Celebrate And Save This Diwali

Ashrita Prasaad, district manager at U.S. Bank, celebrates Diwali with her family and her community – but starts saving for the holiday years in advance. The five-day Hindu festival of lights is an auspicious time for big life moments and even bigger purchases, which means spending – lots of spending. 

“It can be an expensive holiday,” Prasaad says. “It’s a lot of gift-buying, a lot of weddings and engagements are planned around this time, people start to open their kids’ savings accounts.”

Prasaad even bought her home around Diwali. “Any big undertaking we do, we try and plan it around Diwali,” she says. “We close old chapters, and start new chapters.”

With such an emphasis on spending, and on large-scale purchases and changes, it’s important to prepare financially for the holiday. Prasaad sets her customers up for success throughout the year – and shares her tips on celebrating Diwali without breaking the bank.

  1. Put money aside early. “One of my plans for 2020 is to send my mom and dad on a world cruise for their milestone anniversary,” Prasaad shares. “I’ve been saving for that since last year.”
  2. Keep an eye out for golden bargains.  Gold is an important traditional gift for the Diwali holiday, but of course, can be expensive. “My husband gifts gold coins for the whole family,” Prasaad says. She plans ahead for the purchase and pays attention to sales on gold jewelry and other traditional gifts that can coincide with Diwali.
  3. Reward yourself. “Saving through spending,” Prasaad calls it. One option is to pay for purchases using a credit card with rewards – for example, travel points that can perhaps go toward traveling to visit family during Diwali. Don’t spend more than you are comfortable paying back, because credit cards can carry a relatively high interest rate.
  4. Have a back-up plan. “Some people apply for a credit product,” says Prassad, “in the summer, so they have that cushion come Diwali.” If you choose this route, make sure you understand the terms of any credit product and, again, don’t spend more than you are comfortable paying back.
  5. Get to know a banker you can trust. “Have conversations throughout the year,” Prasaad recommends. “Make sure you have a bank, and banker, you can trust, who knows about the events in your life and can help you plan.” 

Prasaad will celebrate Diwali this year with her family and community. Above all, she emphasizes the importance of building relationships and sharing your own traditions and needs with your bank. “Diwali means different things in every home that celebrates it,” she says. “I never assume what it means for someone personally, or what they do. I just ask. It earns respect and means a lot.”

Learn more about U.S. Bank’s celebration of Diwali at usbank.com/diwali

 

Voting Quietly: Do You Know How To Do That? I do.

News of the migrant caravan is everywhere.

The facts are simple: around 7000 migrants from Central America are making their way on foot through Mexico and hope to seek asylum at the US border in the next few weeks. As of today, PBS NewsHour reports that they are about 1000 miles from the US Southern border.

President Trump has made outrageous claims about this caravan of migrants.

Daniel Dale, from the Toronto Star says, “Trump escalated his immigration dishonesty on Monday morning. Seizing on a groundless claim from a host on his favourite Fox News morning show, he tweeted that “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” to a caravan of Latino migrants that began in Honduras.”  

Anne Gearan and Jeremy Duda in the Washington Post write – “Democrats, Trump said, want to give immigrants free livelihoods with no strings. “Next thing you know, they’ll want to buy ‘em a car,” Trump said. Maybe, he said, a “Rolls-Royce, made not in America so I hope that’s not what we do.” Vice President Mike Pence joined the chorus saying it’s inconceivable the caravan includes nobody from the Middle East. These are statements made to inflame sentiments of all Americans that there are Honduran freeloaders who want to just come here and make the American taxpayer pay for everything in their lives.

This inflammatory rhetoric has to be called as lies, not false claims said Daniel Dale emphatically on the PBS NewsHour evening news report today. On Twitter, he wrote “I’ve fact-checked every word Trump has uttered for two full years. This is one of his most dishonest weeks in political life. He’s lying about so many different things at once, and in big ways — not exaggerating or stretching, completely making stuff up.” Today’s editorial in the New York Times has a title that says it all – Donald Trump is Lyin’ Up a Storm: Is there an election or something?

Even if Dale and others are constantly calling out the lies as they seem to swarm the news cycle every day, they are working. They are working to create the narrative of the us versus them. They are working with the Republican base that pushed him into power. They are making insidious inroads into the minds of Democrats too. Comments in the New York TImes articles in the past few days from registered Democrats mirror this split, with some readers saying – “I am an avowed Democrat; but, I do not want open borders.”

