I'm in India. South India, to be specific. Mysore, to be even more specific. I've been wanting to come here for years, and was getting so sick of seeing my [lovely] sister post amazing photos of all the stuff she was seeing, that I booked a ticket to come out here myself.
So far, I've been on sensory overload. The colours and the smells and the tastes. Mysore smells of cow poo and of incense. Of curry and of dirt. Of jasmine flowers and of car exhaust. It's truly amazing. Magical, even.
I'm staying at Pushpa's house. My sister, Lou, met Pushpa a few years ago, her first time in Mysore. She was wandering down the street, getting frantic because it was getting dark, and she still had nowhere to stay. Desperate, she collapsed on the ground in front of a big statue of Ganesha, and said "Oh please, Ganesha, help me find a place to stay." Not ten seconds later, a hand touched her shoulder, and a woman said "Are you looking for a place to stay?". And that was Pushpa. She stays with Pushpa for months at a time, and Pushpa cooks for her, and looks after her like a mummy.
So naturally, I stayed here too. She's a drill sergeant in the kitchen, that Pushpa-- we're not allowed to touch anything at all, only watch. Imagine how hard that is for somebody who loves to cook...But it's worth it. Her food is phenomenal. The best food I've tried here, even after going to a few places that are supposedly "the best". I've been watching her prepare every meal, while she tells me what she's doing, and I frantically take notes and photographs. She'll give me tidbits like "add asafoetida for good health" and "fenugreek is for diabetes" and "never mix curd and dairy" (even though curd IS dairy), and I am just completely transfixed by the whole thing.
I have a few favourites: idli, covered with ghee, with a coconut sambar. Dosas. And lemon rice. Lemon rice is just amazing. It's lemony and coconutty and has little crunchy bits (the peanuts). Usually I avoid peanuts-- I actually hate them. Passionately. But these peanuts are little and cute, not big and gross. They're quite delicious in a dish where you barely taste them.
If you can't find little Indian peanuts, I'd try chopping peanuts, if you like them, or using another nut, like almonds or pistachios, just for the crunch. If you can't find curry leaves, try basil-- they're still fragrant.
Pushpa's Lemon Rice.
2 cups rice
4 cups water (preferably NOT Indian tap water)
3 tb ghee, for frying
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 cup peanuts
1 cup yellow lentils
1/2 cup white lentils (if you can't find then just use all yellow)
green chilis (to taste)
1 tb chopped curry leaf (substitute basil if you can't find it)
1/2 tsp asafoetida
1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp turmeric
1 cup grated coconut (if you can find freshly grated, even better, if not then soak overnight in water to rehydrate)
Cook the rice-- put the rice and water, plus a pinch of salt, in a pan, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, undisturbed. After 20 minutes remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Leave to cool to room temperature.
Fry the mustard seeds in the ghee, until they start to pop. Add the peanuts and lentils, and cook until starting to brown, then add the chili, curry leaf and asafoetida. Cook until all the lentils are a golden brown colour, and then add the cilantro, lemon juice, turmeric and coconut. Stir for 20 seconds or so, then remove from the heat and leave until the rice is cool.
Mix the two together, and serve. It'll keep for a few days, refrigerated.
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