for a truly nominal price.

I loved the atmosphere, but I never really acquired the taste and fascination for Pancham Puriwala that some of my friends had– perhaps because I had tasted better in my mom’s kitchen.

We Maharashtrians tend to make a dryer version of the potato bhaji– at my parents’ house, the Bhaji was always an ultra-simple, yellow-hued delicacy specked with the green fire of fresh chillies, the lemony bite of coriander, and the smokiness of cumin seeds. It was a dish you couldn’t help but love.

Yesterday, browsing through some of my favorite blogs, I came upon Miri’s post on Poori Bhaji. Just looking at the picture made me salivate. I drove home from work a woman with a mission: Poori Bhaji it had to be for dinner. I knew Desi would agree, too happily.

I’ve posted a detailed tutorial on making pooris before, so I am just going to send you to that link. And my bhaji is a slight variation of the one my family made: instead of adding the curry leaves whole, and then discarding them as some people do, I chop them into small bits and saute them along with the onions because I love how they complement the potatoes in each bite. And I also mash my potatoes a little because that way they are perfect to scoop up with the pooris.

Here it is, a recipe that can make any day– however humdrum– just a little more special. Enjoy!
Batata Bhaji 

Ingredients:

5 medium potatoes, boiled in their jackets and diced. (I prefer russet for these because they mash better, but I had a couple of russet and a few red potatoes yesterday, so I just used a combination. Back home my mom always peeled the potato skin but don’t do that– most of the nutrients in the potato sit right under the skin so by peeling the potato you will turn this healthy veggie into a blob of tasty but starchy nothingness– well, almost.)

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 green chillies, like serrano, minced 1 tbsp grated ginger

10-15 curry leaves, chopped

½ tsp turmeric

Salt to taste

¼ cup coriander leaves

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp canola oil

Heat the oil in a skillet.

Add the cumin seeds and asafetida. When the seeds sputter, add the onions and curry leaves and green chillies and saute until the onion turns transparent, about five minutes on medium heat.

Add the ginger and turmeric and saute a few more seconds. Add the potatoes and stir them in to combine with the oil and spices.

Mash down the potatoes with a potato masher or a heavy ladle so some of the pieces break up but others remain mostly intact. You want the potatoes to start turning slightly golden and crusty at the bottom of the pan.

Add salt and lemon juice and mix well. Garnish with the coriander seeds or, if you like, some grated coconut.

Enjoy with hot, puffy pooris. Find that recipe here.

**
We spent the Christmas weekend in the quiet, friendly city of Saint Louis and then in Springfield, Missouri, where Desi’s sister (who lives in Madras) is visiting with her son. I live in the capital city of monuments and I never thought I’d fall in love with another one but the Gateway Arch absolutely fascinated me with its silk-steel grace. They say the arch changes its look with the seasons and time of day. Although it was dark and damp and snowing for most of our stay, we had a room with a perfect view of the arch and we loved every moment of watching it!

There’s something about the arch that inspires one to shoot it from interesting angles that break up its perfection. Desi, who’s otherwise obsessed with symmetry, got some really beautiful shots and I wanted to share some with you today. I love that picture of the tourists bending over to peer out at the city from the small windows at the top of the arch– you get there by enduring a stifling, claustrophobic ride in a miraculous tram/elevator that makes its way slowly up to the top. In the end, well worth it.

***
For those of you who’ve wondered when I’ll post my Portuguese custard tarts, the answer is, hopefully this weekend. I was waiting for our camera to get back from the repair shop so Desi could get perfect pictures of the tarts, but he’s been doing such a great job with the cellphone camera that I might just give in :).

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Lovely Lisboa

The sidewalks of Lisbon deserve an ode themselves.

They curve, sweep, stagger, climb and drop, leaving a visitor dizzy. But it’s not just that. Paved with sturdy, usually ivory-white cubes of hardy stone, they sometimes burst into a flurry of artistic expression. In plazas and circles and other notably historic spots they mingle with black, blue and other-color stones to make beautiful motifs. And, I suspect, these slippery-when-wet footpaths are responsible for slowing the city down to its charming, easygoing pace.

