Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Indian valentine, Spice it up for your sweetheart

Last February when I visited my alma mater in
India, I was amazed to see boys and girls carrying
red roses. Street vendors selling flowers close to the
campus were doing a brisk business. When I asked
what was going on, a teacher replied, "Don't you
know today is Valentine's Day?"

Yes, I knew it was Feb. 14 but I did not remember
it being a big celebration in India. I was surprised at
how popular Valentine's Day had become on the
subcontinent. Later, I also found out many stores
had run out of Valentine's cards and even notepads.

When I was in college in the late '70s, my friends
and I would often read and talk about the festivities
of Valentine's Day in America, but didn't dare
anything beyond talking to boys once in a while.

Yet, it makes sense that Valentine's Day would
appeal to many Indians. With pleasant weather,
February (month of Magha in Hindu calendar) is the
month of love. Magha is also one of the Indian
classical melodies -- gentle, soulful and romantic.

In this season, it is believed goddess Parvati did
penance to win the love of Lord Shiva. Rati,
Parvati's friend, came to her aid by advancing the
season of spring and dancing to make Shiva's
penance-hardened heart fall for Parvati. During this
romantic period Lord Krishna also played St.
Valentine for his sister and her friend to help bring
together two loving hearts.

India is also the home of the monument to eternal
love, the Taj Mahal. The mighty marble tomb was
built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to enshrine the
body of his beloved wife, Mumtaj Mahal.

No celebration, especially for a day of romance,
would be complete in India without special foods.
The accompanying recipe is perfectly suited for
the occasion.


Serve with warm naan or a crusty bread of your
choice, or on a bed of fragrant jasmine rice.

2 to 3 dried red chiles, stemmed and broken into
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
4 garlic cloves
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 crab (about 2 pounds), cleaned and cracked
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

Soak the chiles in the vinegar for 15 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger to the chiles and, using a blender or food processor, blend into a paste. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl.

Add the cumin, coriander and cinnamon to the
mixture; mix thoroughly. Add the crab pieces and stir to coat them well. Cover and refrigerate for from 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high
heat. When the oil is hot, add the crab and brown on all
sides. Add the salt, water and sugar to the pan. Bring to a
boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 12 to 15
minutes, stirring occasionally, until the crab is
cooked through and the flavors have blended.
Garnish with cilantro. Serves 2.