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Jalebis and Garam Chai inspired by Climbing the Mango Trees for Cook the Books Club

I was as I often find myself completely enamored by our most recent Cook the Books selection...which was Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey.  It was a memoir...a lively, tempting, honest journey of a girl growing up in India...a girl who grew up in a different time...a different a completely different culture...and yet, I found myself connecting with her on a deeper level.  The vivid descriptions of a young girl and her family...making her way through life, recalling events through the food that was associated with them...on a mission to find the place in the world which she belonged, because she knew there was more out there than she presently knew!  "The life I was living was not my real life.  I was convinced that I belonged in another world.  I had no idea what that world might be, I just knew that I had not found it yet.  One day it would happen.  I would step out of one life and into another one-the one I was meant to be in.  I was oddly calm and optimistic about it."  Some people are just meant for more.

Jaffrey's descriptions of the traditional foods of Indian....and all of the cultures and influences that made their way into it had my mouth watering and my hands bookmarking the whole way through.  One of the memories that touched my soul was of school lunch.  She and her friends, a mini melting pot of Muslim, Hindu and Punjabi girls who couldn't guess that fate...and a division in their own country...would divide them one day not too far in the future.  When lunch period arrived, they would all grab their tiffin carriers and run to a remote section of grass, taking refuge from the heat under rows of tall shady trees.  They would excitedly share their amazing, handmade lunches... tier by tier...unstacking the wonders that were nestled inside.  "It was not so much the ingredients- the ingredients we used at home were not all that different, though we did use less chili powder- as the hand that put these ingredients together, and the order and timing it chose to use.  That hand had a different rhythm, a different energy from my mother's, and from our own Hindu cooks from Himalayan villages.  It produced a Muslim result."  I instantly drifted to memories of Mexi telling me how it just tastes different when I make a sandwich than when he makes a sandwich.  It tastes better coming from my hands....and I know that it actually IS about the energy of the hands that make that food.

So, I could go on and on about the parts of Jaffrey's book that spoke to me in whispers...or SCREAMED through my being, but instead, I'll just recommend that you read it for yourself.  You may hear something similar...or something all together different.  While I was tempted to make numerous things throughout the book, there was a memory that wouldn't leave me was as if it were my own.  I'm positive it's the comfort I feel when the sky opens up and soaks the world around me...the love of a magnificent thunderstorm...the way the earth feels cleansed.  Combined with with the marvel that is wind...I love to stand in it, close my eyes, and lift me chin...sniffing like an indoor cat at an open window...feeling my hair whip across my face.  Although I've never experienced a monsoon, I want to that sounds horrible, but I can't help myself  I somehow knew just how she must have felt when in the midst of the oppressive summer heat... " was a faraway smell, almost as if we were imagining it.  Soon the entire sky was dark with black clouds. thunder boomed from all sides, accompanied by zigzags of lightning.  The earth seemed hotter than ever.  First one or two fat drops of rain fell, then more and more, until there was a deluge.  Suddenly the heat broke, as if some shell encasing us had been cracked open.  We all....held our faces up to the sky, and allowed ourselves to get thoroughly soaked.  The monsoon season had finally arrived.  We could now feast on monsoon sweets, the squiggly pretzel-shaped jalebis, dunking them in glasses of cold milk as we gazed dreamily at the downpour."  At the same time I longed to step back in time and share a slice of Jaffrey's India, I also ached to get into the kitchen! 

I can imagine how perfectly a cold glass of milk tasted alongside the jalebis in the heat, but I was craving another treat mentioned in the that I've only ever ordered from coffee houses...or tasted from a weak, boxed blend.  I definitely wanted a cup of homemade chai alongside my jalebis...

Garam Chai
adapted from IndiaCurry
yield: ~5 c.

3 c.  water
3 c.  milk
¼ c. honey
1" cinnamon stick, broken
6 whole cloves, slightly bruised
6 whole green cardamom pods, cracked
6 whole black peppercorns, slightly bruised
½ tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. fennel seeds, slightly bruised
4 Black Tea tea bags
good grating off of a whole nutmeg

half 'n half (optional)

Place everything except the half 'n half in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer slowly for ~30 minutes.  Strain mixture.  Keep refrigerated.  When ready to serve, heat ¾ c. mixture w/ ¼ c. half 'n half in a small pot or in the microwave...or just drink it straight w/out adding the half 'n's good both ways!  I also like it served cold.
I made the chai a day in advance, and then re-heated a cup to eat with my jalebis once they were hot and ready.  I also tried it with a cold cup of chai, which was equally good...but a whole 'nother taste sensation.

recipe adapted slightly from IndiaCurry

1½ c. ap flour (maida)
¼ c. yogurt (dahi)
¼ tsp. baking soda

oil for frying

1½ c. sugar
1½ c. water

Mix the flour and yogurt together.  It will look a bit clumpy and stringy.  Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight to ferment.  Just before you're ready to use, sprinkle the baking soda over the mixture, then whisk in a little bit of tepid water at a time.  It should be slightly thicker than pancake batter.  Heat the oil to ~375° F.  Put the batter into a bastry bag or a zippered baggy and cut the tip off.  When the oil is hot, pipe the batter in squiggly lines or spirals into it.  Fry until golden on both sides, just a few minutes total.

Just before you're getting ready to mix the water into your batter, put the sugar and the water into a pot and bring to a boil.  Continue to let it boil for ~15 minutes, or until it is a thick syrup.  Set it to the side.

As you lift the fried dough from the hot oil, dip it into the sugar syrup and transfer to a rack or serving plate.  Eat immediately!

*all of the quotes listed were taken from Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey ...they were some of my favorite moments of her memoir...