Desi and I spent a wonderful week recently falling in love with Lisbon, the City of Seven Hills. We landed there on a Sunday, and learned our first lesson about the sidewalks as we (or at least I) huffed and puffed and made our way from the bus stop to the hotel, up one steep hill then another, bags and all.  
When traveling, we are hardy believers in using public transport whenever possible: it gives us, more than anything else, a great little window into the local life. Imagine this in Lisbon: as the bus buzzes around narrow, old-city streets and past buildings festooned with freshly washed laundry and people hanging out at windows, it plays host to a 40-something man in a fading trenchcoat, briefcase clutched in hand and brow creased as he worries, maybe, about how much longer he has his job in the shifting economy? There’s an older woman clutching huge bags of potatoes and chestnuts and other goodies she has just bought at the market and which she will no doubt turn into a delicious dinner for her family. Three happy schoolgirls talking their heads off and sprawled across two seats each, not a care in the world as they chatter on about, perhaps, boys and the new teacher. A teenager with his iPod blaring what sounds like Portuguese hip-hop so loud that it feels as though the bus has piped-in music.

 

You can’t find an easier city than Lisbon to navigate by public transport. Trams and funiculares scurry up and down the hills, an efficient metro chugs swiftly underground, and massive ferries glide across the historic Tejo or Tagus river which was the starting point of Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama’s world-changing voyages.

 

Despite all that Lisbon has going for it, in the week before we left, a question we’d often get from friends was: Why Lisbon?

The cynicism, of course, stems from the fact that Lisbon does not enjoy the hip glamor of its European cousins like London, Paris, Rome, etc. At this moment, Portugal also stands at a particularly trying point in its long life. Once a colonial superpower that ruled nations overseas, the tiny country now plays poor cousin in the European Union to heavyweights like France and Germany. On our flight to Portugal, every international newspaper I picked buzzed with news about Portugal’s deep financial troubles, strikes to protest government austerity measures, and the inevitability of an EU bailout.

 
 

But all of this is just a speck in Portugal’s glory-studded history and does not, for sure, take away from the pure delight of being a visitor to this country. Lisbon is rivetingly, breathtakingly beautiful, and it’s not the polished, sophisticated beauty of your average European city but rather the beauty of raw, real life. In fact, at times the back-to-back apartment buildings with curving balconies and water-stained paint almost reminded me of being back in my delicious hometown, Bombay.  
Climb or take the funiculaire up to one of those high points in the city designed to take a visitor’s breath away and a picture-postcard beauty reveals itself. Houses with walls covered with beautifully painted tiles and red-earth-tiled roofs roll up and down the hills, all the way to the horizon where the Tagus twinkles in the mild November sunlight. Here and there a palace or a church or a castle raises its head. 

 
 

There’s a lot to see and do in and around Lisbon, especially for a history buff. You can visit the beautiful Monasterios Jeronimos in Belem with the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the Belem Tower on the Tagus, or take a bus up to the historic Castelo de Sao Jorge. Or, just for fun, take the 100-year-old, intricately beautiful elevator– Elevador Santa Justa– all the way up to the top to get another great view of Lisbon. Once up top, you can walk to the hip Baixa district, reconstructed after a massive earthquake that rocked Lisbon in 1755, and now a trendy home to restaurants and retailers from around the world.
Or you can just take a load off your feet at one of those broad, beautiful plazas, each one home to a statue of some Portuguese hero or the other, like the Praca de Rossio where young people roller-skate at night on a makeshift rink.
   
More beautiful places are just a short train ride away. We took one morning the train to Sintra, a quaint, delicately beautiful town with rich summer palaces, some now converted to hotels and inns in an effort to preserve them. The colorfully beautiful Pena Palace, open to visitors, looks down on the city and on the Atlantic from its privileged spot on a hill.


