Holi, the Festival of Lights: Cauliflower or Potato Pea Curry


In November 1998, after twenty hours in the air and a two-hour layover in London, we walked out of the Mumbai airport into a hot, sultry night and were immediately surrounded by a push of taxi drivers vying for our business. Nothing was familiar: weather, alphabet, language, sounds—all completely new. This out-of-body experience intensified on the white-knuckle, three-hour drive to Ahmednagar as we hurtled down the two-lane road, narrowly avoiding certain collisions with Tata trucks, rickshaws, scooters, and cows. I was completely out of my element, but exhilarated and strangely at home. The sights, smells, colors, music, and food of India I so enjoyed during our stay have become consistent favorites. 


Last week when I saw a billboard on the bus advertising “Holi Festival Celebration at the Navy Pier”, the event went straight to my calendar. I picked up the NB #65 at the usual stop, but the crowd waiting to board was not usual. There was no need to worry about stumbling, as we were packed into the bus vertically (and intimately) like books on a shelf.

Holi, known as the festival of lights, is an ancient Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, the end of Winter, and the arrival of Spring. Holi has become best known for its color-throwing free-for-all, where no one is exempt from being smeared, covered, and sprinkled with colored powder and doused with water-filled balloons and water guns. 

The color throwing and water drenching took place in a cordoned off outdoor area surrounded by blue plastic tarps and carefully protected sidewalks. Inside the Aon Ballroom, a standing-room-only audience watched dancers, musicians, and storytellers backed by the Surabhi Ensemble. Exotically dressed performance artists wandered around the perimeter dispensing iridescent bubbles, candy pops, and colorful yarn bracelets.

I‘m surprised how busy downtown Chicago is on the weekend. The hotel fills up with theater, museum, and concert goers, couples looking for no-drive, no-DUI party time, singles doing whatever it is singles do, and young families swimming in my pool.  Restaurants are packed with brunch, happy hour and dinner customers and clubs stay open until early morning. Maybe all big cities sparkle on the weekend, I wouldn’t know, I stay home. Anyways, it’s all fun to see, but I’ll choose a snuggle, a baseball game, and the Sweetie.

Thanks to my  dear friend Patty for the use of her beautiful photos of India. 

Cauliflower or Potato Pea Curry

  • 1 T. ghee 
  • 1 T. coconut oil
  • 1 T. mustard seeds
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 T. fresh garlic
  • 1 T. grated ginger
  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1⁄2 t. turmeric
  • 1 t. cardamom
  • 1 fine-dice Serrano
  • 1 can diced in juice tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 c. tomato sauce
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 1 head cauliflower or 4-6 waxy-type potatoes
  • 1 c. frozen peas (defrosted and cooked 2-3 minutes)

Sauté mustard seeds in hot oil—add onions, garlic, ginger and spices.

Add serranos, tomatoes, tomato sauce and sugar. Simmer 10-15 minutes to thicken.

Add 1 head cauliflower divided into small florets or peeled and diced potatoes. Simmer the raw cauliflower or potatoes in the sauce; it will absorb the rich spiciness.

Simmer until cauliflower or potato is tender. Add peas, heat through. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime.

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3 Responses to Holi, the Festival of Lights: Cauliflower or Potato Pea Curry

  1. Jim says:

    That looked so fun. Marla do you know if we have anything like that in the Puget Sound area? Also gonna try your Curry. Love Curry but not a fan of coconut types of Curry. Love spicy Curry with a bit of Goat. Thanks again Marla
    Jim and Maria

  2. Nancy Pringle says:

    Hi Marla,
    In India, Tom and I inadvertently walked into a crowd of colored powder throwers celebrating this holiday. Lots of fun and some ruined garments.
    Look forward to seeing you both back in Olympia.
    L, N.

  3. Kathy says:

    Great post. I felt like I was there! You have such an exciting life! Proud of you for getting out and seeing all that Chicago has to offer!

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