Thanksgiving and Diwali: A Fusion of Traditions
The holiday season kicks off again once more and as usual Thanksgiving Day here in America arrives with festing and family, a precursor to the “second helping” once December rolls around. It’s also a time of year I think fondly of a very different kind of holiday we celebrated when I was growing up in India that we still honor here in the United States: Diwali. It is also my favorite Indian festivals, a five-day “festival of lights”, an ancient holiday still celebrated today more than a billion people.
Diwali is the most important festival in Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths, celebrated each year between mid-October to mid-November on the day of the new moon when the sky is at its darkest. While the origins behind the festival vary from faith to faith and region and region, where I grew up in northern India, Diwali commemorates the victory of King Rama as chronicled in the Hindu epic Ramayana. In the Epic, King Rama fought an evil king in Sri Lanka and brought his abducted wife back home to India. To celebrate his return, every house lit clay oil lamps (called diyas) to welcome them back. While the details of the “why” we celebrate are different in many places, it universally has themes of good triumphing over evil, light over dark, family and most importantly: hope.
Diwali Memories: A Festival of Lights and Hope
Diwali in my memory was bathed in light, our homes, streets, businesses and markets all lit up by candles, diyas and oil lamps. In the sky, were the colorful bursts of even light from firework displays and firecrackers popping in the streets. There was dance, always dance and the spreading of joy…families coming together over great feasts. The occasion called for us all to be our best selves, clad in brilliantly flashy traditional clothing and jewelry paired with intricate hairstyles (that yes, included extensions)! All of this extravagance and joy was on the 3rd day of Diwali, and much like Christmas, it meant mithai (sweets) and presents. It was a time always important to my parents, as it had been to their parents before them. With “home” half a world away, it was nonetheless important for us to expose our American children to our culture and traditions as we have for many years.
Diwali Feast and Family: A Culinary Journey
When it comes to Diwali feasts, ours is always filling, fresh and richly flavored. My favorites dishes are simple comfort food that really can be celebrated during Diwali or even at your Thanksgiving table for something new and different. I wanted to share these two below with a refreshing holiday cocktail that is a personal favorite of mine: pomegranate and rosewater champagne cocktail!
Have a wonderful and bountiful Thanksgiving!
Gautama and Priyanka Swamy
Lemon Rice Recipe
- 1 ½ cups uncooked rice ( I like using Basmati rice)
- Lemon Juice freshly squeezed from 2 big lemons
- Salt as per taste
- 2 Tbsp oil
- ¾ tsp mustard seeds
- 4 tbsp peanuts ( I love peanuts and this makes this rice dish extra special)
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 2 green chillies split
- Few curry leaves
- Wash rice with water and then cook it by adding the turmeric powder. I usually use ratio 1:2 that is for 1 cup rice 2 cups water
- Once rice is cooked add the lemon juice and mix well.
- In a saucepan pour oil and then sautee the mustard seeds, curry leaf, chillies and peanuts. Once roasted add it to the rice
- Put salt and garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.
Cucumber Moong Dal Salad
- 1 Cucumber
- ½ cup Moong Dal ( green gram bean) soaked in water for 2 hrs
- Curry Leaves
- Chopped Cilantro
- Green chillies
- Lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp Freshly grated coconut
- Salt to taste
- Cut cucumber into small piece cubes and then add all the ingredients and mix well. Enjoy this salad with lemon rice.
Pomegranate & Rosewater Champagne Cocktail
- 2 cups pomegranate juice (store-bought or made*)
- 1/4 cup caster sugar or to taste (depending on how tart the juice is)
- 1 strip orange peel, no pith, or 2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
- 2 tsp rosewater
- 1 bottle sparkling wine, chilled (or use a non-alcoholic alternative)
- Garnish: 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
- Make the garnish: Divide the 2 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds between ice tray (mine had 14 holes), cover with water and freeze.
- Make syrup base: Divide pomegranate juice, caster sugar and orange peel (or juice) in a small saucepan and on moderate heat simmer for 5-10 minutes until reduced by half and slightly syrupy.
- Take off heat and discard orange peel (if using). Add rosewater and allow to cool. Chill until needed.
- To serve, toss 2-3 ice cubes into each glass, add 2-3 tablespoons of pomegranate syrup, and top up with chilled bubbles.