In this dangerous us vs. them rhetoric fanned not by elements on the right or the left but by President Trump who stands behind the seal of the Government of the United States when he speaks, conversation based on facts is lost; historical reasoning is completely shoved aside; reasons for why this is happening don’t even figure in the conversation. When men and women leave behind all that is familiar to come to this country, there must be compelling reasons which makes life unbearable for them in their home country. Really compelling reasons, don’t you think?

Take this 2017 report on human rights abuses committed in Hondurans by their own government. A report filed by the US State Department. “There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings.”

A drug czar who was working assiduously to change the stranglehold  that the drug trade had on high ranking members within political circles and law enforcement was gunned down by his country’s policemen. In 2009, according to TIme magazine, Julian Aristides Gonzalez had just dropped off his daughter at school. A ‘fake’ police block was set up and eleven shots were fired into the car by policemen. The article goes on to state – “The drug conflicts have pushed up the Honduran murder rate, which hit 53 per 100,000 last year — one of the worst rates in the world. Few homicides are solved.”

Joseph Nevins, professor at Vassar College says, “The mainstream narrative often reduces the causes of migration to factors unfolding in migrants’ home countries. In reality, migration is often a manifestation of a profoundly unequal and exploitative relationship between migrant-sending countries and countries of destination. Understanding this is vital to making immigration policy more effective and ethical.”

The unequal relationship extends all the way to the beginning of the 20th century where the name of the game has always been to exploit. Nevins says, “U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked. It began in the late 1890s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.” As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.” By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920s to such an extent that, as LaFeber asserts, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.”

Fast forward to the 1980s. Nevins writes, “As part of its effort to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua and “roll back” the region’s leftist movements, the Reagan administration “temporarily” stationed several hundred U.S. soldiers in Honduras. Moreover, it trained and sustained Nicaragua’s “contra” rebels on Honduran soil, while greatly increasing military aid and arm sales to the country. The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.”

In 2006, Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist came to power hoping to change his country’s destiny and its entanglement with the military establishment.  Nevins says, “He tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.” He goes on to say, “The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years. The Obama administration has played an important role in these developments. Although it officially decried Zelaya’s ouster, it equivocated on whether or not it constituted a coup, which would have required the U.S. to stop sending most aid to the country.”

This is why men, women and children are walking. Not because the Democrats are ready to hand them the keys to a Rolls Royce – let’s get some historical perspective about this migrant caravan.

Most importantly, let’s get some truth into the national conversation on the caravan to counter the lies of the President. His lies dominate the news cycles. He’s loud and brash. He cares about the midterm results – we do too. We don’t have to speak lies. We should not support them.

We just need to walk into that voting booth and vote, quietly.

Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the Managing Editor of India Currents magazine.

 

Date/Time Event
Oct 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019
All Day
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle WA
Oct 21, 2018 - Dec 15, 2018
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Learn to Meditate Class
Learn to Meditate Class
Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose CA
Nov 14, 2018
7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Book event on Kolam
Book event on Kolam
Mrs. Dalloway’s Books, Berkeley CA
Nov 14, 2018
10:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Desi Comedy Night
Desi Comedy Night
Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, Los Angeles CA

A Race To Admissions: The Harvard Story

Her fingers flitted across the paper seal, trembling around the hallowed crest. She stuck her finger in and tore. Hard. The consequence of this letter would be the culmination of 18 years of hard work; academic achievement, extracurricular leadership, and careful self-reflection. Here lies the initial gatekeeper- admission to a “top” school in America.

But who is she? Her identity, her story, and her family circumstances determine the path of this narrative.

College admissions. For some, this is a moment of fear, nervousness, indeed of competition: a desire to boast of their accomplishments, and a means of increasing their personal brand. For others, these papers quite literally would serve as the step stools to a future in a world where the barrier to educational entry is as high as the ivory tower itself. Who is she? An Indian-American teenager who grew up in an affluent suburb in the Silicon Valley with a contrived desire to prove something to her community?  Or a diligent Latina young woman, who is relying on this admission to open the gateway for her to support her financially struggling family?

The recent movement against affirmative action by a coalition of Asian American students has taken the news by storm. Students for Fair Admissions, a conglomerate of several anonymous Asian-American students rejected by Harvard, claim that they are being discriminated against on the basis of race. They cite evidence that Asian American students face penalties solely because of their race, and that candidates with near perfect profiles are rejected in favor of less accomplished peers from other racial groups. They find in an analysis of over 150,000 student documents that Asian-American students are rated lower in terms of personality qualities like leadership, courage, and kindness. This racial stereotyping and dialogue surrounding Asian-Americans and their work ethic is considered dangerous, even by affirmative action supporters.

