“The light within me honors the light within you.”

Today was one of the days I’ve been waiting for!

Once the school year gets started, we do a “Taste Changer” once a week; something to keep the kids excited and break up the day-to-day routine. We set up a separate buffet table and put out a small spread with a theme. Might be a different culture’s cuisine, could be a table of upscale desserts…one week we’re doing a bunch of different hot cobblers. Just something different. For our first one I chose Flavors of India, mainly because I love Indian food and there ain’t none in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Our company has been doing a lot of Indian stuff, and there is supposed to be a line of products available to me to pull some off with, but I can’t get it at my place. In fact, here’s a list of a few other things I can’t get:

Lentils, wild rice, Sriracha sauce, rice noodles, whole cumin, whole cardamom, herbal tea, cinnamon sticks, basmati rice, cous cous, Chinese oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, turnips, rutabagas, seedless watermelons…the list goes on and on.

Seems that the nation’s largest wholesale supplier of food has their most ill-stocked branch in Memphis…the home of ribs, the blues, and Elvis. You would think that such a large city would be more amply equipped to handle the tastes of a diverse population, but I guess they’re not really that diverse over there…pretty much just ribs, blues, and Elvis.

Eggplant Kottu

It was kind of embarrassing that I could not accurately represent (and celebrate) the world’s most poverty stricken culture because the tiny legume that has prevented them from slipping into extinction for over 3000 years is only available to me in a fancy little 10 pound box at $35.00 (plus shipping) and a one week wait. Oh well.

So we started out the morning toasting about 4 pounds of various whole spices, chopping ginger, garlic, and mint, and opening cans of garbanzo beans and tomato products. The chicken, potatoes, onions, peppers, and eggplant had been cut the day before…about 200# of chicken thighs, 50# of potatoes, and a bushel or so of onions and peppers. We used something like 3 pounds of mint, 5 pounds of ginger, 3 pounds of garlic, 40 pounds of eggplant, and a gallon and a half of olive oil (should’ve been melted butter or “ghee”).

Our bakers cranked out hand rolled “naan” flatbread the night before, and rolled about a gazillion little dough balls that became the most incredible little “galub jamun”. This is India’s one great dessert in my opinion, and I can eat these things all day and night!

Galub Jamun

They’re made from dry milk powder, flour, baking powder, and yogurt. You deep fry them and plunge them into divine pool of sugar syrup scented with cardamom and rose water. Then you eat the heck out of ‘em!

They were great, but not the only good thing we had. We made as good a batch of Chicken Vindaloo as I’ve ever had, some kickin’ Saag Paneer (curried spinach with cheese), Eggplant and Chickpeas Kottu Style, Vegetable Biryani, and the ubiquitous Mint Chutney and Onion Relish that is customary at most Indian eateries (except ours was better).

The campus Indian organization showed up with a display that rivaled anything that we conjured up (awkward), and as far as I could tell the feast was a complete hit! The only problem was that I was too busy to sit down and eat any of it, and I’m really feeling bad about that now as I sit here and snack on peppered beef jerky and habanero barbecue almonds.

Now here’s a funny thing I learned just the other day about India…

I’ve always known that India is made of mainly of Hindus and Muslims, but you usually only hear about the Hindus. They greatly revere cows and are frequently vegetarians. Throughout India (with some exceptions) you typically don’t see pork on the menu. We’ve hired a number of Indian students this year and it turns out that some of them are Muslims.

How I know this is that last weekend I stopped by to check on a couple guys that were making omelets, and neither of them would put ham in the omelets they were making (which were otherwise very beautifully crafted). Even with gloves on and 8” tongs they refused to handle the ham at this time of the year citing the fact that we are in the middle of Ramadan.

Ramadan (for those unfamiliar) is the month long Muslim holy season during which Muslims (among other customs) are not to eat while the sun is up, and are apparently not to have any contact whatsoever with pork. So I’ve got a third non-Muslim employee standing between serving only the purpose of applying ham to the occasional egg pan.

I asked one of the guys who refused to handle pork during Ramadan if he was fasting. He said, “No, I’m not that orthodox”.

I like Galub Jamun!