Dear Mom,

One of the most frustrating things about being so far away is that our realities are not at all aligned.

A.  In your letter, you compare the “coming” summer in Birmingham to the heat here. Ha! Newsflash: summer is practically over in Bombay and soon the rains will start. Summer peaked two months ago.
B.  I updated you about my swollen foot every day, and I have the proof in my outbox. Just because the updates arrived in the middle of the night (I’m in a different time zone, after all), doesn’t mean I didn’t send them.
C.  You want to talk on the phone. You want to FaceTime… All the time. You assume I can just log onto Skype with a snap of my fingers. Reality check: I’m in India. WiFi isn’t easy to come by.

Gah. I should have clarified my context much earlier because soon it will all be irrelevant. Or maybe not.

I am leaving India in two days, and I can’t believe it. Though some of the differences that separate us are easy to pick out—like WiFi and weather—the more far-reaching ones are impossible to articulate. Understanding those differences won’t be easier once I’m back in the US. So I just need you to accept that our realities right now are infinitely different. And stop asking me to get on Skype!

I’ll initiate my goodbye to India by sharing a base recipe for Indian vegetable dishes. At home, almost all of your vegetable dishes start with a base of garlic, salt, pepper and onions. Here, most vegetable dishes begin with a fragrant spice base of mustard seeds, coriander, turmeric, chili and cumin.

Other common flavors in Indian vegetable dishes are curry leaves, ginger, onion seeds, anise, fenugreek, fennel and cardamom. Similar to your salad creations, once you’ve got the basics down, the variations of the Indian vegetable experience are endless.

My transition home begins with a recipe for okra, long a favorite of Sephardic cooks around the world as well as in India. Right about now, I’m imagining the markets in Alabama full of fresh okra waiting to be chopped up, deep fried and served alongside mac n’ cheese. Hopefully my recipe for the much tastier Indian version of fried okra can help mix things up.

Love, Shaina

P.S. These two basic vegetable recipes are just starters. Once you get the hang of it, you can use any vegetable combo you choose. Feel free to add or subtract spices for variations.