However, scholars say much of this fanfare is unfounded. The population of Asian-American students is significantly higher in elite colleges when you compare their overall national population. Schools like UCLA and UC Berkeley, which have done away with race-based affirmative action, have skyrocketing numbers of Asian students at the expense of Black and Latin-X ones. Critics argue that SFFA chair Richard Blum, a conservative strategist, is using Asian-Americans as his project to achieve ulterior motives. By pitting racial minorities against each other, there is a vested attempt to topple all race-based admissions.

Doing away with race as a factor in college admissions scares me. Higher education is the gatekeeper of a path towards racial equity, for many historically and systematically oppressed groups. While I can’t speak to the backgrounds of each of the students filing the case, I can say that growing up in the Silicon Valley painted a narrative of college admissions to me, similar to the plaintiffs in the case. Dinner party conversation would center around children’s educational ambitions, talk would quickly turn to how these hidden “quota systems” discriminated against us. Indian-American families living in posh neighborhoods with the money to hire private essay editors discussed these issues, quick to self-victimize.

It would be disingenuous for me to tout my “wokeness” without acknowledging that I, too, bought into the narrative that the cards were stacked against me. As an Indian-American woman from California, I thought the model minority myth would override my personal story. I readily argued that I had to try harder solely because of my race. Reflecting back on my views then, I am appalled and disgusted by my thoughts, actions, and discourse.

Affirmative action serves a role in our society to empower the disempowered. These laws are gatekeepers that serve to attempt to rectify the state of racial affairs in our country. Co-opting the narrative and failing to acknowledge the institutionalized discrimination that manifests through the exploitation of minorities, stagnant economic mobility, and opportunity barriers is the most insidious and horrifying part of this debate. Minority students, by large, suffer from educational inequality, with two-thirds of minority Americans attending high schools that are predominantly minority. These schools face a significant lack of funding, teacher shortages, and lower-quality curricula. How can students from these school-districts compete with wealthy students? They don’t have the funding to do cancer research, they can’t volunteer at a Congressman’s office if it’s two hours away, they can’t win speech and debate championships without the funding for a coach. We have to understand that the competiveness of college applications ultimately comes down to a question of access. Race is largely determinative of the access and privilege one has.

And Asian-Americans are by no means excluded from a dialogue about racial discrimination. The danger of this argument is the idea that all Asian-Americans come from culturally privileged backgrounds. While Asian-Americans are the wealthiest ethnic minority, they also have the highest rising level of income inequality. These low income Asian- American students are impacted by the affirmative action conversation, and they are the least likely to get into universities like Harvard of any other low-income racial minority. However, the narrative spun by students who are party to this lawsuit is one of embittered, wealthy Asian-Americans. Studies show that getting rid of affirmative action wouldn’t actually help Asian students in the admissions process and would hurt other minorities at large. We must recognize who has access and who needs a platform, even within racial minority groups. Affirmative action, while not perfect, is important to recognize the unique challenges that students face on account of their identity.  

I am not a victim. I cannot speak for the rest of my race, my ethnic group, or my gender. But I, growing up with abundant educational opportunities, would have been successful regardless of the college I went to. My privilege afforded me that. Let’s talk about the real issues, not just college admissions, but the institutional barriers underneath that. And let’s use this time of conversation to create a platform for those who really do need it.

Swathi Ramprasad is a sophomore at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

How Not to Spring Clean This Diwali

With the approach of Diwali, I tried to spring clean my house, as is customary. This year, some home repairs had been completed, and I was moving the contents back to my room. I smiled as I found a book that I had read many years ago. I remembered it with pleasure so naturally I put my spring cleaning aside and read it again. This tendency explains why my room is rarely very tidy. I admit it — I don’t get around to pruning or paring my book treasures very often. This tendency also explains why Marie Kondo and her tidiness advice does not work for a book hoarder like me. In fact,  I feel like a chipko movement activist where my books are concerned. This Diwali, as I found new gladness in an old book, I rejoiced in the fickleness of memory, so that prose that had delighted years ago still yielded rich rewards.

Rather than read my review of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth (2008), I recommend getting on with your Diwali cleaning, but I know some of you will ignore this excellent advice. This one’s for you.

Several themes run through Unaccustomed Earth, most of them tales of ivy-league educated Bengali children of immigrant parents. The uneasy blend of East and West, the inter-generational expectations and pressures, the love for erudition and consequent upward mobility are all larger themes, but underlying these, are the complexities of people trying to understand each other and cope in the ‘unaccustomed Earth’ of their adopted homeland.

