I am excited to share this beautifully written piece by my friend Pratima Anaé. My husband, son and I had the honor of meeting Pratima’s mother during her recent visit to California. We were invited to their lovely home for a delicious home-cooked meal and I even got a first-hand lesson in Indian cooking! Throughout the ages, meals have been a symbol of sharing, nurturing and loving one another. Watching Pratima’s Mom cook with so much pride and joy reminded me of my own family and how culture, food, and tradition can create such deep and meaningful connections. By passing down recipes from generation to generation we can honor our heritage and stay connected to our roots.
As Americans we share a diverse existence that is both unusual and beautiful. East Indian immigrants, my family settled in a small Amish town in the Midwest. There were no other minorities in town and we lived amidst buggies, horse drawn plows, and bonnets. As such, my mother’s cooking was the most significant connection to my culture. It was the one thing in our house that truly remained Indian. Passed down from generations of Indian women with no written recipes, it felt like a direct link to my roots.
My mom, Olga, is an incredible cook and a supremely unique spirit. Effortlessly combining grace, kindness, and humor in everything she does, she’s just at home fixing an Indian feast for hundreds of people in our backyard as she is riding a John Deere lawn mover in her perfectly coiffed sari. Our family loves to reminisce about the humor and beauty in the unexpected things she does. Like the time she fell into a pond chasing dragonflies to help with my sister’s high school biology project. And then there was the Christmas when we needed a tree and she went out chopped one down from our yard and dragged it in by herself while we watched from the window. She is the mother whom sprinkles Indian Jasmine in her children’s bed at night. To know her is to love her.
I wish that I could invite each one of you to our home to experience my mom’s generosity of spirit and her wonderful food but in lieu of that I am happy to share one of her dishes with you. This particular recipe for Mint Basmati rice is one of her own creations. It is not only delicious and elegant but it is also vegan, gluten free, and healthy. There is nothing like smell or taste to bring back a memory. There is nothing that makes me feel like home more than my mother’s cooking. To me it is the heart and essence of India. Enjoy…
- 2 cups uncooked jasmine rice
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 tbsp. oil
- 1 or 2 Serrano chilies cut in half
- 1 cup chopped mint leaves
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- 1-inch piece of fresh ginger root grated
- 1 tsp. salt more if needed
- 1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes cut into halves
- 1 cup lightly blanched sweet pea pods
- 1 medium carrot cut into small strips
- 3/4-cup raw peanuts with skins
- 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
Wash rice and drain. Combine rice and water. According to your preference cook rice either in a cooker or on the stovetop. Rice should be fluffy not soft and mushy. While rice is cooking prepare the vegetables and seasonings. Slice the cherry tomatoes and Serrano chilies in half. Blanch the sweet pea pods. Cut carrots in small strips. Grate the ginger. Finely chop the mint and cilantro. When your prep work is finished and the rice is done cooking, heat oil and butter in a large frying pan. Add chopped chilies and cook for 30 seconds. Add mint, cilantro and ginger. Fry for an additional 30 seconds. Then add cooked rice and salt to taste fry for 1 or 2 minutes. Add peas and carrots. Transfer the rice to a shallow serving bowl. Just before serving add tomatoes and caramelized peanuts.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread peanuts on baking sheet with foil and lightly roast them in the oven. When lightly roasted remove peanuts from oven and drizzle with corn syrup. Place them back in the oven and bake for and additional 6 to 8 minutes.
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Pratima Anaé got her start in the entertainment industry when she was crowned Miss Indiana USA. She went on to Miss USA and made Miss Universe history as the first woman of East Indian descent to place in the top ten. Currently Pratima is an Actress, Model, and Host. Her print work has been featured in various publications. A few of her credits include appearances in “The New Girl” and “Outsourced.” Additionally, Pratima hosts a series of lifestyle events. She has conducted interviews with Salman Rushdie and Kal Penn in connection with this endeavor. She most recently started a personal blog entitled, Love Pratima.