The first time I went to India, my now husband and I spent 5 days in New Delhi (4 days too many for a first-timer!) and then to stay in the house of a friend-of-a-friend in the small city of Dehradun. The owner of this house (really, more of a manor) was an Indian man, sort of a spiritual-mystic-traveller with money who was not around at the time but had left the key for us with his cook. The house was large, beautiful, and seemingly abandoned… dusty, frozen in time, charming but strange. To say the least, were a little, um, spooked in this big empty house.
But the cook took care of us. She was a narrow, young-ish woman living in a tiny house on the manor’s property. Our communication floated in the space between English and Hindi. Grinning and gesturing, we built a small vocabulary of Hindi words… starting with “chaabee” (key). Each morning she brought a pitcher of chai and a stack of parathas (flakey flat breads layered with oil or ghee). But our very first meal there was a daikon subji with a side of yellow dal.
That daikon dish was one of the best meals I’ve had in India. Was it her cooking? Was it the daikon itsellf? Was it the comfort and nourishment in the spookiness of the manor?
So today, in honor of that lovely cook, I’m preparing a daikon and sweet potato dish – “Subji” is one of the words used in India for any vegetable dish (another is “Bhaji“, and in the west, the word used is “Curry”). In this recipe, I do about 1 part daikon to 2 parts sweet potato. It makes for a good early spring recipe… when there are still good root veggies (like sweet potato), but spring things are appearing (such as daikon). The sweet, heavy, kapha nature of the sweet potato balances the bitter, pungent, light nature of the daikon and the spices meld the tastes together. I emphasize sweetness via the cinnamon and sugar added to the recipe, to balance the vata nature of the daikon.
2-4 TB oil (cocnut, sunflower or ghee)
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick (or 2 black cardamom pods)
1 thumb’s length ginger, peeled and minced
1 green chili (optional) or 2 pinches red chilie powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
1 large daikon (or 2 small), peeled and chopped into small cubes
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into small cubes
1/2 Cup Shredded Coconut (unsweetened)
3 TB Organic Cane Sugar or Maple Syrup
Salt to taste
1/2 Cup (or so) Water to prevent sticking
The juice of 2 limes or lemons
- Heat the oil in a large skillet
- At medium heat, add the cumin and coriander seeds, and heat through in the oil until an aroma is emitted or they start to brown lightly
- Add the ginger, cinnamon (or cardamom), turmeric powder and stir to coat for 1 minute
- Add the rest of the ingredients (except the citrus & cilantro). Stir to coat.
- Turn down to medium low heat and cook until the vegetables are tender (about 20 minutes) Check throughout and add water if vegetables are sticking.
- Stir in the cilantro and citrus and serve over rice or with chapatis.