Saturday, August 7th was a day of celebrating all that is India with its cuisine, colors, music and dress at the grounds of the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin, not too far from downtown Waukesha. Called “Ananda Mela” (which is roughly translated as “happiness fair”), this annual event was open to all, with not only Indian food, but games and rides for the children, entertainment, fireworks, vendors and more.
Having driven past the temple on Pewaukee Road a few times in the past, we’ve always been curious about it. So we were very glad to find out about this yearly event which is open to the general public.
One thing that really defines a culture is its cuisine. India is a hot country, and so is its food! This, of course, made possible by pepper. Indian food was originally made spicy with black and green peppercorns before chilies eventually found their way into India and its complex cuisine all the way from the New World.
When one thinks of Indian food, curry immediately comes to mind (at least to the Western mind). Curry is a mélange of traditional Indian spices cooked in a vegetable compote of tomato, onion and chilies with or without meat and is traditionally eaten over rice. But this year’s Ananda Mela highlighted a lot of other types of Indian dishes besides curry.
Roving through the giant, white big-top tent set up on one of the temple’s two parking lots that housed food, vendors of Bollywood videos, artwork depicting Hindu gods, and bright, happy sari dresses, we could find no meat dishes offered. Because people who practice the Hindu religion believe in the interdependence of life, they don’t eat meat or food that has involved the taking of life. They avoid food that may have caused pain to animals in the manufacturing process.
Hindus believe that karma is the spiritual load one accumulates during life. So, if one consumes the meat of an animal, then one accumulates the karma of that act. That, according to Hindu teachings, will then have to be balanced out through good acts and learning, in this life (or the next).
Instead, a variety of hearty, nourishing and delicious vegetarian Indian specialties could be had for various numbers of food tickets which were sold at the festival entrance for 50¢ each. For only $10 worth of tickets, we were both more than satisfied sharing a meal of fried chick pea and chili hushpuppies called “dal vada” which came garnished with thinly sliced red onion and fried, green chili peppers, along with another dish called “pani poori” which consisted of hollow, fried pillow-crisps served with a bowl of mild, flavorful chili water (you split the hollow crisps open a little at the top and fill them with the green chili water before plunking them into your mouth).
For that same modest price, we also had a few cups of a sweet mango drink (mango “laasi”) and a nice Indian candy dessert. Sugar-cane juice was being produced at one stand – the vendors were wringing big, thick sugar stalks through a strong, metal crusher to extract the juice from them (the line was really long at that stand!).
A special cultural exhibition of song and dance was offered twice during the day. After finishing our meal, we were delighted to be seated among the throng of happy-chatty festival attendees in the auditorium on the lower level of the temple to watch Indian dancers whirl batons and parade melodically under colorful, maypole swatches to traditional, Indian music.
Various dance numbers of twisting wrists and hopscotch leg moves brought us an audio-visual taste of specifically showcased regions of India, such as Rajasthan and the Punjab. It was exotic and truly enjoyable.
Take a trip to India next August at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin’s happiness fair – check their website for this and other events!
Hindu Temple of Wisconsin
N4063 W243 Pewaukee Road, Pewaukee, WI
Traditional Indian Curry Recipe (taught to Mr. M. years ago in Milwaukee by an old friend from the northwest of India)
1 to 1½ pounds chicken, lamb, or other meat of choice (for shrimp, lobster, tuna or other fish, see note below)
1 large onion, minced
1 large tomato, finely diced (or one, 14.5-oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand)
2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon garam masala Indian spice (see note below)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder1 teaspoon hot/cayenne powder, or to taste – we like it hot!
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground, black pepper
1 ground clove
⅛ teaspoon All Spice
2 servings cooked, Basmati rice (see note below)
Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large, deep skillet. If making the recipe with meat, remove any bones and cut into bite-sized pieces. Brown the meat in the oil, then set it aside. If making the recipe with seafood, go to the next step before adding to the pan.
Add the onion to the oil in the pan and fry until caramelized. Add the spices and cook one minute, then add in the garlic and tomato; let it simmer and reduce down to a soupy mash, then add the seafood or the browned meat back in with water enough to cover the contents of the pan. Boil on med-high heat uncovered until water is fairly well evaporated and it’s thickened up nicely.
Serve over the rice with naan, chapatti or other Indian flat bread, using the bread in lieu of flatware to scoop up the curry and rice.
Serves 2 to 4 persons.
āp kā khānā svādiṣṭa ho (that’s “bon appétit” in Hindi)!
Because of the taboo against eating beef in the Hindu culture, you will normally not run across curried beef in Indian restaurants. But we love to make curried beef at home (we use sliced skirt steak, and it is delicious)! Shrimp should be shelled, cleaned and deveined, and it should not be added in until only about the last five minutes so that it does not get overcooked and rubbery.
You may substitute the meat and seafood with half a pound of peeled, diced potatoes, half a pound of chopped cauliflower and about a cup of frozen peas to make a popular vegetarian curry called “aloo gobi.” Boil the potatoes and cauliflower for 10 minutes in unsalted water and drain while you simmer the tomatoes and onion, then add them in with the peas at the end of the recipe above when you would add in the browned meat or seafood.
For two servings of Basmati rice, put 1 cup of thoroughly rinsed, raw Basmati rice and 1½ cups of water into a saucepan with another ⅛ teaspoon of turmeric. Uncovered, bring it to a boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt, a tablespoon of cooking oil, stir it, put the heat on low and tightly cover the saucepan. Let it cook for twenty minutes, minding that you do not remove the lid during the 20-minute cooking time because the rice needs the pressure in the pot to properly cook.
We have a number of wonderful shops in the Greater Milwaukee area where you can get Indian spices and Basmati rice. We like Indian Groceries & Spices located at 10633 West North Avenue, Milwaukee (right across from the Mayfair shopping mall).