turmeric chai for the winter solstice

We have just returned from three and a half months in India and Bulgaria. A strange itinerary, as everyone we mention our trip to points out. It is. We know how strange, bizarre, almost insane it is to fly all the way (halfway) across the world only to visit two countries, especially in Europe. Because when Australians go to Europe we are like kids in a free candy store trying to cram as many countries as possible into our bulging pockets. We did have reasons for choosing those two countries though and it certainly wasn't because I was expecting them to be in any way similar. So I was pretty surprised when, on our second day in Bulgaria, we found ourselves in a pure veg (in India you've got two choices when it comes to dining out: 'pure veg' and 'non veg') restaurant tucking into a steaming bowl of dhal with chapatis. It was delicious too- despite the sight of yet more lentils really not appealing to me at all after two months in India. 

Over our five weeks in this little Balkan country we met a lot of Bulgarian hippies and, as it turns out, Bulgarian hippies are really into all things Indian. We heard more about yoga, Hindu gods, Ayurvedic cooking, meditating and the power of AUM (or OMMMMM) in our short time in Bulgaria than we have ever experienced in all our months in India. You wouldn't have thought it, would you? I certainly didn't. 

Even though we have travelled around India more than we have in any other country, I felt a bit like a fraud when all the conversations swirling around me were about the power of yoga, the deep importance of meditation or the benefits of following an Ayurvedic diet. India to me is a huge home of rowdy children, gratefully drinking second rate espresso on the Keralan coast, lugging backpacks on cheap trains and trying to avoid being scammed. No ashrams or yogis and every type of food we come across because travelling is at least 50% about eating for me. 

But it was interesting to hear about India from a different perspective. And it was interesting to learn about these traditional Indian philosophies and ideas from the small network of hippies scattered across Bulgaria. And although I don't know very much at all about Indian philosophies and beliefs, I quite interested in Ayurveda (it involves food, this is why). Ayurveda is a system of living that accepts the view that the mind and body are ultimately connected and you can't look after one without the other. That is a very simple explanation of an ancient way of living that is second nature to a lot of Indians. 

I won't go any more into Ayurveda here- everyone has the internet, right?- but I will say that turmeric is a MAJOR player in this system of living. It has all sorts of crazy benefits and anti-bad things and it tastes pretty great too. Especially when brewed with a bunch of other spices in some frothy milk, on a cold winter's day. 

So I thought this was the perfect week to bring you my version of a turmeric chai latte (inspired by a less-than-inspiring turmeric chai I ordered in a local cafe the other day). A week of storms, rain and the winter solstice. Maybe it is too horrible to go outside and it is impossible to dry your laundry and it's a bit bleak when you think we have at least two more months of this weather ahead... Maybe all of that isn't so bad when you can sit by the window and watch the rain, a cup of immunity boosting, smile creating turmeric chai warming your hands. 

Happy winter solstice week everyone!


TURMERIC CHAI LATTE

This recipe will make two or three small cups of chai. I used a combination of water and cow milk because that is what I had on hand; I would've tried a nut milk if there was any in the fridge- go with your tastes!

METHOD

Crush the cardamom, cloves and peppercorns lightly in a mortar and pestle. Mix everything together in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, simmer for 10 minutes or so. If you have a milk frother, now's the time to whip that baby out. Froth, decant, sit by the window and enjoy as you gaze wistfully out at the rain.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup milk (or milk of your choosing)

1/2 - 3/4 tsp turmeric

3-4 cardamom pods

2 cloves

1/2 tsp pink peppercorns

1/3 tsp cinnamon

a nub of fresh ginger, optional

1-2 tsp sugar