I was chopping tomatoes when George wandered past, sticking his head over my shoulder to watch.
“What are those for?” he asked. Since it was nearing dinner time, I replied in my best duh! tone of voice. “For dinner, of course.”
Then he meandered to the stove, where veggies were simmering, their aroma wafting through the kitchen.
“Mmmm, what’s this?” he continued, so I listed the ingredients.
“It smells wonderful! I can hardly wait,” he said, promising words that any cook loves to hear, especially when she’s trying something new.
This was Friday, which means another of my rice-bowl meals was underway. (Check here for an earlier blog about the history and meaning of rice-bowl meals, as well as the first recipe in this Lenten series.) This week our visit was to India, where “dalma with spinach,” or vegetable stew, is a staple in some regions. I suspect some of the ingredients have been Americanized to compensate for things not readily obtainable here (do they have potatoes in India?), but the spirit of the dish is preserved as closely as possible.
As I cooked, and later as we ate, we learned about the East Indian Singh family, Megha and Raj and their two children and extended family, who can’t get to market to buy and sell food when the Malaguni River floods. And, if the waters don’t recede quickly enough, their rice fields can fail, leaving the family in financial danger.
Catholic Relief Services has provided new farming tools and techniques survive those flood times–like planting vegetables in a kitchen garden, in special sacks, which allows Megha to raise them above the flood lines and thus ensuring that they have access to nutritious foods.
All I had to do to prepare this meal was to read the directions and head for the store. Not much of a hardship. But still, a simple, meatless meal like this does help put me in solidarity with a family whose meals are always simple and meatless. And it makes me grateful for the blessings of a full pantry and well-stocked grocery shelves.
Want to try this recipe for yourself? I think you’ll have fun fixing it as well as eating it.
• 1 cup water
• 1-1/2 cups pigeon peas or black eyed peas, cooked
• 1 cup pumpkin or butternut squash, cubed
• 1/2 cup potatoes, cubed
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/3 tsp turmeric
• 1 Tbs olive oil
• 3 dry red chilis, broken into bits
• 1 tsp cumin seeds
• 1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
• 3 cups spinach, chopped
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/4 tsp chili powder
Mix peas, pumpkin or squash, potatoes, salt and turmeric in a pan with water. Cook until vegetables are soft–about 15 minutes–and set aside.
In a separate pan, heat oil. To the oil, add chilis, cumin seeds and tomatoes. Fry until tomatoes are soft. Add spinach and stir until soft. Combine both mixtures, adding cumin and chili powder (if a spicy dish is desired) and simmer for 2 minutes. Serve over hot rice.
Dry red chilis are hard to find around here, so I just added some crushed red pepper flakes. A little of those go a long way, so be careful! And since I do love spices, I added everything they suggested. The rice I used was, again, my favorite: organic basmati brown rice. Best flavor in the world, but it takes a bit longer to cook than white rice so you have to start it ahead of time.
I also served some apple slices to counteract the spices and clear the palate, so to speak, between bites. It was a perfect combination.
If you want to watch a video about the Singh family, visit http://www.crsricebowl.org and click on “stories of hope/around the world.” And stay tuned for next week, when George and I pay a culinary visit to Zambia.