Celebrating the Holidays with Hindus
We had landed at my husband’s palace in India just in time to celebrate Christmas. Not that the holiday meant much to the residents of Uttar Pradesh. Few in these parts had even heard of Jesus, much less Rudolph or Santa Claus. Ajay, my husband, joked that with three million gods swirling about in the Hindu universe, Indians had plenty of religious figures to keep themselves occupied without worrying about Christian ones.
Nevertheless, I decided I simply had to treat my new in-laws — who consisted of Ajay’s neurotic landed gentry father, his frosty aristocratic mother, and his evil sister-in-law who was not the least bit happy to see the fancy American girl — me — swanning around her palace garden — to a proper Christmas dinner.
I wish I could tell you that my yuletide feast blew those Indian royals away. But everything I made that night — including mashed sweet potato with pears, and the Pepperidge Farms stuffing with sausage — sad in cold heaps in their silver serving dishes. As for the duck that I tried to roast for the table, let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson: Trying to cook that in a toaster oven using the electric system of a palace built in 1911 was a mistake — a colossal goof up. The fowl may have looked delectably brown and crisp on the outside, but inside it was red and raw, seven pounds of salmonella poisoning waiting to happen.
But that was 11 years ago. Today I am a veteran outsider in the world of maharajas and maharanis and this Christmas, when we return to the family palace in Northern India, I know exactly what I am going to cook. I plan to combine my Indian family’s favorite spices with the California dishes I love the most in hopes of creating a global delight for our holiday table.
For the main course, I am going to smuggle a big stack of handmade corn tortillas and a bottle of Tabasco in my suitcase. I will coat tilapia (or whatever mild whitefish I can find at the gourmet supermarket in Delhi) in a bread crumbs and spice mixture, including such subcontinental favorites as turmeric, coriander and chili. Once the fish is fried to a crisp and layered into the freshly griddled tortillas, I will top each with shredded red cabbage and a spoonful of mango salsa, for the most delectable “fusion fish tacos.”
As for a side dish, Ajay and I recently ate at the small Los Angeles-area café, Heirloom, and we picked up the recipe for a fresh and textured lentil, carrot and walnut salad. It’s just the other side of Indian but close enough to be palatable and surprising — just like their still eager-to-please American relative, I hope.
Alison Singh Gee is is an award-winning journalist whose work has been translated into eight languages and has appeared in People, Vanity Fair, In Style, Marie Claire, International Herald Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. For eight years, she was a staff features writer/correspondent for People magazine. She won the 1997 Amnesty International Award for Feature Writing for her Asiaweek cover story about child prostitution in Southeast Asia. Alison lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter, around the corner from India Sweets & Spices. Her first book, Where the Peacocks Sing: A Prince, a Palace and the Search for Home will be published February 2013 by St. Martin’s Press.