If I learned one thing in India, it was how to eat spicy food like it was nobody's business.
Just kidding! My tolerance for spice did go up a lot while I was in India, but the trip was an intense learning experience, and the heat of my food was one of the last things on my mind. I was thirteen when my dad and I landed in New Delhi, and I learned within hours of landing in the city to watch my step! Cow dung (and who knows what else) is everywhere.
By the time we made it to Rishikesh, I had learned to sleep through even the bumpiest taxi rides, and between snoozes, I learned that Indian traffic is something you really do just want to sleep through. In Rishikesh, we stayed at an Ashram in the middle of the mountains, and observed the simple life of monk-hood. At this point I was so far removed from my home that I was already losing touch of the stark differences between my home and this one. Washing my clothes in a bucket started to seem normal (and totally necessary, cow-dung considered).
Not far from our Ashram, in Haridwar, I learn what it felt like to be a movie star. Crowds of people swarmed us. They took our photos. They asked for autographs. I was their first white girl. They were going to tell everyone they knew.
The paparazzi followed us to the country side, where we were featured in a small village newspaper. We were treated like kings at the Mayor's ranch, where we drank afternoon Chai and enjoyed traditional Indian Sweets like Gajar Ka Hawla, or Indian Carrot Pudding.
After making our way through Pushkar (lesson learned: how to fight kites), Jaipur (lesson learned: some India food will make you feel sick as a dog), and Udaipur (lesson learned: you're going to need to write really fast if you plan on taking notes during cooking lessons from a local woman), we finally arrived in Varanasi. Varanasi is the heart and soul of Northern India. In Varanasi, I met my first Guru. I laid eyes on the Dalai Lama, and sat with thousands of his Tibetan refugees under a tent. In Varanasi, I saw a dead body for the first time. I watched Indian wrestlers fight for glory, and sent a flower floating down the Ganges River as Puja. I cried when we left.
After arriving home, I got teary at the sight of my own toilet, feeling half guilty and half spoiled. I was never quite the same. And I craved Indian food twice as often.
About this dessert: Indian Carrot Pudding is an simple dessert that resembles almost no dessert you find in the western world. Carrots, grated very fine, are stewn in milk and honey until soft and creamy, and then spiced with the typical warmth of India. Finally raisins and cashews are folded in, like jewels waiting to be discovered. For it's simplicity, it's an impressive treat. The best way to describe this to someone that has never experienced it, is by saying it's like carrot cake. In a bowl. With some indian flare. Actually, the best way to explain it would just be to give them some.
We're going to stop talking about it now because I'm starting to crave a big bowl of Carrot Pudding. Just trust me on this one. And try it.
Indian Carrot Pudding - Gajar Ka Hawla
1 1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup full fat milk or coconut milk
5 large carrots (about 7-10 inches long)
1 tablespoon organic grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil
2 tablespoons raw, local honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/16 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup raisins
1 star anise, whole
1/4 cup cashews
Wash and shred the carrots. Pour milks into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Add the carrots to the sauce pan, continuing to simmer for 20 minutes. (I do not recommend leaving the room… boiling milk likes to slowly build moment and eventually over boil...Not that I know from experience or anything.)
After the milk begins to thicken and take on an orange color from the carrots, add the butter, ghee, or coconut oil to the pot along with the honey. Stir until the butter has melted, and then add the cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Toss in the raisins. Stir to combine, and continue to simmer for 5 more minutes.
Add the star anise to the pudding, and simmer for 5 more minutes, or until more of the milk has evaporated and the carrots are very soft.
Toast the cashews in an oven at 350°F until golden.
Remove the pudding from the heat. Remove and discard the star anise, or use it as a garnish. Serve the pudding warm. Top with cashews.