Hema is one of the Bengali kids who has lived up to her parents’ lofty aspirations, becoming an academic after completing a Ph.D. Other characters buckle under the weight of expectations that have become unbearably onerous. Amit has dropped out of Columbia med school, Sang out of Harvard, and Rahul has become an alcoholic. Ruma has ‘opted out,’ leaving her legal job to raise her kids, a decision that her father warns Ruma she might come to regret.

The inexorable deterioration of the flawed project of marriage is another theme. Children are time-consuming marriage deadeners in “A Choice of Accommodations.” The impossibility of being able to ultimately understand a spouse, and the resentment of being the sole care provider for offsprings feature prominently in this narrative. Loyalty to a dead parent suffuses another tale in the Hema-Kaushik trilogy. The protagonists in the short stories try to do the right thing, whether to support an alcoholic brother or to accept a younger step-mother, but ultimately the emotional tsunami that ensues from these perceived betrayals threatens to obliterate these relations

Lahiri is a writer of uncommon insight into the psyche of the Bengali diaspora. Her scope is very narrow; somewhat claustrophic, but I do think her writing is beautiful in its subtlety. Several of her characters’ observations are stunning, such as this depiction of the musings of an old man looking back at his lifetime:

“He didn’t want to live again in an enormous house that would only fill up with things over the years as the children grew, all the things he’d recently gotten rid of, all the books and papers and clothes and objects one felt compelled to possess, to save. Life grew and grew till a certain point. The point he had reached now.“

I realize at this point that Ruma’s Baba was much better than me at spring cleaning. Oh, and Diwali spring cleaning awaits. So, you can stop reading this, and go clean your house. Or you could read something else. Either way, you have learned how not to spring clean this Diwali.

 

Photo credit: a Creative Commons image by Soumyadeep Paul

 

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. A domestic goddess, she is not.

 

Photo credit: a Creative Commons image by jvoves

Cover photo credit:  a Creative Commons image by Soumyadeep Paul

From Our Sponsors




Saint Thyagaraja Meets John Coltrane

The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma has said, “There’s a moment where you can go into nature — always, at any moment, and figure out some parallel to what is happening in a sound-centric world.” Beyond Oceans was reminiscent of fall colors – it brought together the classicism of the Nadalaya School of Music, founded and directed by Shanthi Shriram and Shriram Brahmanandam, and the richness of Around the World, a global music ensemble founded by their son Arun Shriram. This fusion music concert benefited Inclusive World, an organization dedicated to developing the skills and abilities of differently abled individuals. Inclusive World is based in San Jose, California, and their vision is to help these individuals find avenues for continued professional development and social immersion. The event was organized on Saturday, September 8th, at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.

The musicians included Wei Wang on Chinese percussion, Aditya Satyadeep on Indian violin, Alex Henshall on trumpet, Arun Shriram on mridangam, A.V. Krishnan on ghatam, Harini Krishnan on Indian keyboard, Morgan Swanson on guitar, Rob Goebel on cajon, Nandhan Natarajan on saxophone, Priyanka Chary on veena, Vijayakumar on keyboard, Kavya Iyer and Anivartin Anand on western violin, and vocal music was provided by the South Indian classical music students of Nadalaya School. The very sight of such variety on stage – of musical systems, of instruments, of musicians ranging from grade schoolers to accomplished artists, held together and swayed by music, was awe-inspiring.

The ensemble offered a twelve-course musical feast to a full house at Shannon theatre. They made an auspicious beginning with a mallari (traditional temple music) in the raga Gambhira Nattai, originally composed by the violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman.

Eastern and Western musical influences were tightly braided throughout the concert. For instance, when they performed an improvisation of Saint Thyagaraja’s Nagumomu in raga Abheri and John Coltrane’s Blue Train, the group seamlessly blended the two influences to create a whole new sound – a true hallmark of any good fusion music collaboration. At the same time, they played pieces where each style was preserved in all its glory, such as the Chinese drum (dagu) performance, Laya Vinyasam (improvised exposition of rhythmic patterns) on the mridangam, and a group rendition of chittaiswaram (improvisation in solfege) in the rare raga Pasupathipriya. This interplay made the performance pleasurable for the puritan in the audience and the casual listener alike. The music was interwoven with a slideshow which featured trivia about musical styles, instruments, artists, and composers.

