While continuing my journey into learning about the cuisines of people in my life, I have recently become intrigued by the foods of Nepal. My friend, Shailini Sisodia's father was a diplomat and would return home from such places as Kabul, Hong Kong, and Paris with edible gifts, opening his family's horizons to a myriad of tastes and flavors. Shailini recalls summer evenings filled with adventures like raiding the neighbor's garden of delectable produce from peas to Asian pears. There was much family camaraderie created around an evening fire enjoying juicy dumplings in hot soup and shelled peanuts. As a result, she developed a childhood interest in food and (much to her parent's chagrin) chose to study cooking rather than science in the 9th grade.
An authentic meal would consist of steaming rice with a scoop of lentils ladled on top, with a veggie or pickle or two on the side—true Nepalese "comfort food."
Lentils or "Daal"
1 cup pink lentils (Masoor daal) or yellow (Toor daal)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cups water
1-2 tomatoes, diced
3 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or 1 or 2 chopped chilies (optional)
2 Tbs. coconut oil (could substitute canola)
salt to taste
Cook lentils in water with turmeric for about 35 minutes. Add salt and turn off heat. Heat the coconut oil, and then add cumin seeds and onions. After a few minutes, add the tomatoes, garlic, and chilies. Cook for another 7-8 minutes. Pour over the lentils.
2 regular cucumbers or 1 long English cucumber
2 tsp. salt (or less)
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
Lemon juice to taste
1 Tbsp. canola or your favorite oil
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. chili powder or 1/2 tsp. paprika
2 fresh green chilies seeded and thinly sliced (optional)
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
In the words of Shailini, “first perform the cucumber ritual!” Nepal is a country full of superstitions, traditions and rituals—there is even one for cutting cucumbers. You cut off a bit at the top, and then rub it back and forth over the cucumber, to remove the frothy, white bitterness, all the while chanting "Mitho Motho aa, titho titho ja...let the sweetness enter and the bitterness seep out.” They even say that to find out if someone pregnant will have a boy or girl, you flick the cut piece on the floor: top up means a boy, and bottom means up a girl!
To prepare: Peel the cucumbers, if desired, and cut into thirds, then cut each third in half lengthwise. Sprinkle with salt and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain liquid from cucumbers by pressing with two hands. Combine with lemon juice, green chilies, and sesame powder. Heat oil and add cumin seeds, turmeric, and chili powder or paprika, stir for 10 seconds and pour over cucumbers. Mix well and stir in fresh cilantro.
Now it’s time to ladle a generous scoop of "Daal" over a steaming mound of fragrant, nutty brown Basmati (or your favorite) rice. Add a bit of cucumber pickle and enjoy this Nepalese comfort food at its best!