Sim­ply the best

Mem­o­ries linger of a wel­com­ing feast made out of very lit­tle

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

Dur­ing a trip to In­dia a cou­ple of years ago, I was lucky enough to stay at the Samode Palace and spend time in the kitchens learn­ing about the lo­cal cui­sine. This 300-year-old ma­haraja’s man­sion is about 30 min­utes’ drive north of Jaipur, in the heart of the Ra­jasthan desert. Its mir­ror-tiled halls and mu­ral-lined walls, mar­ble swim­ming pools and re­gal, an­tique-filled suites of­fer a lush haven in the fierce heat of the desert.

While there, I men­tioned to the concierge that I would like to visit a lo­cal farm. An el­e­gant man wear­ing a crisp white tu­nic and jodh­purs was sum­moned and in­tro­duced him­self as Mr Monty Yadu. “I’ll take you to my farm,” he said and within min­utes we were bun­dled into the ho­tel’s open-top Jeep and hurtling down the wind­ing roads of the lit­tle town of Samode into the desert. About 5km out of town, we turned into a nar­row, un­sealed drive­way. At the end, a dozen cat­tle were teth­ered on a small ridge over­look­ing a vast field of cauliflow­ers.

Women dressed in vivid saris and wear­ing colour­ful chunri head­cov­er­ings were craft­ing gi­ant tow­ers of glo­ri­ous white cau­li­flower, ready to bun­dle up for the mar­ket. Monty ex­plained that this 2.5ha or­ganic farm is able to sup­port a stag­ger­ing 63 peo­ple in his ex­tended fam­ily. Apart from spices, which are pur­chased at the lo­cal mar­ket, all the other food re­quired is grown here, of­ten with spare to sell. Only Monty and his brother work out­side the farm – every­one else works the land.

In the court­yard of Monty’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily’s dwelling, two women were cook­ing over fires on the bare earth, cut­ting fat wads of fresh fenu­greek leaves and other greens through a scythe mounted up­right on a block of wood.

One of the young girls pre­pared a fresh co­rian­der chut­ney, us­ing a well-worn slab of rock at the en­trance to the court­yard to grind the fresh leaves with salt, chill­ies and spices into an aro­matic paste.

Un­der cover to one side was a small kitchen with a gas burner, where Monty’s wife was cook­ing some dhal. In less than 20 min­utes we were sit­ting down to a feast – ten­der mil­let flat­breads that Monty’s wife mixed and cooked in a flat pan while we watched (it’s too hot to grow wheat so mil­let is the pri­mary grain), the creamy mixed len­til dhal she had been pre­par­ing when we ar­rived, and the most fra­grant and flavour­some cau­li­flower curry imag­in­able, cooked in less than 10 min­utes. Deeply aro­matic with spices, gar­lic and chill­ies, it was a dish to re­mem­ber.

The mem­ory of that meal is one that will stay with me for­ever – such a beau­ti­ful, wel­com­ing feast made out of so lit­tle. That’s the beauty of veg­e­tar­ian cook­ing – na­ture shines on ev­ery plate.

I’ve at­tempted to repli­cate that sim­ple meal with this week’s recipes. I hope it’s as mem­o­rable for you as it was for me. Your body will thank you and so will your wal­let and our planet.

CAU­LI­FLOWER CURRY

Es­sen­tial Annabel Lang­bein (Annabel Lang­bein Me­dia, $65) is a beau­ti­ful com­pen­dium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cook­ing tips. It makes a great Christ­mas gift and it’s on sale now at Pa­per Plus, Whit­coulls, The Ware­house and all good book­stores. Find out more at annabel-lang­bein. com or fol­low Annabel on Face­book or In­sta­gram.

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