The grounds of both the Pena Palace and the Moorish castle nearby, built by Arab intruders all the way back in the 9th century, offer incredibly top-of-the-world views. Both are also swarming with cats. The cats are extremely friendly which perhaps is not surprising since they see the visitors as a source of food. Most will rub against your legs, let you scratch their ears, then sit down and look at you soulfully, much as my own kitty Pubm will when she wants to score a treat.

On the bus from Sintra to Cascais, with a stop at Cabo da Roca– the spectacularly rocky, westernmost point in Europe– my heart was stuck in my throat as the driver climbed up narrow, two-way streets, honking before each precarious turn because the bus swallowed both lanes, leaving no room for a vehicle driving in the opposite direction.

I’ve posted today some of the pictures Desi took of life in Lisbon– I thought you might enjoy looking at those more than just pictures of monuments and structures and landscapes because, honestly, don’t faces tell a better story?


Singing for a living against a beautiful backdrop in Lisbon’s Barrio Alto area

A couple tends to their roses outside their Sintra home.

The 25th of April Bridge across the Tagus, which looks awfully like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco– perhaps because, if Wikipedia is to be believed– it was built by the same company.

 


Colorful fruits and vegetables and more at the Mercado Ribeiro 

  
The traditional and the new: A woman sells roasted chestnuts outside the beautiful building of the Rossio Station, home also to an outlet of international coffee behemoth Starbucks.


A gentleman selling souvenirs in the Alfama district of Lisbon, home to lots of restaurants with live fado (blues) performances. 

Mid-day break 

 
 A local woman on the ferry home from Lisbon, across the mighty Tagus river.



 
All I could think of when I saw this highly self-restrained guy was, what would happen if I left Opie alone with an open door? I dare not think of the possibilities! :)

  
Colorful boats dot the harbor in Cascais



This young fellow, Momo, was a rescue from the streets of Spain, his mom told me. He couldn’t be cuter, as he ran around with her energetically, motivating her as she jogged and stretched at an overlook in Barrio Alto.

 
Locals ride the funiculaire home and to work. The sunshine-yellow tram travels a steep and short path lined on either side by homes and businesses.

 
Tourists enjoy a bird’s-eye view of Lisbon after taking a ride to the top in the Santa Justa elevador, a beautiful iron elevator built in 1902.

 

 
Picturesque Sintra
***
Our camera is on the fritz again, this time with a broken flash. We hope to have it back from the repair shop in a couple of days, and I can then share with you a vegan version of Lisbon’s uber-popular custard tart.

Until then!

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Lucy the Road Tripper

Lucy-car2
Over the long Columbus Day weekend, Desi, Lucy and I took a short road trip through upstate New York. As much as we love to go on road trips, and despite the many, many pet parents we always encounter at rest stops who travel with unflappable dogs and even cats, Desi and I have always had a strict no-pets policy when it comes to our vacations, not least because there are many dangers to traveling with pets. Cats, for instance, tend to hide away for long periods of time in un-findable places when spooked by strange surroundings, and you run the risk of losing them in whatever place you’ve traveled to. And for some dogs at least, traveling in a car for long periods of time and then being holed up in a strange hotel room would be a really stressful experience. Opie, for instance, who can never sit still, hates confined spaces and starts getting antsy within minutes of sitting in a car.
Lucy-car
Still, this time when we made our plans we wondered if we should include Lucy. For one, Lucy is a fantastic car rider– the best I’ve ever known. She will sit in the back seat for hours and you won’t even know she’s there. Second, she loves being with us at all times– a trait that seems to have magnified since all her experiences of the last few months, after she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. She will follow Desi and me up and down the stairs (with three legs) each time we move around, and she fights to go with us every time we step out of the door– something she never did in the past. Also, her chemo medications have to be given to her daily with unfailing regularity and although we know we can completely trust Hallie, who runs the daycare we usually check them into, Desi– the loving dogfather that he is– just felt like he had to do the honors himself.

