In 2006, I met Sunanda and Raj Mane, the founders of Lend a Hand India at an event in NYC. I was most impressed with Sunanda as she explained what Lend a Hand India was doing in Pabel, India. Her organization implements a training programs that teaches grade school children occupational skills, so that they will be able to earn an income. Too many young children in rural India are unable to attend universities and most rarely finish grade schools. This program that Sunanda founded adapts elementary teachings from Vigyan Ashram in Pabel which is about 70 km from Pune which was founded in 1983 by scientist, Dr. Kalbag.
Sundanda agreed to send me to Pabel with the help of her nephew as a translator to help document the success of the program at Vigyan Ashram and the program through Lend a Hand India. I interviewed graduates of Vigyan Ashram as well as teachers and students at the grade schools where similar programs were funded by Lend a Hand India.
For my trip, I paid my own airfare and I purchased all of my own camera and video equipment. A cameraman helped to record my interviews with students and graduates of the program and my translator assisted with the interviews. My videos would later be edited and used in promotional material to get funding and donations for Lend a Hand India.
During my stay in Pabel, I lived in an adobe hut, that was built by students in the program at Vigyan Ashram. Every morning at 6 am, all the students would all rise and enter this room where Dr. Kalbag’s wife, Mira, whom everyone called “Mother”, would lead morning yoga. After yoga, I would head over to help milk the cows, and the milk would be used to make yogurt for the next morning.
All of the meals at Vigyan Ashram were vegetarian and were carefully prepared by 2 ladies that worked in the kitchen. It was not part of my duties, but I often assisted in the kitchen, as I wanted to learn to how to cook Indian foods. Every meal consisted of Indian flatbreads. I learned to make naans, chapatis (unleavened flatbreads) and dosas a fermented crepe or pancake which is made from a batter of rice and black lentils.
I learned that fermented foods were so rich in nutrients and very easily digested, as much of the carbohydrates were broken down by microbes and these beneficial bacteria in fermented foods such as yogurts and fermented vegetables provided healthy probiotics for a healthy gut, which controlled much of our immune system.
Whatever foreign country that I visited, I am always drawn to the kitchen. I simply love learning about the culture of its people through the foods they eat. As the old saying goes, “when you break bread with people” …
This expression means more than just eating; it is sharing a sense of brotherhood with someone or some group of people. Some of my fondest memories is cooking in the kitchen in a foreign country, not speaking the language, but we all work in harmony creating delicious and nourishing foods!
The collage below is comprised of pictures of my experience in Pabel and the various programs offered at Vigyan Ashram.
When I was trying to create healthy gluten-free tortillas for my quesadillas, I tried at least 6 different gluten-free tortilla recipes, but I was not happy with any of the recipes. It finally came to me that dosas would make the perfect tortillas. So I purchased some short grain rice and red lentils (instead of black lentils). I rinsed them with water until the water ran clear, then I covered them with water and added 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds to help draw in beneficial bacteria that will assist in the fermentation process. A little salt is added to this mixture and I loosely covered it and placed it in a warm area of the kitchen for 4 to 6 hours for the first ferment. The mixture is then strained and rinsed, reserving half of the fermented liquid. The liquid is placed in a blender with the fermented rice and lentils blended until smooth. The mixture is allowed to rest in a warm area of the kitchen to ferment for another 12 to 16 hours, after which this mixture will starts to bubble and foam. These bubbles help to make the batter light and makes the crepes crispy.
To make the dosas, I use cast iron pans (never use nonstick pans as they release a toxic gas when they are heated, plus the nonstick surface eventually chips off into your foods), when the pan was hot, I brushed it with a little extra-virgin olive oil (you can also use clarified butter or coconut oil) then I ladled some of the batter in the center then using the bottom of a ladle to spread the batter into a thin layer coating the pan. Allow the crepe to cook until it is slightly golden in color, about 2 minutes, then pushed around the sides of the crepe to release it and get a metal spatula under the crepe and flip to cook for another 2 minutes, until the crepe is done with no white spot of raw batter. I placed each dosa on parchment paper and layered each dosa between layers of parchment paper. Allow the crepes “dosas” to cool, then wrap and place it in the refrigerator to be used in making my quesadillas. You can also freeze dosas for up to a month and defrost in the refrigerator a day before you need them.
Dosas are very time consuming to make, but the end results, is a product that doesn’t make you feel bloated, as dosas are easily digested. It takes lots of love and patience that goes into making dosas! If you see quesadillas made with dosas on my menu, make sure you order them, and please comment below, what you think of them!