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Feeding the Hungry Ghost: A Recipe for Veggie Bhaji
Eating — we do it every day, so you’d think we’d have it down by now. And yet I hear from people all the time who say they want a closer, healthier relationship with what they eat, with the planet and with themselves.
I gave a talk recently in which I wanted my audience to understand the consequences of what we eat, and why that might make them consider eating more produce and less meat. They might even go vegan — it happens! My talking points went something like this:
- A meatless diet is cool, and not just because celebs are doing it; it’s cool in terms of carbon output.
- It’s good for our health. The USDA’s new dietary guidelines say so.
- Even D.H. Lawrence got into it (at which point I threw in his line about figs being “glittering, rosy, moist, honied,” to get the audience revved up about the connection between produce and pleasure).
People nodded. I had them. I ended big: Change what you eat, then change your life, then change the world. Applause. Then I opened it up to questions.
A guy in the third row asked, “What do I eat for dinner?”
Excellent question. Because you can’t change the world when you can’t even figure out what to eat at the end of a long day.
You deserve nourishment — nourishment from the food you eat, of course, but also from connection, balance, and radiant good health. Our relationship with food goes beyond a single meal or even a meal plan. Where food comes from — how it binds us to the planet and to each other, and how it makes us feel — matter more than what’s on your plate.
But the things we really hunger for — comfort, unconditional love, connection, meaning — aren’t usually on the menu. Feeding that deeper hunger and serving the world start with what you serve for dinner. It means thinking beyond what’s on your plate. It means seeing food as something that strokes the soul as it stokes the body, food as connection to and communion with the earth and each other.
Feeding the Hungry Ghost takes its title from the Tao concept of restless souls still hungry, still seeking, even beyond the grave. In ancient Buddhist scrolls, hungry ghosts are edgy, depicted as bug-eyed, big-bellied and fierce. Wouldn’t you be if you’d been staggering around for centuries without getting the sustenance you need? Hungry ghosts are assuaged by prayer and food.
The same things do the trick for hungry mortals, too. We are hungry for so much more than food, which is why to discuss food without discussing our relationship to it, be it ties to a recipe, to the culture, place, or time it comes from, or even to the pleasure of food itself, is to miss the bigger picture. Saffron, tarragon, cardamom and cumin make food taste better. Culture, connection, and faith do the same thing for our lives. They make it delicious. They feed us. Just as I hope this recipe will feed you.
Recipe: Veggie Bhaji
Celebrate Diwali — or any day — with this vegetable bhaji. It’s quick to make and fireworks-bright, with just a bit of jalapeño providing a small, pleasant explosion in the mouth. With a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, it’s a breeze to make. Otherwise, seize your favorite chef’s knife and slice the vegetables finely. It will go quickly. Serve with brown basmati rice, or scoop up with naan, roti or another flatbread.
Serves 4 to 6
- 3 tablespoons canola or coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened dried coconut (optional but very nice)
- 1 onion
- 1/2 head of purple, napa or savoy cabbage
- 3 carrots
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into skinny strips
- 1 jalapeño chili, minced
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
- Sea salt
Shred the onion, cabbage, and carrots. In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the mustard seeds. Cover with a lid and cook until the mustard seeds pop, about 1 minute. Uncover the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and add the cumin, turmeric and coconut (if using). Cook, stirring often, until the spices start to toast and the mixture becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the confetti of vegetables to the skillet and stir together over medium heat. Add the sliced red pepper and minced jalapeño to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro. Season with sea salt.
Ellen Kanner is the Meatless Mondays blogger at Huffington Post and contributes to publications including Bon Appetit, Vegetarian Times and Every Day with Rachael Ray. She is active in numerous food-based social projects, such as Slow Food Miami, and lives in Miami, FL. Visit her website for more healthy cooking advice at www.ellen-ink.com.