Chicken Curry

With drought in my mouth, storm brewing in my stomach, whenever I knocked on Grandma’s door, uninvited, she would greet me with a spatula in hand wearing a full blown smile. Smile like a brightly blazed flaming flower. A Sunflower.

Crimson colored oil drops dripping down her spatula. Drops like the Daffodils gone wild in the hills in a sizzling summer noon.

I loved sniffing the scent of passion, promises of Ruby red chicken curry. A truly treasured, real, rural, authentic, esthetic lunch dish. The treasure still holds my soul captive.

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pic1Grandma knew how to make a dish jazziest, how to make a soul happiest and how to be friendliest. She found soul and solace in sharing home cooked lunch every single day with whoever walked past her yard.

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Recipe

Ingredients:

2 pounds skinless cut-up chicken

½ cup plain yogurt

1 Tablespoon ginger paste

1 Teaspoon garlic paste

Pinch of turmeric

1/2 tablespoon Kashmiri red chili powder. (It gives color. Not heat)

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 stick Cinnamon, 3 cardamoms, 3 cloves

½ cup water

1/2 cup Ghee or olive oil

Salt to taste

4-5 whole green chili peppers. ( For a little heat and aroma)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

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Method:

Marinate cleaned, washed chicken with yogurt for about 30 minutes. This will eliminate raw odor and add succulence to the meat.

In a wide heavy-bottomed pot, heat ghee/oil over medium-high heat. Cook onions for 5 minutes.

When onions looking soft and light brown, add cinnamon, cardamoms, cloves. ( You may discard those before serving)

In a few seconds add water to prevent spices from burning. Now add garlic, ginger, turmeric and chili powder. Keep stirring for 5-8 minutes. Or until gravy separates from oil. Add meat. Coat the pieces well with gravy.

Add salt and green chili peppers. Adjust heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until chicken is tender and gravy thickens.

 Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice to serve.

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pic2Let your senses explore the depth of hot & sweet curry with steamed rice and fresh garden salad.

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Old age crushed Grandma’s memory. Everybody is nameless to her. To her every face is like a frame-less portrait hung in an empty, hollow hallway. The Empress of the lotus covered linen lake house now is a weathered face. Her emerald eyes lost sight. Her senses are now unable to catch summer breeze or winter chills. But her open invitation for lunch to every passers-by would swirl and curl around their hearts like flowers and foliage painted in an ancient lighthouse tomb.

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Pan-Fried Fish: The Healer of Hearts

Just a few excellent, exhilarating ingredients – condensed into a cohesion, could make an exuberant, ecstatic, fantastic dish; one worthy of worshiping.

Ruhu Fish fry

It is easy to achieve and summon such absurdly beautiful brightness, if the method is properly executed, spices carefully and lovingly cooked.

This is a velvety light, love-driven, decadent, and turmeric-chili-salt-pepper covered enchanting endeavor, best served on a scoop of steamed rice in a torrent rainy evening.

When whispering rainy days spill beauty like crystal confetti, people of beautiful Bangladesh dance tippy-toes between raindrops. To catch fish from seven hundred shimmering, sparkling, rigorous rivers. To pan-fry fish; tender, gently spiced, gorgeously rich timeless taste.

 

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Baking a cake could be sagacious rocket science. But pan-frying fish is as charming of a chore as giving a hidden, unnamed river a name.

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Ingredients:

3 Fish fillets/cutlets (about 1 inch thick). Skin on or off

 A pinch of salt, coarsely freshly ground black pepper, red chili powder, turmeric powder

 2 tbsp vegetable oil or olive oil for shallow frying

 

 Method:

Bring the fish to room temperature 10 minutes before cooking.

 Season the fish with above mentioned spices.

Warm a large fry pan or skillet with oil over medium heat. Raise the heat to medium-high. Place the fish in the pan. Cook until golden brown on 1 side, about 4 minutes. Turn the fish over with a spatula, and cook until it feels firm to the touch and the skin is crisp if desired, about 3 minutes more.

The skin can be served or removed easily.

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Lost in the lofty taste, your heart and senses will end up being wrapped and covered with color, charisma….lifting you high like a Hummingbird, out the horizon, across a sunshiny river, deep into the pearly pebbles far down in the river’s bosom.

