Many folks in the US grow up with more than one culture and must reconcile their home cultures’ expectations with those of the dominant culture. As a result of their varied experiences, the dominant culture is pressed to change as more people function between two or more cultures. To many of us, this is what makes the US a rich and wonderful place to live. While it cannot be easy to find one’s place amidst all the difference and cultural expectations, it seems that when individuals pay attention to what they’re made of—from whence they came and where they want to head, they often lead interesting lives that seep into the larger cultural experience benefitting all.
Jessica is a perfect example of a woman balancing multiple cultures; her father grew up in a small town in India near Patna where “the Buddha was realized,” and her mother grew up in the Midwest. But Jessica was born and raised in Texas. She found a link to her grandmother in India, whom she never met, via watching her father cook traditional dishes he learned from watching his own mother. Despite a great deal of suffering, Jessica’s father’s family had one consistent luxury: whole, fresh food; they had their own garden, nearby orchards and fresh dairy but no refrigeration, so food was either made and consumed, or fermented. Because they followed the Ayurvedic tradition, they ate no raw food, believing it easier for the body to digest cooked food. The family also abstained from onion and garlic because their intense flavors and scents “can disrupt a meditative state” thus hindering religious practice. Jessica’s grandmother also maintained the Ayurvedic tradition of including “five flavors in every meal.” As the oldest child, Jessica’s father took it upon himself to study his mother’s cooking, and Jessica believes her grandmother’s cooking rooted him in safety amidst a life of challenge.
Just as her father had been drawn into his mother’s kitchen, the scent of spices crescendoing in her own home lured Jessica into the kitchen each Sunday. She would hover over her dad—taking in his meticulous preparation, the way he chopped cilantro the exact same way each time. It made sense, this exactness, this sense of purpose because he’s an accountant, but Jessica insists there’s more to it; “It’s a combination of him being very meticulous but also creative because he never follows any recipes; he just goes from memory.” Perhaps this is another example of multicultural influence, how we balance creativity with purpose, home culture with what we learn from others.
Like father, like daughter, Jessica was influenced by dominant US culture as she raced through degree programs, became a successful CPA with an avid social life. But life caught up with her in the form of health problems and exhaustion. After getting sick about once a month consistently and getting no instruction for how to change this from her doctors, Jessica began reaching for her grandmother. She made her way into the kitchen she considered akin to a prison, having formed the belief that she could not live up to the level of cooking her family achieved. Then, she took a risk; she began preparing her father’s meals. And instead of suffering defeat, her exhaustion lifted, her body temperature came into balance. She began to heal herself through her family’s traditional foods. Now, she relies on her two favorite dishes; cauliflower with potato and the noodle dish; both of which her father made at her request. Though, the noodle dish was reserved for special occasions. While cooking, she steeps herself in her Indian culture, sidling a step close to her grandmother whom she believes is “up there and watching, looking down over [her family].”
After recognizing the healing powers of her family dishes, Jessica also took at look at her lifestyle. She quit the accounting job and became a health coach wanting to help other busy professionals find the balance she knows is necessary to keep pace on this wild ride. In order to practice what she teaches, she exercises regularly and pays close attention to her meals. Although she relies on the traditional ghee for each dish, Jessica tweaks her family recipes to fit her body’s dairy-free and gluten-free needs; she cuts the cream in favor of coconut milk and buys pre-ground spices though her grandmother always ground her own, again embracing a culture that brought her back to health while adjusting for her individual needs. After thrusting herself into the dominant culture’s demands, Jessica has taken a step back and re-assessed choosing what she deems the best parts from each culture and thus living the life that makes the most sense for her. As such, she gives back to the rest of us, enriching our lives at the same time.
To read more about Jessica and how she enriches people's lives, please visit her websiteBeaming With Health!
Curried Potatoes and Cauliflower
Ingredients: 5-6 medium red potatoes, chopped into large chunks 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into bite size pieces 1 teaspoon coriander 1 teaspoon cumin 1/8 teaspoon cardamom 1/8 teaspoon cloves 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro or dill, chopped 2 tablespoons ghee (add more as needed) 1-2 bay leaves 2 cinnamon sticks sea salt to taste
Gently steam cauliflower in a steamer basket for a couple minutes. You only want the cauliflower to cook about halfway through. Boil the potato chunks until they just begin to get soft, again about halfway cooked. Set aside.
You are now ready to make the curry paste. Add coriander, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon to a small bowl. You can grind these spices yourself using a coffee grinder, or just use the powdered form from the store. Start by adding a very small amount of water and stir. Continue to add a little water until you reach the consistency of a thick paste.
Add ghee (clarified butter) to a large pan on low-medium heat. Add cilantro or dill to the ghee. Once the mixture is hot add the potato and cook until the potatoes are mostly soft. Then add cauliflower and cook for about 2 minutes (still not completely cooked). Now add curry paste, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks (best to remove bay leaves and cinnamon sticks before serving). Stir mixture to coat. You may need to add a little water or ghee if the mixture gets dry. Add sea salt to taste. Cover the pan and cook for a few more minutes. Once the veggies are completely cooked, remove from heat, cover, and set aside for a couple more minutes.
Spiced Lentil Sauce
Ingredients: ¾ cup red lentils 1 ½ cups water 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) 1 teaspoon ground cumin sea salt to taste
Soak lentils for a couple hours (optional) and rinse before cooking. Add lentils and water to a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer, uncovered, for about 30-40 minutes. The lentils should turn into a thick sauce. Add more water if they get too dry.
Place the ghee and cumin into a large metal spoon (a stainless steel serving spoon is best). Carefully place the bottom of the spoon over the gas flame on your range (without touching the flame). If you do not have a gas stove then place the spoon about an inch over the electric burner. Be careful not to spill the ghee.
Do this until the ghee is completely melted and the cumin starts to brown slightly. Then add the mixture to the lentils and stir to mix completely. Add sea salt to taste. Serve your lentil sauce over rice or eat it as a soup.
Ingredients: 1 cup full-fat, organic, plain yogurt ½ cucumber, peeled and very finely diced 1-2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped freshly ground black pepper sea salt to taste
Add yogurt to a bowl with a teaspoon or two of water. Whip the yogurt for a couple minutes with a whisk. The consistency should still be rather thick, so be careful not to add too much water. Add cucumber, dill, sea salt, and a small amount of black pepper and stir to combine. Serve this as a side dish or sauce. The cooling effects of the cucumber and dill are a nice contrast to the spicy curry flavors.
Mishra Family Noodle Dessert
Ingredients: 1 can full-fat coconut milk or organic heavy whipping cream ½ box angel hair or linguini pasta noodles (I used brown rice noodles for a gluten-free variation) 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) 1-2 tablespoons liquid sweetener of choice (molasses, maple syrup, coconut nectar, agave) 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom ¼ cup raisins 1 mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped ¼ cup shredded coconut May add other fruits if desired
Add the ghee to a large frying pan on medium heat. Once the ghee is completely melted, add the uncooked noodles to the pan. Stir and flip the noodles to ensure they are coated with the ghee. Cook noodles until they are brown (but not burnt). Set aside.
In a saucepan, heat up the coconut milk over medium heat. Once hot, add the sweetener, cinnamon, and cardamom and stir to combine. Now add the noodles and allow them to start to soften. Next, add the raisins, mango, and shredded coconut. Allow the mixture to cook until the noodles are soft, yet still firm. They should be slightly crunchy in texture. Serve warm and garnish with fresh mint.