So we called around and found hotels in Albany and Syracuse that accept doggie guests. We deposited Freddie and Opie at Hallie’s, and off we took for our first road trip with our tremendous dog.
desi-lucy
All said it was a great experience, although not one I’d likely repeat any time soon. For one, we learned a lesson about the solidarity between Opie and Lucy who came to our home just a month apart and who — despite their very significant differences in behavior and energy levels– share a strong bond. All through the trip Lucy seemed a little out of sorts without Opie, and he — according to Hallie– was miserable without her.

For another, as much as Lucy loves car rides, I think she found out on this trip that you can have too much of a good thing. On our way back home from Syracuse we ran into bottlenecks at several points along the highway and ended up spending three hours longer on the road than we had expected.

Vaishy-Lucy
Still overall it was lovely having her around and not having to worry about her. She in turn loved all the extra attention and the treats she was showered with, for the three days that she had us all to herself.

And yes, she did love all those walks in all those strange places with wonderful new smells and calling cards left behind by other road-tripping dogs from all around the country!

albany-statehouse
***

A piece of not-so-great news from this road trip is that I dropped our camera on the beautiful marble steps of an Albany government building and broke beyond repair the lens Desi uses to click all those yummy pictures. As a result, I’ve had no pictures to post and I’d rather not post a recipe without showing you the end result. But a replacement lens is on the way and Desi will be clicking, and I writing, again in no time.

Thanks for hanging in there with us!

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Vaidehi Manni’s Super-Crispy Potato Wadas

Batata Wada, South Indian Style, a vegan, gluten-free recipeMadras is a bursting, flourishing metropolis in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu that remains, to this day, firmly rooted in age-old culture and tradition.

This is where Desi was born and where he grew up before moving to Bombay for a job. Some of his siblings still live there, so it is always a stop on our return trips to India.

My ideas about Madras, or Chennai as it is now called, began to take shape long before I met Desi. As a child growing up in Bombay, I learned of the city through the stories and anecdotes that my best friend and neighbor, Radha, brought back with her after each summer vacation spent visiting relatives there. Radha painted a fascinating land: of arid, acrid summers where some people walked miles to find water; a megalopolis suffused with small-town charm, where neighbors strolled in and out of open doors any time of the day and night and where women gathered in the verandahs of their single-storey homes after the day’s cooking was done to share news of their small but lively worlds.

A city so orthodox that, she told me once, deadpan, a crowd gathered to watch her each time she stepped out of the house wearing pants (saris and salwar-kameezes are de rigueur for women here).

I visited Madras years later for the first time, to visit Desi’s family. The city felt familiar, already, but with many pleasant surprises. The startling blue of the ocean at Marina Beach dazzled this Bombay girl used to the murky-brown of the Arabian Sea that hugs India’s west coast. Mount Road raged, traffic gushing non-stop through its noisy artery. In T-Nagar, the city’s shopping hub, stores bustled with housewives sharply scrutinizing everything from steel coconut scrapers to dazzling silk saris bordered with silver and gold threads to expensive, diamond-studded jewelry at the ostentatious Thanga Maligai store.

I loved everything about the city. Even getting on one of the green Pallavan buses with left-side seats reserved for women and driving over Beach road and the white, curved bridge that swept over the Coovum river was a tiny thrill.

Tamilians are nothing if not religious, and the city is packed with temples like the Kapaleeshwar temple in Mylapore with its intricate, jewel-hued gopuram, historic churches like the Santhome Cathedral on Marina Beach, and the twinkling Thousand Lights mosque on Mount Road.

My favorite landscapes, though, were the semirural ones. Quiet (then) suburbs like Chromepet, where Desi’s parents lived. Their home was a flat, single-storied building topped with a terrace and fronted by a wide verandah where his father would spend a good deal of time chatting with and waving to neighbors as they strolled by. Behind the house was a well that, he told me, had never run dry, even in the harshest summers. The yard was dotted with mango and coconut trees and closer to the house Desi’s mom, Amma, had planted all sorts of vegetables.

A short train ride away, further from the city, was Desi’s alma mater, Madras Christian College, its campus rich with red earth, emerald trees and scurrying wildlife.