Lal Mohon aka Gulab Jamun: A sensory bombardment

Countless snow flurries are falling soundlessly. Mother nature gets grey and as dry as the Sahara. Winter windchill enters her bloodstream and she feels a sense of resignation, fear … when the sense of hibernation is that strong, that deep, that long-lasting and that huge, why not celebrate light ! Why not feast with sweets against the darkness of Winter!

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Ricotta Fudge .

To wade off Winter’s chill, if you’re in the pursuit of some antidote, some drug to saturate your palate; something that can melt you, thaw you out and untangle you …. Try Ricotta Fudge. Or, try Lal Mohon which is also known as Gulab Jamun in South Asia. Your spirits will kindle!

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Lal Mohon is a love-drug ♥ Totally. These twinkling beauties are constantly beckoning for you to come closer to her mystery, sink deeper. Their tender, rose-petal softness invites a finger’s touch.

There is so much sweetness, softness, happiness, beauty and bliss in those tiny, cute, juicy balls! Pop one in your mouth, let it explode in your throat and you’ll feel an unbelievable amount of glee traveling down to your tummy!

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Ingredients:

For making balls:

Full cream milk powder 1 cup
All purpose flour 1 tbsp
Baking powder 1/4 tsp
Ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil 1 tsp
Milk or water 3 tbsp
Cardamom powder 1/4 tsp

For making syrup:

Sugar 1 cup
Water 2 cups
Cardamoms 4 pcs
Rose water 2 tsp

For deep frying:

Oil or clarified butter (ghee)

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Method

Stage 1:

1. Mix well flour, baking powder, milk powder, cardamom powder.
2. Add Ghee and liquid milk. Make soft but sticky dough.
3. Make 1″ balls. About 12 balls. Make sure there’s no crack on the surface of the balls.
4. Heat oil/Ghee over medium heat for at least 5 minutes. Reduce heat. Lightly fry balls in batches until they turn reddish brown. Heat should be same all the way through. After frying for 7-8 minutes, balls will float and expand in size. Drain balls, place on paper towel.

Stage 2:
1. Make simple syrup by mixing and cooking water plus sugar. Add cardamoms. Reduce heat. Throw fried balls.
2. Cook for 3-4 minutes in medium heat. Add couple of drops rose water for a little exotic kick. Stop cooking.
3. Let the balls soak in the flavored syrup for 3 hours.

Serve as dessert or evening snack. A cup of tea would nicely go alongside. Fresh, warm dumplings are better, but chilled ones is a perfectly good option for that pleasant chillness instantly will warm up, ignite your heart.

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This is the kind of taste that lasts for a lifetime! It has this amazing power to bring your shattered, tired, frozen self back to life. And that light-airy-velvety-sunny-sweet aftertaste will leave your tongue comfortably numb ♥

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Shrimp Curry

There is this humongous mysterious misty Eucalyptus filled jungle standing tall between civilized world and the habitat of savages. A jungle so immeasurably dense that the trees lost track of whose leaves were whose. Darkness and densness consumed all the greens and golden rays of the sun. They say the sun never blazes over there and the moon is always curled up in darkness like a phantom in the forest.

My curious eyes tried to penetrate the jungle and see what lies on the other side. All my unsuccessful attempts left me with some burning questions:

good182-1-2Do their damsels get deliriously happy and dance barefoot on the moonlit sand seeing and touching the burst of colors from the deep purple beans grown in their gardens?

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good213-1Like us, do they make those drop dead gorgeous pile of Amber split lentil Halwa in Spring evenings?

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good201-1 Like us, do they savor tea in every single Magnolia-morning to warm up their stiff souls?

Do their grandmas hold the precious babies on the lap under the far away stars and whisper lullaby in their ears?

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g157edtDo they, in a high heated noon, after the rain, watch the rainbow rising from the horizon while enjoying some Pomegranate-pearl studded Apple salad?

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good129 (2)-2 Do their fish cutlets flood with a luster of gold like ours?

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good86-2 Does their version of wildly luxurious coconut-carrot soup smell like sweet dreams?

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great34 (3) Do they worship soul-foods in their cold, blue, lonely, chilly days like we do?

