“Hunger is the best sauce.” – English proverb
I have been fortunate to have had many inspirational figures around me while growing up. Many of them have taught me invaluable life lessons that have made me the person I am today. One such person who has taught me the simplest of all lessons, is Anup’s grandma, Elizabeth. The lesson she taught me was something she mentioned in passing, and yet, it has had a profound impact on me!
Elizabeth is in her late seventies and is in great health for her age. The small house she lives in is in the middle of a vadi, a small garden, that she maintains herself. Her home looks like it just jumped out of a storybook! It’s surrounded by varieties of trees – mango, papaya, guava and the Indian gooseberry. Every time I have gone to visit Elizabeth, I have found her busy working in her garden. She calls herself the “slave of the seasons” because she is constantly busy harvesting the fruits ready to be harvested, planting new herbs and vegetables, and tending to the needs of the season. The whole family gets to taste the produce from her garden, she plans diligently to make sure no one in the immediate family missed out on her bounty!
Elizabeth lives by herself, which is unusual for a person of her age in India. Most elderly people prefer living with the younger generation who can look after them. Many of the family members living in cities have asked her to move-in with them, but she has assured everyone that she is self-sufficient and has a great support system where she lives. And rightly so, she has so many friends that whenever I visit her I come across a new face or a few! She goes to church every Sunday and is part of the singing group at the church. After the service, she walks to the meat shop by herself, about a mile walk, and buys chicken she would cook that evening. Elizabeth is quite a host too, I am yet to leave empty-handed from her house. Whether it’s the fruits or the seasonal vegetables, she will make sure you leave her house with something in your hands! If nothing else, she will run to the little patch where she grows fresh herbs and plucks some cilantro and mint for you!
A couple of years ago, we found ourselves sitting out in her garden, talking about what life is like in India and how that compares to the western world. I told her that in the western world, almost everyone can afford basic luxuries like air conditioning, good food and shelter. I told her that people generally lived a happier, healthier life in the western world and asked her how she has stayed so healthy even in her seventies. She let out one of her trademark loud laughs and after a moment’s pause, she said, “If I want to eat, I have to work. So it keeps me healthy.”
That, in a nutshell, was the secret to her good health. While being healthy in the urban world has us all counting calories, watching our carbs and spending hours at the gym, the whole process is simplified out there in her garden! So here is a dish that celebrates the simplicity of what Elizabeth has taught me. This vegetable stew uses all seasonal vegetables along with whole black soybeans which are full of protein! Soybeans are harvested and dried edamame. Black soybeans are low in carbs while being high in protein and fiber. They are rich in antioxidants and high in omega-3 fatty acids. They also block fat, build muscle and increase good cholesterol. So if you are looking for a way to include these little beauties in your diet, try this stew!
Vegetable Stew with Black Soybeans
1 cup black soybean – soaked over night with 1 tsp of salt
2 tbsp coconut oil/ghee
1 small red onion – chopped
2 stalk celery – chopped
4 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 tsp ginger – grated
1 tsp cumin powder
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce – chopped/1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp honey/agave
4 cups vegetable broth/water
2 zucchini – cubed
2 medium sweet potato – peeled and cubed
1 cup mushrooms of your choice, cubed
handful of chopped mint/cilantro for garnish
juice of 3 lemons
Soak black soybeans in water with 1 tsp of salt overnight.
Heat ghee in a big pot. Add chopped red onion, celery, garlic and ginger. Sweat the vegetable on low heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Add cumin and chipotle pepper, salt and pepper, cook until fragrant. Add beans and vegetable stock, bring it to boil. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes until soybeans are almost soft or al dente.
Now add pattypan squash, sweet potato and mushrooms. Stir well, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes until vegetables are soft. Stir in lemon juice and honey. Taste and adjust the salt. Garnish with chopped herbs. You can add some grated cheese to add richness to the stew.
Enjoy it with a slice of rustic bread!