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INDIA, NORTHERN

to be cooked in such a way that it would last for several days when the men went off to war. The scarcity of wa- ter gave rise to a cuisine that is cooked with very little or no water. This is especially true of the desert belt, where milk, buttermilk, or ghee is often substituted for water.

The princely families of Rajasthan were obsessed

with shikar (hunting) and enjoyed game. Their meat del- icacies are incomparable. During the hunts, meats, in- cluding poultry, game, and fish, are marinated, skewered, and grilled over live fires to make soola kebabs. Within the ancient palaces, the recipes were a closely guarded se- cret. Game is cooked in several ways. Rabbit, deer, and boar are prized, and what is not consumed is pickled for later use.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Marwaris, who are strict vegetarians and will not even use garlic and onion in their cuisine. Dried lentils and beans from in- digenous plants are the staples of a Rajasthani diet, as wheat and rice do not grow in the desert. Bajra (millet) and makki (maize) are used for making various kinds of bread. The Marwaris use a lot of pulses and gram flour in their cuisine as vegetables are scarce in the desert cli- mate. Moong dal khilni (a dry preparation of lentils, tossed in a mixture of spices), moong godi ki subzi (grape-sized dumplings of green gram, which has been ground to a paste and sun-dried), and gatte ki subzi (rolls of gram flour, steamed and cooked in buttermilk sauce) are delicacies in this region. Other innovations include the use of mango powder as a substitute for tomatoes, and asafoetida, to enhance taste in the absence of garlic and onions. Sweets are also very popular.

Feasting and Fasting

A proverb in North India says “after a fast, a feasting; and after a feasting, a fast.” Festivals in India always revolve around food: either through feasting, fasting, or feeding someone. They are numerous, and celebrate harvests and the prevalence of good over evil in stories related to gods and goddesses. Food is an important part of any cele- bratory event. No festival or celebration is complete with- out sweets, which are said to ward off evil spirits. In North India, some of the popular festivals are Lohri, Holi, Jan- mashtami, and Diwali.

Lohri (the winter solstice) is a festival connected to the solar year. It is also celebrated as a harvest festival in many parts of the country. Til laddus (a sweet made from sesame seeds) is distributed among family and friends and eaten throughout North India. Til is considered auspi- cious and “heating,” an important attribute given the cold weather prevalent at that time of year. Another traditional preparation on this day is khichari (a preparation of rice and lentils cooked together).

Holi is the festival of color that celebrates the end of winter and the coming of warm weather. The crops have been cut, threshed, stored, or sold. People of all ages celebrate by throwing color on each other. The festival

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is also celebrated with special sweets. In the North, fam- ilies and friends share gujiyas made with khoya and nut stuffing (wheat pastry with a stuffing of milk solids and nuts) and sugar batashas (sugar flakes). Thandai, a chilled, milk-based drink flavored with almonds, cardamom, rose petals, and whole pepper, is synonymous with Holi and is routinely served to all celebrants or guests.

Janmashtami is associated with Krishna. The food prepared on this day is prepared from milk and curds, much beloved by him. A part of the festivities includes filling a large earthen pot with milk, curds, butter, honey, and fruit and suspending this pot from a height of be- tween twenty and forty feet. Sporting young men and boys form human pyramids to bring the pot down and to claim its prized contents. Many families fast on this day, but one meal is allowed. This meal includes fruit, sweets, nuts, and curds.

Diwali, the festival of lights, commemorates the vic- tory of good over evil. It is also the day when Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu and the goddess of prosperity, is worshiped. Lakshmi and Vishnu are said to dwell in the celestial Kheer Sagar (the ocean of milk). This is the ori- gin of the word kheer, a popular confection of milk and rice that is prepared on almost all festive occasions as an auspicious offering to placate the gods, after which it is served to the priests and guests. The preparation of kheer is a must on Diwali.

Diwali signifies the onset of winter. The harvest is over, and it is time for a change in diet that is more ap- propriate to the winter season. On this auspicious day, unleavened bread, which is traditionally baked, is fried, perhaps to symbolically display prosperity with the ex- travagant use of fat. This may also be because during the winter months, the body requires more calories to com- bat the cold, and richer foods become easier to digest. The affluent eat dried fruits, nuts, and sweetmeats, while others gorge themselves on kheel khilone (puffed rice and candied sugar figurines). There is a great emphasis on sweets, with gifts of sweets exchanged between family, friends, and business associates.

The most elaborate festival has to be Wazwan, a Kashmiri feast, that was introduced to India about five hundred years ago from Central Asia. It is a blend of the culinary styles of the Mughals and Persians who were Muslim on the one hand, and the Kashmiri pundits who are Hindu Brahmins on the other hand. As many as forty courses may be served during Wazwan, with at least twelve and up to thirty courses being nonvegetarian.

There are numerous fasts in India. Each day of the week is dedicated to one of the many Hindu deities. Those with particularly strong religious sentiments fast on the day dedicated to their favorite deity. For example, those who believe in Hanuman will fast on a Tuesday. These fasts require that only one meal, without cereal and salt, be eaten throughout the day, although fruit, nuts, sweets, curds, and liquids are allowed. Muslims in

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