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Back then I was 16 and I already figured out a world full of urban sleepwalkers where nobody was actually awake. A world full of churning hatred, human heart like verbal firing squad, bitter suspicions… A world busy with mocking, angry talk, spreading vicious debate, heated conversations….

I’d be better off in the jungle. So, I surrendered to this dark, seductive, irresistible allure …. I crossed the jungle. I met the habitat who has chosen exile. And I spotted their emerald island. It was unearthly.

There were color and beauty everywhere. Smooth black skin, ruby red Hibiscus tucked in the hair, saffron shirts, peacock blue sarees. White hearts.

good105-1They wore more color and happiness than these Persimmons.

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The said ‘savages’ did not howl, leap, spun, and made horrid faces at me. They were just a small clan of tribal people who cares-a-damn about so called modern civilization and happily decided to dwell into the woods.

They treated me as one of their own with some Orange-Shrimp. Sweet, earthy scent intoxicated my senses. It made me lose my mind. It carried me to the other side of paradise instantly.

good60-1Every inch of that bowl, every particle of the ingredients was filled with warmth. And this dish sent me into full-throttle bliss.

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Recipe

1 1/2 cups fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion, garlic, ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes. (Couple of green chilies will also do)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Steamed rice, for serving

* In a saucepan, saute onion, garlic, ginger, chili in olive oil for 5 minutes. Pour juice. Bring it  to a boil. Add shrimps. Simmer over high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes.

* Season with salt and sugar.

* Garnish with parsley and serve with rice.

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Heat, sweetness, tartness, beauty and inherent likability are all at play into one single dish. But It was not the quantity of the dishes but the cheerfulness of the hosts which made the feast.

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With each step back towards the civilized world, I must digest the brutal fact: those colorful characters do not spend their income on war and guns. Only hunting and survival tactics they practice which they Inherited from their ancestors. They do not exhibit the savage practice of killing each other off; they are erudite savages who labor hard for peace.

The latticework of love all over that place reveals another brutal truth: those barbarous people are not a part of our savagery-wrapped civilization. They are beautiful, mythical ; straight out of a Novel.

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Those ‘savages’ will overflow their guests with kindness even if they cordially dislike them. We bombard who we dislike.

Crossing Jamuna

Exciting events are not supposed to happen in small towns, in the kingdom of 15 year old girls … who are often caged and curtained by a male chauvinist society.

It was a peaceful, twilight late night and I was sitting on a boat crossing Jamuna with some friends. There was a beautiful emptiness, moments of stillness, silence all across that apparently lawless, rowdy, wild river. Our destination is the other side of Jamuna. We set off to explore my ancestor’s sunshiny shrine rimmed with Roses; a magical destination, as fascinating as Narnia or the kingdom of Sheba.

High school was over and for the first time, I was allowed to cross the border … the boundary that I have been living all my girlhood.

I hear my ancestor’s village always glitters grandly with evening twilight. Inhaling the smell of crystal silver waves, listening to the whispers of gentle summer breeze, watching the moonlit swirling its surreal aura, slowly by slowly, and quietly, all over the deep blue sky I got lost thinking of the divine classic peasants food that my ancestors savor. My Mom has been proudly replicating and feeding us those humble dishes ever since I can remember.

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Rose Tea

Over there mornings shiver with alluring sunlight. Blossoms thrust up merrily everywhere. Beduin-Bees touch the petals of Poppies, Lillies and Roses. And the people of the magic-land celebrate life with a cup of tea. Every single morning.

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Whole wheat flat breads and pan fried spicy eggplant. Earthy. Fiery. Soul soothing meal; their breakfast.

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The people of the land of prairies and miles of paddy fields snack on pink lentil fritters.

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These savory fritters bring promise to sweep away dreadful darkness. By rights, something that tastes so good should cost a lot. But they are dirt Cheap!  Gorgeous, crunchy, crispy, glistening. These picturesque, charismatic fritters is a sight to behold.

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Egg Curry

Village style lunch under a pavilion deep in the paddies: Egg Curry with grace notes of  Parsley. And mounds of rice spooned from hand pounded sun dried mud-pot. There’s no denying the power, beauty and majesty of Egg curry when the weather is sweltering.

