digesting india + a recipe for ginger lime soda
I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I have a good excuse, I was in India…eating. India was all I wanted it to be and more but if I got into it, this would be a very long post, so I’ll try to keep it succinct and cover just my food highlights.
My trip started in the bustling city of Mumbai and then I did a little bit of hopping around the southern state of Kerala. The food was completely different in the three cities that I visited and while I eat New York Indian food at least once a week, I was enthralled by the nooks and crannies of this intricate cuisine.
I’m not lying when I say that my local Indian restaurant’s cooking (Spice Garden) tastes pretty similar to the basic Indian dishes I was eating in Mumbai. Things like paneer tikka, bhindi masala, malai kofta and all the wonderful breads tasted pretty identical. What was different was that before every meal we were served an accompaniment of mango pickle, raw red onions (or sometimes pickled pearl onions) and sliced sweet lime. I loved munching on the raw onion sprinkled with lime while I waited for my food and the mango pickle was my substitution for salt. I rarely saw salt and pepper shakers at the table (I hardly ever needed them), but just a tiny dribble of the mango pickle elevated the flavor of any saucy dish. Mango pickle doesn’t taste like mango at all. It is a condiment that is prepared by preserving green mangoes in oil, chili and salt. It’s super salty, sour and spicy so a little goes a long way.
Besides the extensive savory breakfast options available at our hotel, the most memorable thing I ate in Mumbai was an order of clams smothered in a thick paste of green chilies, ginger and coriander at the Melting Pot. I sopped up every last drop of sauce with buttered naan and washed it down with a refreshing mojito.
While I didn’t take much to Indian desserts, I did love the kulfi, a firm textured ice cream that is served sliced. The “plain” flavor at Moti Mahal was super creamy, firm enough to chew and tasted like dulce de leche. Yum!
Cochin was my first stop in Kerala and it was a food dream come true! It was here that I got to drink ginger lime sodas and eat fish at every meal. Firm white kingfish was either smothered in a tomato-coconut sauce, steamed in a banana leaf or simmered in a spicy tomato curry. My choice of rice? Coconut basmati every time.
Munnar was a breath of fresh air after the intense, sticky heat of Cochin. We stayed at homestay called Rose Gardens up in the mountains overlooking manicured tea plantations. The owners, Tomy and Rajee, housed us and prepared breakfast and dinner every day.
All of our meals consisted of many small dishes so we got to try a little bit of everything. I couldn’t tell you what I ate exactly, but what has stayed with me is the use of coconut in Rajee’s cooking. She prepared a stiff (not soupy) vegetable curry that tasted strongly of coconut, and not from canned milk but from freshly grated coconut. For breakfast she prepared a mixture of rice flakes and coconut (again, freshly grated) which we mixed with mashed steamed bananas one morning. The follow day we had soft crepes filled with coconut, sugar and drizzled with honey from Tomy’s honey bees.
Most of the spices, herbs and vegetables used in our meals came from Tomy’s backyard, which we got a complete tour of. Bananas and yogurt were also a big part of our meals at Rose Gardens. Yogurt, or fresh curd, was spooned over our rice to tame the heat of the meal and miniature bananas picked right off the tree were served with every meal.
Not once in the two weeks that I was away did I feel like I couldn’t keep eating Indian food everyday. The rich flavors of every meal kept me satisfied and somehow regulated my eating. I have yet to attempt to make any of the dishes that are still lingering on my tongue but I was able to get the juicer up and running today to press some fresh ginger for a taste of the spicy Kerala beverage I loved so much. When ordered, a glass was delivered with about 1-1/2 inches of lime and ginger juice, a bottle of soda water and sugar syrup. You could adjust the spiciness and sweetness of the drink as desired.
ginger lime soda
- 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons ginger juice
- 2-4 teaspoons agave
- 1 bottle club soda, chilled
- Squeeze limes and divide juice among two cups.
- Add a tablespoon of ginger juice to each cup.
- Add one teaspoon agave to each cup; mix well.
- Top off with club soda.