In the end, they performed a medley, including One Day by Matisyahu from the famed “Kindness Boomerang“ video (a must watch clip that portrays the power of simple acts of kindness). Shanthi Shriram, who has been a Carnatic music teacher in the Bay Area for several years and who was one of the artistic directors for the show, recalls orchestrating the finale as an unforgettable experience – “A Tibetan song set to Indian Madhyamavathi raga flowed right after Brindavani thillana and then into an English song in major scale, then finally into a Spanish song which represented our Mohanam scale. The most interesting aspect of the whole concert was how the Chinese drum dagu flowed so well with Indian percussion instruments like mridangam and ghatam. This was something I had never imagined possible.

Arun Shriram, the talented mridangam player, cherishes rehearsing with the artists of Beyond Oceans for months on end. One can imagine the camaraderie that develops as a result when he says “Performing with these musicians on stage was also a different experience from most stage performances I’ve been in. Although we were determined and felt the pressure of providing an entertaining performance to the whole audience, it felt as though it was just another rehearsal- we smiled at each other, we used visual contact as cues to play some particular section of music, and we had fun!”

Shriram Brahmanandam, a mridangam artist and co-artistic director at the Nadalaya School, reflected on the unique musical scene here, which allowed this kind of experimentation to come to fruition.

“We are indeed very lucky to live in a multicultural society like the Bay area. This truly gives us the opportunity to expose our students to various enriching experiences of working with and learning from artists of diverse musical systems. This learning involves different dimensions – learning to appreciate the beauty of instruments and musical systems different from ours, working with artists of different nationalities, the process of focusing and bringing out the synergies between various musical systems, and of course experiencing the final outcome – beautiful fusion music that brings out the best from all systems.”

He is right about the most admirable aspect of the concert, “The icing on the cake was the fact that all these efforts raised significant funds to help a noble cause such as Inclusive world.” With a noble gesture, these good samaritan musicians have set in flight a kindness-boomerang.

Dinesh Rabindran is a rasika who lives and works in the Bay area.

A Poem for Karva Chauth

THE BANGLE SELLERS
Bangle sellers are we who bear
Our shining loads to the temple fair…
Who will buy these delicate, bright
Rainbow-tinted circles of light?
Lustrous tokens of radiant lives,
For happy daughters and happy wives.
Some are meet for a maiden’s wrist,
Silver and blue as the mountain mist,
Some are flushed like the buds that dream
On the tranquil brow of a woodland stream,
Some are aglow wth the bloom that cleaves
To the limpid glory of new born leaves.
Some are like fields of sunlit corn,
Meet for a bride on her bridal morn,
Some, like the flame of her marriage fire,
Or, rich with the hue of her heart’s desire,
Tinkling, luminous, tender, and clear,
Like her bridal laughter and bridal tear.
Some are purple and gold flecked grey
For she who has journeyed through life midway,
Whose hands have cherished, whose love has blest,
And cradled fair sons on her faithful breast,
And serves her household in fruitful pride,
And worships the gods at her husband’s side.
by Sarojini Naidu, 1912

Photo Credit: A Creative Commons image by Saravanan Rangaswamy.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.
Cover photo credit: Creative Commons image by Supratim Ghosh.
In-text photo credit: Creative Commons image by Saravanan Rangaswamy.

Three Ethnic Soups for Autumn

The changing of the seasons is often difficult to notice in the Bay Area, compared to other regions of the United States, but the arrival of autumn is definitely marked by shorter days and cooler temperatures.

Appetites increase with the colder weather, and working people, who may have discovered easy short-cuts for light, summer menus now find it difficult to prepare warm, satisfying, and nourishing food after a busy fall day.

Soups are among the simplest of food preparations, yet they can also be creative, attractive, tasty, and nutritious. And soups can act as entrees or even whole meals. On a chilly evening there is nothing as welcoming to come home to as the smell of hot soup simmering on the stove! After working in a stuffy office, or a long commute, soups can satisfy and hydrate our bodies.

Soups can be made using almost anything you find in the kitchen. Soup recipes are flexible and versatile, enabling adjustments to meet all kinds of individual preferences or dietary requirements. Vegetarians and vegans can easily omit meat from a soup recipe without compromise. Tofu, soymilk, or soy yogurt can be substituted for meat, cream, sour cream, or yogurt to lower cholesterol. Bean or lentil-based soups contribute significantly to a healthy vegetarian diet. Served with rice or bread, soups can provide a complete protein-rich meal.

