Diwali is called "the festival of lights" because literally it is a celebration of light and illumination. Diwali is a Hindi word but it comes from the Sanskrit Deepavali, which means "a row of lights." The holiday symbolizes for us the vanquishing of ignorance that overwhelms human life and spirit, and the driving away of darkness with the light of knowledge and hope. We celebrate Diwali in order to embrace hope and the positive values of this life, and to leave behind those thoughts and memories that cloud us in darkness. It is celebrated with great pageantry across India and, it is a festival that always leaves me in deep thought. Almost all homes have firework displays. Skylines of the cities are ablaze with colors from fireworks (to the point that one cannot see even the car 2 feet in front of you), homes outlined in shimmering oil lamps and candles that trace every line of the architecture. The shimmer of these lights makes even the ugliest buildings become sexy for that week of celebration. I, for one, can never watch fireworks in the U.S. around the Fourth of July without tears coming to my eyes. Memories overwhelm my emotions and choke my existence. Such is the life of many first generation immigrants. We live suspended between cultures, in a time warp, never perfectly in place anywhere, always striving for more.
This last year has given me great reason to believe in the larger good that prevails in all of us, across oceans. Irrespective of our beliefs, our spoken languages, or our ethnic make up, we are all wanting the same magic to touch our lives. We all have dreams. We all have love to share and crave. We all want to grow and support each other. We all rise and fall, laugh and cry, breathe and eventually stop breathing. Life that lives inside each of us has no one form. It cannot be called the ownership of any one people. It is what it is: LIFE!
As we celebrate Diwali in India on October 28th, my family will be surrounded by relatives and friends. Panditji, our family's chef will be making lots of wonderful foods. Shared below is a recipe for Kathal (Jackfruit). He will be making it into a biryaani, a recipe that has become our family tradition. Hope some of you will enjoy preparing this vegetable dish, and perhaps even adventure into making it into a biryaani.
Jackfruit in a Spiced Tomato Sauce
Kathal Kee Sabzi
This is one of my father's and sister's favorite dishes. I remember my father playing a joke on family friends who ate meat; he'd invite them over for dinner and tell them that for this night alone, he was breaking his rule of no meat in the house to serve a chicken curry, especially for them. The friends, suspicious of my jokester father, couldn't figure out what they were eating. It didn't taste like chicken...but it couldn't be a vegetable either, could it? The truth is that jackfruit has such a dense, meaty texture and mild flavor that, with sauce, it's very hard to tell exactly what it is.
You can find jackfruit fresh in Indian or some Caribbean grocers, or canned in Indian stores; canned works perfectly well in this recipe. I also make a jackfruit biriyani with this recipe, layering it with par-cooked rice just as in other biriyani recipes. The warm spices of the tomato sauce tastes lovely with the rice and the meaty texture of the vegetable is such that it tastes satisfyingly like a chicken and rice dish! Canned jackfruit works perfectly well in the biriyani, too.
1-1/2 pounds jackfruit (about 1)
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus extra for deep-frying
1-1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 medium red onions, finely chopped in the food processor
2 teaspoons salt
2 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 ripe tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 fresh hot green chili, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. Using a mortar and pestle or an electric spice grinder, grind the garlic to a paste with the whole cumin seeds.
2. To prepare the jackfruit, first coat the blades of both a large chef's knife and a paring knife with oil. (The flesh of jackfruit is sticky and the oil will make it easier to cut through it.) With the chef's knife, cut off the stem end and then cut the jackfruit in half lengthwise through the stem end. Cut each half in half, lengthwise again through the stem end. Then use the paring knife to cut off all of the prickly brown skin. Cut the flesh into 1-1/2- to 2- inch chunks.
3. Heat 1-1/2 to 2 inches of oil in a deep saucepan or kadai to 360°F over medium-high heat. (To gauge the temperature of the oil without using a thermometer, drop a piece of bread about 1-inch square into the hot oil; when the oil reaches 360°F, the bread should float to the surface of the oil and turn a golden brown color in about 45 seconds.) Carefully slide about half of the jackfruit pieces into the oil and deep fry, turning every now and then with a slotted spoon, until golden brown all over, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Fry and drain the remaining jackfruit. Set aside.
4. Heat the 3 tablespoons oil in a large wok, kadai, or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
5. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to brown around the edges, about 10 minutes.
6. Add the garlic paste and cook, stirring, until the raw smell disappears, about 30 seconds.
7. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
8. Now add 1 tablespoon of water and cook, stirring, until the onion begins to stick, about 1 more minute.
9. Add the fresh tomato puree and tomato paste, and stir to combine. Then stir in 1 cup of water, the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the garam masala. Carefully fold in the jackfruit (it will break up into bits if you stir too vigorously). Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring gently, 5 minutes.
10. Stir in the chopped chili and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt. Spoon into a serving dish, sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of cilantro, and serve hot.
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Will be posting more news soon, about Dévi, about the American Masala Collection, our farm, and more.
Wishing all of you a great season ahead. Full of cheer, merriment and much happiness.