Today we’re happy to have Susan Oleksiw making a return visit. Susan writes the Anita Ray series featuring an Indian-American photographer living at her aunt's tourist hotel in South India. She also writes the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva. Susan also writes articles on crime fiction and short stories that have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and numerous anthologies. Learn more about Susan at her website.
Under the Eye of Kali was the first novel to feature Indian-American photographer Anita Ray. Anita had appeared in a number of short stories but not until I wrote Kali could I dwell on other aspects of South India in addition to the murder plot. I thought I focused on the people, landscape, customs, etc., but an early reviewer pointed out that I talked all the time about food but didn't include any recipes. Could this be? I reread the book, and yes, indeed, it could. I mentioned food, including individual dishes as well as entire meals, 35 times. And not a single recipe. I mention food in the second and third mysteries, but far less often. The Wrath of Shiva includes one delicious meal, and For the Love of Parvati mentions mostly breakfast foods.
In India food seems to be everywhere. Perhaps this is because so many of the markets are set up along main roads or at intersections. If you walk anywhere in South India, you will pass someone selling something edible. In small shops, bananas hang from the awning, and boxes of clementines line the edge of the roadway. Butcher shops, a mere table on a stand, occupy a cement island along a main highway, and lime or sweets vendors push carts along busy streets. For a tourist it's even worse.
Along the beach village women display fresh fruit they will cut up and serve you. The open-air markets entice with smells and unusual vegetables. The fish sellers offer every variety of fish known to Asia, it seems. And restaurants range from those at five-star hotels to the simplest open-air setting. It is almost impossible not to encounter fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and more wherever you turn.
I have noticed over the years that some tourists in India never feel comfortable around the new tastes or smells. They tend to eat what seems familiar. I, on the other hand, will try almost anything. I've never had a bad reaction to food, but I have contracted a fever from time to time from a chef. That doesn't stop me. Good food is good food. I've eaten in all sorts of homes and restaurants, and always enjoyed myself. When my husband and I lived in India, in the 1970s and again in the 1980s, we hired a local woman. She was a terrific cook. When I went back to visit, many years later, she was quite elderly, and did little cooking. To make sure I was well treated when I went to visit her, she arranged with a neighbor to prepare a meal. I knew at once which part Lakshmee had made and which the neighbor.
My favorite meal is the sadya (top photo,) the formal meal for a wedding or festival. This is served on a banana leaf, and includes certain dishes--at the very least, rice, two vegetable curries, salt, pickle, raw salad, chutney, banana chips, and payasam. This is often followed by another course that includes dhal, or sambhar or curd, each served as a separate course and with rice. The meal ends with a banana. In some households 20 dishes will be served, and I've heard of others that served over 100 in years past.
There are so many tastes to enjoy in Indian cuisine that I have yet to try them all. But I've set about rectifying my error of omission in my first Anita Ray mystery by working up recipes to give away on postcards. I have several ready to go, and offer a favorite here. This is delicious and also very simple.
Garnish for Rice Dishes
1 Tbsp oil
One onion, chopped
Handful of cashews
Handful of raisins
For the Love of Parvati
Prepare rice according to package instructions. Heat oil in pan and sauté onions until they are translucent. Toss in cashews and raisins and stir regularly until onion begins to brown. Stir another two minutes or so. Place rice in serving bowl. Add onion preparation over rice. Serve at once.
In the foothills of South India a man struggles against ropes tying him to an old bridge while the monsoon rages and wild animals forage for food. In the valley below, Anita Ray and Auntie Meena are stopped at a roadblock while their car is searched.
When Anita and Meena arrive at their destination, Lalita Amma's household is in turmoil. During a break in the rain, Anita discovers a body washed into the riverbank. The police whisk away the corpse and refuse to answer questions.
For the Love of Parvati brings Anita Ray face to face with a killer determined to exact revenge for a code of honor broken, a lover determined to rescue his beloved, and a woman desperate to build a new life.