Traditions with a Twist

When my parents first moved to the US from India in 1975, things were very different for them than they are for today’s immigrants.  We live in a much more global world now where family is a mere phone call, email, text, Skype or even a flight away at an affordable low price.  Back then my parents might as well have moved to another planet, and as an adult today I really admire their courage in leaving their families and support system behind to find a better life.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have that kind of courage…..or perhaps I don’t really want to test it.

Amidst a new land, a different culture with strange customs & foods, they found a bond in others from India who had migrated to the US much like them for education, career opportunities or a variety of other reasons – my father’s was to escape the bureaucracy of daily life in India.  Some of the friendships they formed were so close that they became an extension of our family.  The families would gather together for holidays and special occasions and all us “kids” also became friends, many of whom I still have as friends after so many years, and our children are now becoming friends.  It is something that lacks in the Western culture, in my opinion.  There is too much formality in relationships to form that kind of closeness even amongst real family members.  We may not see someone for years but when we do, we’ll pick up right where we left off as I validate on every trip I make to India about ten years apart.

Over the past 40 years and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve enjoyed staying in touch with not just the friends in my generation but also with my parent’s friends.  I really do consider them my aunts and uncles, and want my son to know this part of our culture.  And so last night I hosted a dinner for a few of my parent’s friends who they traveled with often and my mother continues to travel with after my father’s passing.  We get so caught up in our lives that evenings like these need to be planned well in advance and I was so happy I was able to set a date that worked in everyone’s schedule.  I also included a couple from my generation who I’ve been friends with for nearly 25 years just to keep it even.

As I planned the menu for dinner I knew it would have to be Indian food but felt rather intimidated.  Yes, I know my way around a kitchen, but I was cooking for some women (including my mother) who are amazing cooks in their own right.  To try and compete with their style of cooking would be pointless so I decided to do what I do best….start with the basics and add my own twist to it.  After all, after living here for forty years, it is ok to wield a bit of American into the Indian food world right?  I had to be careful though, because many Indians don’t really appreciate changing it up too much.  It would be important to maintain some integrity in the flavors when experimenting with an ethnic cuisine so rooted in tradition.

I was offered help from everyone asking if they could make something, but I declined for two reasons: 1) I wanted to do this on my own and impress them and 2) I’m a control freak and like to plan a menu that works together well and someone else’s style doesn’t always match with mine.  The menu I planned was:

Appetizers : Haraa Bharaa Kebabs with Peach Chutney, Spicy garlic & herb roasted shrimp, Burrata cheese with sundried tomatoes and basil along with some French bread, a 5 year aged gouda, some nuts and olives

Dinner : CKP style Lamb Curry (we call it mutton), Spinach Raita, Roasted mixed vegetables, saffron rice and chapatis (these were store bought)

Dessert : Mango-Cardamom Crème Brulee

Wines we drank from my cellar :              
1997 Gundlach Bundschu Zinfandel – held up quite nicely for its age
1999 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon – my last bottle and definitely needing to be drunk now

At the last minute I also made up a cocktail with the leftover mango pulp that I am calling the Spicy Sunset.

Food Photos:

CKP Style Lamb Curry

Roasted Vegetables
Haraa Bharaa Kebabs with Peach Chutney
The Complete Meal minus Saffron Rice

Mango-Cardamom Creme Brulee

I started prepping about two days before the dinner so that I had plenty of time to relax and converse with my guests on the actual day.  By 3 o’ clock on Saturday, I even had time to play a little monopoly with my son.  I posted on Facebook asking for volunteers to taste the food (proving my level of intimidation) and had a few local friends stop by and give me very positive comments which made me feel much better.  And trust me these are friends who would tell me the truth so I wasn’t worried about false build up.

The dinner was a big hit!  I even lit my fireplace for the first time in 11 years because it was a perfect evening for a fire with the pouring rain and cold, damp feel in the air.  The food was a success and everyone really enjoyed it.  It is always a good sign when there are very few leftovers, not to mention all the rave reviews.  I was so thrilled that I had succeeded in wowing these great cooks and food lovers. 

We had a fun evening with conversations about old Hindi songs, trips down memory lane, current events, dental work and of course food.  It was such a treat to have some of my extended family sitting in my living room with a fire on a rainy evening and just relax.  I wish life made it possible to do it much more often. I really hope I can pass along the so many positive aspects of the Indian culture to my son such as showing respect for these elders that I grew up with, and would never have known had my parents not ventured on their long journey to a new home. 

A big thank you to my dinner guests from yesterday evening and to so many others who befriended my parents all those years ago and are now a part of such a large network in my life.  The sheer number of people that came to my father’s memorial service spoke volumes for the strong connections my parents nurtured over the years.  It is something I hope I can foster as well but it is certainly not as simple as they made it seem.

I will be posting all the recipes from this dinner one at a time over the next couple of weeks as I write them down.  The roasted vegetables were the biggest surprise for me as I came up with this idea so very last minute.  I hope you get to try some of them on your own family.

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