Last February when I visited my alma mater in India, I was amazed to see boys and girls carrying red roses. Street vendors selling flowers close to the campus were doing a brisk business. When I asked what was going on, a teacher replied, “Don’t you know today is Valentine’s Day?”
Yes, I knew it was Feb. 14 but I did not remember it being a big celebration in India. I was surprised at how popular Valentine’s Day had become on the subcontinent. Later, I also found out many stores had run out of Valentine’s cards and even notepads.
When I was in college in the late ’70s, my friends and I would often read and talk about the festivities of Valentine’s Day in America, but didn’t dare anything beyond talking to boys once in a while.
Yet, it makes sense that Valentine’s Day would appeal to many Indians. With pleasant weather, February (month of Magha in Hindu calendar) is the month of love. Magha is also one of the Indian classical melodies — gentle, soulful and romantic.
In this season, it is believed goddess Parvati did penance to win the love of Lord Shiva. Rati, Parvati’s friend, came to her aid by advancing the season of spring and dancing to make Shiva’s penance-hardened heart fall for Parvati. During this romantic period Lord Krishna also played St. Valentine for his sister and her friend to help bring together two loving hearts.
India is also the home of the monument to eternal love, the Taj Mahal. The mighty marble tomb was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his beloved wife, Mumtaj Mahal.
No celebration, especially for a day of romance, would be complete in India without special foods. The accompanying recipe is perfectly suited for the occasion.
CRAB CURRY FOR TWO
Serve with warm naan or a crusty bread of your choice, or on a bed of fragrant jasmine rice.
- 2 to 3 dried red chiles, stemmed and broken into pieces
- 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 crab (about 2 pounds), cleaned and cracked
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
Soak the chiles in the vinegar for 15 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger to the chiles and, using a blender or food processor, blend into a paste. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl.
Add the cumin, coriander and cinnamon to the mixture; mix thoroughly. Add the crab pieces and stir to coat them well. Cover and refrigerate for from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the crab and brown on all sides. Add the salt, water and sugar to the pan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the crab is cooked through and the flavors have blended. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 2.