Week One: Inspiration Week
This week is all about using different things as your inspiration for great food.
It was the penultimate night of our trip to India, and we were dining in the sky. Our group was in Munnar, a cool, rainy, cloudy town-on-a-hill surrounded by tea plantations. The drive up to Munnar in our 17-person van had been intense, with hairpin turns, sheer drops off cliffs, and rubble-strewn, broken roads that seemed impassable* to me, yet were somehow navigable thanks to our stalwart driver. We’d barely found our hotel — the Parakkat Nature Hotel — in the dark, but find it we did. By 8:00 we were gathered in the restaurant, the open plate-glass windows revealing nothing but inky black and admitting the chill night air. In the morning we’d gather there gain for breakfast, this time surrounded by fog and clouds, marveling at the sudden breaks that let through bright sunlight and painted the surrounding tea plantations a dappled gold.
Now it was dinnertime, though, and we’d stuffed our faces on chapati and parathas and gravies and noodles and a tandoori cauliflower dish that was perfection on a plate. Over at the other end of the table, I saw our dear, thoughtful hostess Jamuna conversing with a waiter. Then she turned to us.
“The chef can make payasam with coconut milk!” she announced. “The restaurant is closing soon but they can deliver it to your rooms. Who wants some?”
I was full, but Steven ordered a bowl, as did a few others. Pragathi explained that payasam was a milky pudding, often made with vermicelli noodles. This version, however, would be made with rice. A rice pudding was easy enough for me to visualize, but a noodle-based pudding? Not so much. I filed it away in my head as something to try later.
And so, back in the States, I turned to Vaishali and Richa for inspiration, using a mix of their two vegan semiya payasam recipes to try it for myself. I used rice vermicelli noodles since I had them in the pantry and forewent the golden raisins (Because, ugh. Sorry, authenticity.). Flavored with cardamom, cloves, and vanilla and lightly sweetened, the payasam was a pleasant surprise. Richa has you toast cashews in a little vegan butter first, reserving some of them for a yummy, rich topping. The noodles were a bit slippery and difficult to grasp with a spoon, but we didn’t mind. Steven ate his warm, but I chilled mine a bit first. Both options served us just fine. This simple recipe is going on my dessert rotation for sure. My only modification? Adding a little cornstarch dissolved in cold water so that the pudding would thicken up a little more.
*A few weeks after we left, Munnar was absolutely ravaged by the horrific flooding in Kerala, with hundreds of people requiring rescue from the mountain after the roads became truly unsafe and literally impassable. Scary stuff.