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp sunflower oil or olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 tbsp fresh garlic + ginger paste

400 gram fresh chopped tomatoes

Salt to taste

8 eggs

Method:

Heat the oil in a pan. Then fry the onions over a low heat for 10 minutes until golden. Add garlic-ginger paste and sizzle for 2 minutes, stirring. Add tomatoes and 200 ml water, season to taste, then bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes until you have a rich sauce/gravy.

Meanwhile, boil eggs for 8 minutes, cool in cold water, peel and halve. Put the eggs into the pan, spoon the curry sauce over and leave for another 2 minutes to heat through. Serve with rice/bread.

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Egg Curry 2

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Dinner: seasoned and drizzled with olive oil, as it sautees, the shrimps crisps and reddens here and there in a lovely way. Adding a dash of  dried herbs gives the dish an incredible flavor. The pan juices make a delicious sauce to mop up with bread or to spoon over a salad of fresh cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes..

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Satiny, silky, velvety Pumpkin-Carrot Halwa; simple, sweet and satisfying dessert with an esthetic that my ancestors surrendered themselves to for ages.  .

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Can’t wait to visit the land with countless corridors of  peace & prosperity. Can’t wait to meet the people who grow love and bountiful crops in the wilderness. Can’t wait to relish their food of elemental beauty and purity.

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The sky was wide open with millions of twinkling stars. Small. Huge. Bright. Blurry. How glamorous! How mysterious! I stared at the starry sky. For how long I don’t know. I heard the announcement of our arrival. The stars started fading away. The sky was turning ruby red. The warmth of the sun was about to greet the day. And I can clearly see my destination: on the back side of the river. Things are greening up over there.

Purity Does Exist

When tragically urban, rootless, ruthless civilization becomes breath-chocking, I take a drive to the cottage of my friend. To taste the earth and the jungle. That countryside cottage is gracious, its presence is ethereal, as unconditional love always is.

That timeless cottage stands under the pavilion deep in the grass. Here the sunshine is more wholesome as the withering Winter doesn’t linger. Here Orchids, butterflies, woods, wild Strawberries are all organic.

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Kingfishers, glimmer of glow worms, Squirrels fly in rhythm. Here raindrops gently kiss the muddy Rosemary.

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Metropolitan clock stops ticking here.

The man of the house wrings milk from freshly grated coconut, milking cows and goats. The woman of the house cooks vibrantly colored curries and intricate sweet, salt and sour stews every single day for their children. And the children of the house look like our ancestors: healthy, happy.

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Hypnotic Haleem: sticky stew of meat, lentil and grains is full of gentle spices and warm comfort. Let the howling wind lash on my urban windows. Let it snow. Let the unmatched purity of rustic flavor ignite my stiffed heart.

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Ingredients

1/2 cup each mung dahl/lentil, yellow split peas and barley

1 1/2 pound beef/lamb

2 tbsp each garlic & ginger paste

1 tbsp each freshly ground coriander & cumin

1 tbsp crushed red chili or 4-5 green peppers

1 tsp turmeric

2 sticks of cinnamon

1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil

salt

2 tbsp clarified butter (ghee)

2 1/2 liter water

 To serve: (Optional)

Julienne ginger, chopped coriander leaves, sliced lemon, chopped green chillies.

Method:

* Soak dahl & barley together overnight. Wash, drain, place in a large heavy-based saucepan with meat and all the spices. add water. Simmer for around 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The stew will look sticky and thick at this point.

* In a fry-pan, add Ghee and fry sliced onions until brown. Add it all to the stew.

* Serve hot with fresh salad or above mentioned ginger, herbs and citrus.

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HalimcprtThe excitement lies in the unexpected detail. It is a little rich, strong, swaggering. Add fresh salad and suddenly everything flares into life.

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NoodlesAlong came some astonishing Noodles exploding with shredded Carrots, Zucchinis, Cherry tomatoes and sauteed shrimps intensity. Saturated with soy sauce, salt and ginger.

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Tomato SaladHere the rhythm of the wind is meditative, an unhurried one. This afternoon is a perfect time to savor some Salad…simple yet full of charm.

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Water melon chunks engulfed in flaming red.

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By the end of the evening, that twilight-colored cottage always sends me back home with a basket full of pristine, free-range eggs and some sunshine to carry on my heart.

