Summer before last I lucked into the trip of a lifetime. My friend Rubai was going back to India to see her family, and I jokingly invited myself along, then the joke tumbled into reality (this seems to happen a lot, and I love it). We ended up staying with various family members or friends and visited Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar, Khandala (by accident), Rishikesh, and other cities. I met a ton of great people, learned a few words of Hindi, saw a million beautiful (and some scary) temples, got my picture taken by strangers, almost fell out of an auto rickshaw in a monsoon, sweated buckets, and generally had an unreal time. And of course, I ate lots, and lots, and lots of good food.
I could easily write a book on the things I loved eating, and post pictures of some of them. Unfortunately my vanity is going to prevent most of that, because it was summer in India and I was a beautiful, sticky shade of red for most of it. I ate chicken tikka wrapped in the most tender flatbread I have ever witnessed; I would go back to India just to eat it once more. They are called roomali roti, which captures some of the poetry that I love about Hindi. Roomali is a handkerchief (a lady’s handkerchief) and this roti was like the embodiment of a fine square of silk that tears gently open at the touch of your teeth, except tastier. Or the cold coffee in recycled glass bottles for fifty cents that chases the sweat from your brow for just a moment and allows you to breathe deep and plunge back into the market, amidst the samosa sellers and bunnies for sale. Oh, and Indian goat. You can’t find it here, so I won’t go into it, for fear of sending myself back into a funk.
But the best food in India came from no stall, no restaurant.. It came from the little, busy kitchen of Leela aunty, Rubai’s aunt we stayed with in Noida, a suburb of Delhi. I could write three books about the wonder of her cooking. She thought it was no big deal, but her cast off leftovers put to shame anything I spend a week planning and executing. I could gain a hundred pounds if I were to live with her for a few months, but I would be an ecstatic blob. Everything she touches has such savor…now I’m her-homesick. Anyways. Back to the point.
I got a few recipes off of Leela aunty, which was difficult, as she has cooked so well for so long that her recipes are all internalized. So she handed over the cookbook that came with her pressure cooker – where she started many years ago. Following please find the recipe for rajma, or kidney beans. It’s a basic staple that I like to eat like I did so often: with chaval (rice) and Coke in a steel glass. Unfortunately I have no steel glasses, so I often beg Meenakshi’s mother to make it for me at their house and then we watch a Bollywood and I pretend that I’m not a white girl from Washington, and that John Abraham will come save me from an arranged marriage. Again, back to the point.