Here are three soup recipes from three countries. Each of these soups can be prepared quickly, especially if you have their common denominator, the chopped and sautéed vegetables made ahead of time. So prepare the vegetables in your spare time and refrigerate them. When ready, use them to make a hearty soup in minutes. Enjoy!

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of  Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store. Serena Sacharoff is a chef, illustrator, and art student.


Make Ahead Vegetable Preparation

A few days or even a week in advance, prepare the vegetables for the soups as follows. Other vegetables can be added or substituted, depending on availability and preference.
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Ingredients:
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cauliflower or broccoli florets, cut  small
2 cups each carrot, celery, and zucchini, cut into ¼” cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons of canola, corn, safflower or olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons, freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and saute the chopped onion briefly until limp. Add the bell pepper and garlic. Stir fry for a few minutes. Then add rest of the vegetables.
Saute the vegetables for several minutes until they begin to soften and are coated with oil. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, and sprinkle them with the lemon or lime juice.
The above list of ingredients makes approximately 9 cups of vegetables.
Refrigerate the vegetables in a covered container until you are ready to make the soup.

Greek Lentil Soup with Red Wine or  Vinegar

Ingredients:
6 cups water
¾ cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
3 to 4 cups of the prepared vegetables
¼ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
½ teaspoon minced fresh or dried oregano
a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
cup red wine or vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the lentils. Cook the lentils over moderate heat until just soft, about 20 minutes. Add the prepared vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more until all of the ingredients are well blended. Then add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and wine or vinegar.

Cook uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Check seasoning and serve with rice or bread.

Sambar

Sambar is a type of South Indian dal (an Indian lentil-based soup) that can use many vegetables to create a substantial one-pot meal.
Ingredients:
8 cups of water
1 cup toor dal (yellow lentils)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 fresh hot chili such as jalapeno,minced after removing core and seeds
½ teaspoon each coriander and turmeric powders
2 whole dried tamarind pods (with their shells intact)
or 1 tablespoon unsweetened tamarind concentrate
or juice of 1 lemon mixed with a tea spoon of sugar (a sweet and sour substi tute)
3 cups or more of the prepared vegetables
1 tablespoon dry, shredded coconut
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon peanut, corn, or safflower oil

For tempering:
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 or 3 whole dried hot chilis
a pinch of asafetida

Rinse the lentils in very hot water a few times to remove dust and any oil they may have been coated with. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot and add the lentils. Simmer briskly for 15 minutes. Add the salt, powdered spices, ginger, and minced chili. Cover and cook the lentils for about 30 minutes on a moderate flame while preparing the other ingredients.

If using whole tamarind pods, remove the outer shell. Then take out the pits from the pulp and discard. Soak the pulp in ½ cup of warm water for 15 minutes to obtain a sweet and sour sauce.

Add the previously prepared vegetables, shredded coconut, tomatoes and the soaked tamarind sauce, tamarind concentrate, or the sweet and sour substitute to the soup. Simmer the soup while preparing for the last, important step, tempering—which sets the dal apart from other soups.

For tempering, heat the oil in a small saucepan. (A stainless steel measuring cup works fine for this step.) Add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds and dry chilies. Add the asafetida, and then quickly pour all of this smoky oil mixture into the pot of soup. Dip the small pan right into the dal to get it all off quickly, then immediately cover the pot. Turn off heat and keep the pot covered for five minutes. Uncover, retrieve the small saucepan and stir to mix.

Garnish the sambar with chopped fresh cilantro. Check seasoning and serve. Instruct your diners to remove the whole chilies from sambar before they eat.

Minestrone Con Pesto

Ingredients:
½ cup kidney or pinto beans soaked in 3 cups of water overnight or for 6 hours, then drained
Or l 12 oz. can of beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups of water
2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto, a basil paste (recipe below)
3 cups of the prepared vegetables
1/3 cup uncooked pasta noodles (any type) or rice
½ cup chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

For pesto:

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, thick stems removed
3 tablespoons parsley, thick stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
a few pinches of salt and pepper to taste

Boil the water and add the drained beans. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes.
To prepare the pesto, place the pesto ingredients listed above in the jar of a blender or food processor and puree thoroughly. (As you will need only a small portion of the pesto, store the rest in a jar and freeze for the future use.)

Add the prepared vegetables, pasta noodles or rice, tomatoes and a few tablespoons of pesto to the cooking beans. Cook for 20 minutes more until all the flavors are well blended. Taste for spiciness, adding salt, pepper and/or more pesto to taste. Pass around parmesan cheese for garnish.

First published in October 2010.

New India Bazar

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