It’s a blessing to get to spend time at that preposterously fantastic cottage – the sort of thing you might read in fairy-tales only – a destination  ripe with romanticism and infused with love ♥

Ambrosia

Static, stoic sunlight was streaming through the vast emptiness around and wreaking havoc in the endless Sahara. Wearing burning blisters like a raincoat, the traveler was running clueless in search of a drop of water in the barren land. But the cup was full of sand.

After sprinting a light-year around the back side of the moon, crying a million rivers for a single drop of water to drink, the traveler saw the sea painted midnight blue. An ancient- exotic-dreamy delta, emerged from the secluded sea a thousand years ago, nestled now against the hillside surrounded by tall, stately larger-than-life trees. This graceful land, kissed by eight hundred rivers, was so glitteringly green that seemed to hold all the grace of the world. Heart-stoppingly picturesque hamlets, doted with humble huts scattered all over, were hugging the flatland like a sun-bathed tapestry.

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A clean, crisp breeze spiced by the aroma of the earthy spices and Hilsa fish curry tiptoed across the traveler’s fatigued eyelashes.

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Sun-drenched, dark skinned, soft spoken people offered the traveler plethora of sweets along with water that smells like home.

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Their sweets, “Shondesh” are as uncommonly soft and snowy as the fondest dreams; an elixir, a cure for all ailment, like an answer to prayers. They are compelling in their plainness; fancy words don’t come into play.

Shondesh copyright

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In a nonstick pan, over very low heat, add 2 tsp ghee (clarified butter); heat 2lb ricotta cheese (ছানা), handful sugar, 2 cardamom pods, stirring constantly. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the mixture begins to leave the sides of the pan. Remove from heat, make desired shapes using molds while the mixture is slightly warm. That crimson red fantasy glaze in the center of each flower is a dot of liquid food color. Serve. Refrigerate.

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KhichuriThe scent of ‘Lentil Rice’ wafted up deliriously from the kitchen, in welcome. Like butterflies fluttered down from the flowers that carpeted the yards.

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In the pouring rain, a train run past through the rain-blurred misty skies. Food was served. Lentil rice and beef curry: worshiped, marveled at, devoured by the people of this monsoon-land.

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This dish composed of:

Beef 2 lb with/without bones (cut into small chunks.)

1 medium onion paste, 2 tbsp garlic paste, 1 tbsp ginger paste (to get a pop of invisible depth of flavor that takes you by surprise)

½ tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp red chili powder (to get that bright-flavored lightness that you are going to remember the next day. And the day after. Forever)

4 cardamoms, 1 stick of cinnamon, 4 cloves, 2 bay leaves (to perfume the curry so that you have a pretty good idea where you are)

2 tbsp yogurt/curd (to get that pulse-quickening intensity of irresistible smoothness)

½ tbsp toasted cumin seeds (to perk up the intense flavor simply and wonderfully)

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil/vegetable oil/Ghee (clarified butter)

1 large potato (optional)

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Mix everything together in a large pan and stir on medium heat for 15 minutes. Put the lid on. Cook for 1 hour or until the meat surrenders into tender, juicy chunks.

A pool of crimson gravy gathers around the pan, if you pour 1 cups of warm water at this point.  Add potato chunks. Let the chunks swirl across the pot absorbing the gravy. Put the lid back on and cook for another 20 minutes.

Serve with rice/roti.

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Lentil rice beef curry

To the cast adrift and alone traveler, this perfect meal was like the first supper on the resurrection day.

With a deep nostalgic delirium, emotional upheaval spread through her heart, very early next morning the traveler headed back out to the Sahara, to the pitch black forlorn lagoon that reflects no twinkling stars.  But she had fallen under the spell of ‘Bangladesh’, the shining monsoon-land she just left behind.

I- the traveler-  From here walk with my face unmasked, soul uncovered and take back that sparkling starry trail which leads to where I belong; my home, to my peaceful people who meet, greet and feed total strangers like one of their own; I’m bonded with these fearless fighters who never stop smiling amidst devastating floods, lurking droughts, looming tidal bores, famine, oddities, hidden fears, leaders pocketing relief money…

  My Bedouin-self yearns to return home before I grow older and my heart gets colder.

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