Often when a friend wants to show you that you are important to them, they give you a signal. In the states that might include a card, a small personal gift, or helping you in some way. In different countries the signs of true friendship often take different forms.
It's been 13 years since my last trip to India, but certain friends are still very close to my heart. Friends, that despite differences in culture, language, beliefs and age, were generous with their time and thoughts. I'm always amazed at how simple it is to find common connections when you are looking for them. These individuals extended a hand of friendship in many ways, but most effectively by offering sustenance.
Chai IS the lifeblood of India. Served in scant shot glasses from dawn until way past dusk, this beverage is EVERYWHERE you look. It's in little make-shift cafes, sold from chai-wallahs at every bus station, train station and street corner...brewing in every home.
I remember sitting in open-air chai shops in small villages drinking creamy, ultra-sweet chai with friends. True Indian chai is a far cry from the watered-down American coffeehouse version. REAL village chai is made with thick buffalo milk, considerably too much sugar, black tea, and cardamom pods--if you were really lucky. One new friend who spoke English well, nicknamed the cardamom pod the VIP nut. She explained that cardamom only went in the chai cups of those they considered special. If they didn't really care for the person, and were just serving them chai to be polite--you would skip the cardamom! We partook of chai multiple times throughout the day. Everywhere we went, new friends would offer it with bright smiles. I miss those chai over-dosed summers.
Another item friends serve to let you know you are an honored guest, is a mixed rice dish. Depending on the part of the country you're in, it's either Biryani or Puloa. Both are "rice and meat" dishes, but Biryani is rice layered in a large pot with meat, potatoes, yogurt, milk and spices. Pulao is more of a pilaf-style dish, so the meat and rice are stirred in before cooking. Yakhni Pulao tends to include meat stock, dried fruit and nuts, while biryani is silky and dense due to the inclusion of yogurt and potatoes.
My friends explained that these dishes were always reserved for special occasions or special guests. No different than a Thanksgiving turkey or standing rib roast. They are meals you wouldn't whip up on just any given night! However after preparing both rice dishes, I can tell you this tradition is NOT due to great difficulty in the kitchen. Most likely, it has to do with cost.
Puloa is a relatively quick dish and boasts vibrant flavors and textures! The aroma itself, is worth more than a bucket of saffron! I love Puloa best with lamb, but find it more accessible (and affordable) made with chicken...your call!
The language of friendship is not words but meanings. ~Henry David Thoreau
2 ¼ cups water
1 whole star anise
1 stick cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, cracked
4 black tea bags, or ¼ cup loose black tea
2 cups whole milk or half-n-half
¼ cup sugar
Press your fingernail into the cardamom pods to crack them. Bring the water, tea, star anise, cinnamon, and cardamom to a boil.
Boil for 3-5 minutes until the tea is very dark and has reduced to about 2 cups. Strain and add the sugar. Add the milk and stir until hot.
Place the (used) cardamom pods in the bottom of the cups for good friends!
Makes 4 American-sized servings or 12+ Indian-sized servings!
1 ¼ lbs. chicken breast or lamb, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup basmati rice
1 ¼ cup stock (chicken or beef)
4 green cardamom pods
10 whole peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
1 small pinch of saffron
2 Tb. fresh grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1/3 cup chopped dried apricot
½ cup almonds or cashews
Chopped Cilantro for garnish
In a large pot heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaf, anise and saffron. Stir for to release the flavors and add the onions.
Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add the ginger and garlic and sauté another 2 minutes. Add the chicken to the pot. Salt liberally and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Next add the rice and stir to coat it in oil. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling pour the sultanas on top, cover, and reduce the heat to low.
Steam the rice for 15 minutes. Then remove from heat. Stir in the chopped apricots and nuts and cover again.
Allow the puloa to sit another 5 minutes, covered. Serve with cilantro sprinkled on top! Serves 4.
And now for the SEVEN winners of my very first giveaway...
The 4 winners who will receive Smoking J's Habanero Hot Sauce, Imladris Farm's Specialty Preserves, and French Broad Chocolate Lounge Truffles are:
Priscilla @ She's CookingMegan @ The Fresh Fridge
The 2 winners who will receive Gifts Bags from Blessed Botanicals including four culinary blends are:
Magic of Spice
The Asheville local who will receive a Free Farm Tour (for a family of 4) at Imladris Farm and Fresh Rabbit Meat is:
Please email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name and shipping info ASAP, so I can get your prizes in the mail!