Aug 14, 2017

Monsoon Misery: 49 dead, 17 missing

Yep, the Monsoon is in full swing here in Nepal. Forty nine dead and seventeen missing in floods and landslides since Friday. Heavy rains are pelting northeastern India and Nepal forcing the evacuations of more than 13,000 people and threatening to trigger unprecedented river flooding. Infectious waterborne nasties are soon to follow. The death toll is predicted to rise. 

Basically here's what happens every year during the Monsoon: it rains a lot from mid June and throughout August. As in everything from torrential downpours to constant drizzling. All the rain that falls in the Himalayas drains downwards onto India. The swampy delta-like areas along the south of the Himalayas where the water drains is called the Terai. On the map above you can see the areas of the Terai highlighted in bright green along the southernmost border of Nepal. There are very few dams, drainage projects, nor any sort of water management systems in place here. 

And this is what happens every year: the Terai floods. Every. Single.Year.

And thousands are displaced. And rescue and relief efforts are launched.

And lives are lost. These are the bodies of three children whom were in their house when it collapsed in a flood on Saturday. This was in the Terai town of Nepalgunj. That debris you see is what's left of the house. 

 And livelihoods destroyed. This is a cornfield destroyed by floods in Dang on the Inner Terai on Saturday. The Terai has the most perfect rich loamy soil for growing just about any crop you could want. Every Monsoon brings new, fresh topsoil down from the Himalayas.

And livestock destroyed. This is what's left after the flood on Saturday at a chicken farm in Dang. Another livelihood destroyed. 

This is a section of the East-West Highway that was flooded this weekend. This is the same road we drive to Kathmandu on. 

But here in Nepal we have a saying, "Athithi Devo Bhava", which means "the guest is God." Above you see tourists being rescued on elephants. This picture was taken at the popular jungle safari resort of Sauraha in Chitwan located on the Terai. Hotels were forced to shift their guests to higher floors as water rushed in.

Around 600 tourists were stranded due to flooding. Elephants were used to transport tourists to the nearest open highway and airport to help them return to the capital Kathmandu. How's that for hospitality, eh? Supposedly the Nepali government is sending rubber rafts to help evacuation efforts. I'll bet there are more elephants in Nepal than rubber rafts!

Doesn't look like we'll be flying anywhere soon. This is the airport at Biratnagar. I think I'll wait for the elephants.

This was the damage when a local river overflowed it's banks in our district last Wednesday. Twelve homes were destroyed. Fortunately there were no human casualties as the village had been evacuated. But four goats, one cow, and 225 chickens were swept away.

And life goes on. Inevitably homes will be rebuilt in the flood zone. Crops will be replanted in the flood zone. Livestock will be raised again in the flood zone. And the same thing will happen again next year. As it has for generations. Last year 102 Nepalis perished in the first week of August from floods and landslides.

We're averaging about an inch a day of precipitation in our little valley this August.  I think I'm sprouting webs between my toes! ;)
How's your Summer going?
Hope you're high & dry wherever you are!


Aug 7, 2017

Murgh Xacuti (Goan Spiced Chicken)

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Pronounced 'sha-koo-tee,' this spicy chicken recipe comes from the tropical shores of Goa. A truly classic dish that can be found in almost all restaurants dotting the beaches, towns, and villages. Featuring a savory blend of rich coconut milk, hot red chilis, and aromatic spices- it's best served with steamed rice and mango chutney. 

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This recipe is adapted from the book Recipes from an Indian Kitchen by Parragon Books Ltd. I bought this book in Delhi's IGIA duty-free shopping area on a bargain table for about $6. I've since seen it in Target stores in Florida as well as on Amazon. It's a great cookbook for the price with 100 recipes from all across India. Most of the recipes seem to be restaurant versions of regional dishes rather than from an Indian's home kitchen. It is very well written, easy enough for beginners, and all recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs.  

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I have made a few changes my adaption of this recipe. The original instructions called for 600g of boneless and skinless chicken pieces. I've upped the quantity of chicken to 1 kg/2.2lbs and use bone-in chicken as it's more authentic. Since I increased the quantity of chicken I increased the amount of spices accordingly. The amounts of coconut milk and water were generous to begin with so I left them the same. The recipe called for whole dried red chilis to be ground but of course I changed them to Kashmiri mirch as per my Kashmiri clan's preferences. The recipe also called for the whole spices to be dry roasted before grinding. I didn't do that. I don't think the dry roasting is a necessary step when then spices are going to be fried and then simmered with the chicken anyway. It is my understanding that dry roasting the spices is only necessary in humid climates to facilitate grinding. (You can read my diatribe on why I don't dry roasting spices here.) I think I added a bit of ginger paste to the base too. That's because ginger is good for you, I love it's lemony flavor,  and most other Xacuti recipes I've perused online include it too. Anyway, this is a really easy and really delicious South Indian style chicken curry. If you're new to making curries or a seasoned pro - I'm sure you'll enjoy this recipe as much as my family does!

1kg/2lbs skinless chicken pieces
3 TBS cooking oil of choice or ghee
1/2 C onion, finely diced
1 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
1 TBS ginger/adrakh paste
400ml (1 can) or 14 oz coconut milk or coconut cream
1 C water
2 tsp tamarind paste
Grind to powder for masala:
1 TBS coriander seeds/dhania
1 TBS white poppy seeds/khus khus or ground cashews
1 TBS Kashmiri mirch (or 1&1/2 tsp cayenne plus 1&1/2 tsp paprika powder)
2 tsp fennel seeds/saunf
2 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 tsp turmeric/hali
5 green cardamoms/elaichi
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch
5 cloves/laung
1 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini, broken into small pieces (or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)

Here's what to do:
1) Grind coriander seeds, poppy seeds, Kashmiri mirch, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, green cardamoms, cloves, and cassia bark to fine powder. Set aside. (I use a coffee grinder dedicated solely to grinding spices.)

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2) Heat cooking oil or ghee with 2 teaspoonfuls salt in kadhai or deep heavy bottomed skillet for 5 minutes. Add diced onions and fry until beginning to brown. Add garlic paste and ginger paste and fry for about 2 minutes or until raw smell is gone from garlic.

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3) Add ground spices for masala to the fried onions, stir well, and fry for 2 minute. Add chicken pieces to fried onion mixture in pan. Cook chicken pieces for 2 minutes on each side. If mixture begins to stick or scorch add 1/4 C water to the pan, stir well, and reduce heat.

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4) Add coconut milk and water to pan. Stir well. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low/medium and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes.

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5) Stir in the tamarind paste and cook for 5 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Salt to taste and serve immediately. 

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Helpful hints:
You can make the spice mixture ahead of time and store it in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Gorgeous Goan coastline.

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