Over my many trips back to Madras, I’ve watched with some sadness as it has changed, just like the rest of India. The prosperity that has suffused the country’s middle class has sprawled here too, perhaps more rapidly than it has any other place. Distant suburbs, once brown, dusty spreads of land, are now packed street to street with single-family homes. The nearer suburbs, once lined with single-family homes, are now filled with taller buildings bustling with families. Bright new cars and two-wheelers roar on narrow neighborhood roads not quite ready to be driven on.

Desi’s parents have passed on and their beautiful home has been replaced by an apartment building.

The road from the airport is fringed by expensive hotel chains to accommodate foreign travelers drawn by business to this high-tech hub, and, sometimes, prodigal children visiting from recently-set-up homes far far away. Madras, with more engineering colleges than any other city in India, ships out thousands of software engineers to countries like the United States each year.

But underneath all these nouveau trappings, the city holds rigidly on to a culture shaped by centuries of tradition. And, it’s true, women usually don’t wear the pants, if you know what I mean.

A few years back, traveling around Madras on a work assignment to explore the reasons behind why India produces so many engineers and doctors compared to the United States, I interviewed families and students in the city. While more and more women were becoming engineers and going out of their homes to work, some things remained unchanged: most are found husbands for and married off as soon as they’ve stepped into their early 20s. And while some continue to bring in the bread and butter it, they are also expected to return to more traditional roles in their families the minute they stepped in through their homes’ thresholds.

This past week, Desi’s brother and sister-in-law, both natives of Madras who’ve lived in Sydney for the past two decades and raised their children there, were visiting with us. To me, every visit from my Tamil relatives is a great opportunity to learn more about the foods of their native land. Vaidehi manni, my sister-in-law, made for us these incredibly delicious batata wadas that I am sharing today.

In the part of the world I come from, batata wadas are balls of cooked potato mixed with spices, dipped in a chickpea batter, and deep-fried. This batata wada, or potato wada, was differently delicious. Incredibly crunchy, it has a melt-in-your-mouth texture that makes you forget, for at least as long as you’re eating it, that it probably has a bazillion calories in it.

But what the heck– everyone deserves some indulgence once in a while, don’t they?

Here’s the recipe, then. Enjoy, all!
Vaidehi manni


A south Indian potato wada, vegan and gluten-free

Potato Wadas

Ingredients:

3 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed

1 medium onion, chopped fine

2 green chillies, minced

2 tbsp chickpea or garbanzo flour (besan)

2 tbsp rice flour

1 tbsp grated ginger

8-10 curry leaves, crushed

Salt to taste

Oil for deep-frying

Mix all the ingredients well.

Heat the oil in a pan wide enough to deep-fry in. If possible, use a thermometer to ensure it reaches between 350 and 375 degrees before you begin to fry.

Make a ball of the potato dough, about 3/4 of an inch in diameter, and place it on your fingers.

Using the thumb of the same hand, flatten it out into a disc, about 1 1/2 inches wide.

Slip the wadas into the oil, as many as the pan will take at a time without becoming overcrowded.

Fry each side until golden-brown.

Serve hot with chutney or just enjoy by itself.


***

I have been on a long break, I know, and many of you have been worrying and wondering about Lucy. She’s doing quite well, and seems to be getting better every day at adapting to her tripawed body. She’s been chasing squirrels, running up and down the stairs and doing just about everything she ever did.

We take her this Thursday to the oncologist to determine her chemotherapy course. Desi and I have our fingers crossed that she’s going to defy all odds and live to be …25, at least! Now that would be a record. :)

A huge thank-you woof and sloppy kiss from Lucy to Mints of one of my favorite blogs, Vadani Kaval Gheta. Mints sent Lucy some delicious vegetarian treats as a get-well gift. Normally an affirmed carnivore (my kids are not vegan), Lucy surprised us all by gobbling these down faster than I could give them to her.

And thanks to all of you, kind readers, for keeping Lucy and us in your minds– we love you!

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.