I recently traveled to India on a research trip and got a lot more than I bargained for. There is truth in the saying "Keep Korma and Curry On." India is a controlled and chaotically enriching assault on the senses which has altered my perception on reality forever. I would go as far as to say that it quite literally blew my mind.
There are so many things to love about a place that holds the most wonderfully vibrant and alive cuisine in the world, coupled with an ancient system of healing and not to mention the traditional home of downward dog.
My biggest takeaway from India was meeting a myriad of wonderfully genuine and generous people who I felt had a strong sense of kinship and community, perhaps I noticed it more because I could see people's dependency upon one another. It wasn't just the kind of dependency which involved getting a step further ahead in business or a personal advancement. It was more of a matter of sticking together for the sole purposes of survival. Being immersed in the human element of India and its people gave me an insight and a sense of perspective that can't be found on a Instagram highlight reel.
One of the many lessons I learnt in India was that life is not about living your dream. It's about living your purpose and for me these two things are very different. For some people living your purpose may be enjoying a simple, happy and uncomplicated life engulfed in personal meaning. For others it may mean the difference between a job and a calling. For me it is both.
The external chaos of India compels you to explore your internal world, let go of the extrinsic and live in the intrinsic to be able to cope with all that is happening externally, the people with leprosy, the snake charmers, a herd of cows on the road, bustling and beeping traffic and a lack of sanitation. It makes you try to want to understand more than who you are and what your values are, but what your true purpose on this planet is. For me being in India meant being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable most of the time which helps you to find your purpose sooner.
Speaking of takeaway, the initial reason for my food safari was an urgent craving to delve into the richness and healing properties of Ayurvedic nutrition and cooking and to sink knee-deep in learning about how to eat right for your constitution or dosha.
One of my first stops was Kerala in South India where I studied Ayurvedic nutrition and a practical cooking course in order to research for my next book, Eat Right for Your Shape.
I've always had a soft spot for Indian cuisine in particular curries and pretty much any Saag I can get my hands on, but I hadn't really experienced the taste of true Indian cuisine until my visit to India. A big attraction of the food for me is that it is mostly vegetarian yet so full of flavour and created with simple ingredients. It was exciting to unearth some of the mysteries of Indian food and learn the art of creating sweet delicacies seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences.
One of the simplest and most magical dishes I came across was a Keralite dish called Vegetable Thoran, a dry vegetable curry. It literally only took a couple of bites for me to fall head over heels in love. Part of the magic of cooking traditional Indian cuisine is that it doesn't have to be about hunting down specific ingredients to make it authentic in a Western sense, such as powdered garam masala, you can use just a handful of ingredients at hand to whip this up quicker than you can say; Holy Haryana. If you're into curries then try my Jolly Good Butter Chicken, or Eggplant and Green Bean Curry if you're vegetarian.
In a nutshell the base ingredients to create a thoran are finely chopped or grated vegetables tempered with mustard seeds and cooked with curry leaves, shallots or onions, freshly grated coconut and spices. You can use any kind of vegetables that are around, carrots, zucchini, cabbage and you can add chili depending upon your preference.
The absolute key to this dish is in your knife handling skills; to create a carefully chopped and constructed pile of goodness it takes calmness and patience and being in the moment, some other facets of Indian wisdom.
Start with good quality organic vegetables where possible and play around until you get the flavours that work for you.
2 TBS coconut oil
1 TBS black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 inch piece of ginger minced
1 small onion chopped fine
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 green chili chopped (optional)
1 TBS turmeric
8-10 small curry leaves (one sprig)
4 carrots grated fine
500 gms green beans chopped on angle very fine
Pinch Celtic sea salt
1/2 cups grated coconut
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 TBS filtered water
Heat the coconut oil in a pan over medium-high heat
Place in mustard seeds and fry until they pop
Add cumin and continue cooking until the colour changes
Add ginger and onion and garlic and sauté until translucent
If using chili pop it into the pan now and cook for a minute
Stir in turmeric and curry leaves
Pour in green beans and a pinch of salt
Stir and cook for a couple of minutes
Add carrot and stir and cook for another couple of minutes
Now pour in coconut and stir, season to taste
Cover the pan with a lid and reduce heat to low and continue cooking until vegetables are soft you may need to add a tablespoon of water here if the mixture is too dry to help the cooking (steaming) process
Garnish with coriander leaves (optional)