Food and the Festival of Light

Diwali excites me. Every year as members of the Hindu community rush around preparing for this important five day Festival, I, like many non Hindu Trinidadians prepare to take part in the cuisine and sharing that is the Festival of Light.

Curries of all kind, traditional Hindu breads and sweets and gatherings planned in intricate detail ensure this public holiday is marked in style and appetites, whetted in year long anticipation are satisfied.

Inside 'The Little Store' Pooja Shop, Curepe Trinidad
A few Bottled Curries from my Pantry

Around this time, I am reminded how lucky I am as a Trinidadian, to grow up with and share these customs and how easily available the rich flavors of India have become. Pooja shops abound all over this country and in the days leading up to Diwali, they are insanely busy. Filled with authentic items from all over India, many visit these shops year-round for kitchen and household goods, clothes, spices, food and prayer related items.

Painted Diyas on Sale in Curepe
Ornate Diyas at My Home

The traditional lighting of diyas remain a sight to behold; glowing clay bowls filled with coconut oil and cotton wicks, arranged in simple rows or elaborate designs on wire or bamboo frames. The lighting of diyas (plain or ornate) symbolizes the reign of light over darkness in commemoration of the return of the Hindu Lord Rama from a fourteen year exile and the vanquishing of the demon-king Ravana.

Steaming Hot Spinach in Coconut Milk
Yellow Split Pea Dhal

Cooking lunch on Diwali for friends and family brings me such joy every year, then later tasting Diwali delights someone else has prepared - even more so. This year my menu was Bodi and Pumpkin Korma, Spinach with coconut milk, Split Pea Dhal, Coconut Rice with Raisins and simple Cucumber Salad.

Slivers of Cucumber and Onion with
Salt, Lime, Crushed Garlic and Pepper
Bodi and Pumpkin Korma

I consider myself a true 'meat mouth' but for Diwali I keep it vegetarian and a few tricks ensure I am always satisfied. I include ingredients like imitation bacon bits (just a little) to cooked greens as I turn off the heat - my usual way to cook greens begins with rendering the fat from pancetta or bacon. I use coconut milk and wet curries so sauces are thick and gravy like. I deepen flavors by roasting cumin and grinding to add to Dhals along with pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg. Large golden raisins make a meaty addition to rice and help balance some sweet with the savory.

Coconut Jasmine Rice with Golden Raisin
Tonight, when I bask in the glow of diyas and the comfort of family, friends and Hindu tradition I will smile, grateful for the continued experience of living peacefully in a rich and diverse Nation, steeped in a food culture.

Shubh Diwali (Happy Diwali).


Anonymous said...

Lovely post...


~Melissa said...

Thank you Nedyah :-)

kaye said...

gosh mel, your pictures are truly beautiful and complement the writing. Good work!

~Melissa said...

Thanks Kaye!,
Visit again soon for a new post, pics and video!

Crystal Ice said...

I'm usually in a pond of my own drool by the time I'm done reading a single post.