November 12, 2012

Happy Diwali (Deepavali)!

The Diwali (Deepavali in South India) celebration is all about the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, pluses over minuses... you get the picture! The original Sanskrit word, Deepavali, translates directly into "row of lights." Hence, it has come to be known around the world as the Festival of Lights, a five-day celebration of Hindu faith.

The third day of the festival is the actual Diwali holiday (this year, it's November 13), when Hindu followers pray to the goddess Lakshmi, goddess of beauty, wealth, and wisdom. They pay tribute to her by lighting oil lamps at night all around their homes, hanging colorful lanterns and lights, and shooting fireworks. And what's a religious holiday without sharing some fabulous food with family and friends? In that respect, Diwali for Hindu families is no different than Easter and Christmas for Christian ones. Growing up in southern Missouri didn't offer us many opportunities as a family to get some real Diwali celebrations going like my parents probably would have preferred, but I enjoyed becoming more involved with it in the more diverse communities I lived in as I got older. My college town, Columbia, Mo., was home to a wonderful Indian community that hosted numerous events on my college campus. Here in Chicago, my husband and I enjoy a lively Indian cultural scene, including many traditional bharatanatyam dance performances throughout the year and boasting some of the best Indian restaurants in the country. Our first date was at Hema's Kitchen, a traditional North Indian fare BYOB, nearly 6 years ago. On occasion, we like to track down Hema herself at her second location in Lincoln Park, where we dined that telltale day, and remind her of how the aromatics in her fine food aligned our stars!

This year though, I started celebrating a day early with last night's Honey-Pepper-Glazed Lamb Chops with Blue Jalapeño Cornbread. It's a bit off the traditional Indian food mark, thanks to so many years of being influenced by all the other food cultures in the United States. You can make your own marinade for the lamb chops here, or pick up some Bollywood Sprinkle from my Web site and substitute that for the spice mixture. Blue cornmeal is so unique and much more flavorful than plain yellow. You can find it in most baking aisles in the Bob's Red Mill section.

As for dessert, I highly recommend something with chai or pistachio. This entry from 2010, Chai Chocolate Chip Cookies, goes perfectly with this fusion meal. Dunk a few in some chai tea after dinner, and you'll be transported to Mumbai in moments. Now, go fire up some lamps and lanterns, and celebrate the lightness in your life!

Honey-Pepper Glazed Lamb Chops

4 good-size lamb shoulder chops (about 2 lbs total), fat trimmed and patted dry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Place the lamb chops on a plate in a single layer. Combine the first five ingredients (salt through pepper) in a small bowl and sprinkle on both sides of each lamb chop. Place inside zippered plastic bag, and drizzle in honey and oil. (If using Bollywood Sprinkle, omit honey.) Seal bag tightly and shake to spread mixture evenly over chops. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat a grill pan on high, coat with cooking spray, and grill chops 6 minutes each side for medium/medium well; 4 minutes each side for medium rare. Serve with sour cream mixed with horseradish, basil pesto, and harissa (1/4 cup sour cream, 1 tsp horseradish, 1 tsp basil pesto, 1/2 tsp harissa). Serves 4.

Blue Jalapeno Cornbread 

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup blue cornmeal (Bob’s Red Mill)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
5 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, rinsed and drained
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup pepitas, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9˝ round baking pan with cooking spray, line with parchment, and spray again. Set aside. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Stir with whisk and make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, whisk together honey, buttermilk, butter, and eggs. Pour into well in flour mixture and mix well. Fold in corn and jalapeno. Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle pepitas on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes and slice into wedges. Serves 8.