The Hindu Festival of Lights known as Divali transcends all religious and ethnic groups within Trinidad and Tobago. Everyone loves it. I'm from the village of Felicity and Divali has always been the holiday event, even more so than Christmas. Our street poles are usually decorated. Most homes are brightly lit with candles or deyas (diyas). This Divali-specific candle is a bowl made from red clay usually filled with coconut oil and a wick.
The front yards of Felicity homes are adorned with hundreds of bamboo sculptures. Elephants, wagons and spiral towers are constructed by splitting large pieces of bamboo. The pieces are not fully split so that the unsplit end keeps the sculpture secured to the ground. Clay deyas are carefully placed along the flat bamboo and bathe the bamboo image in light. Felicity shows off for all visitors during Divali, and the traffic proves the attraction.
In the Hindu religion Divali recognises when Lord Rama returned to his hometown after defeating the evil demon King Ravana. With news of Lord Rama's return, the people honoured and celebrated the victory by lighting their homes with deyas and decorating the entire city with candle light sculptures. Every year Rama's homecoming is commemorated on Divali with lights, fireworks, bursting bamboo, and devotees dressing in traditional attire. Women usually wear fully draped saris or shalwars, which combine a top with pants and a shawl. Men wear traditional kurtas – long shirt and pants.
Apart from the deyas and bamboo sculptures Divali is remembered and revered for its delicious Indian delicacies. There are many traditional vegetarian foods for Divali. Most are foods used by the Hindu community, but what is different is that the food is not eaten from plates, but on sohari leaves – similar to the banana leaf. No knives and forks; just fingers. Finger food comes easy to some like me, while my husband demands a dozen paper napkins.
Many types of roti garnish the sohari leaves. For Divali it is dosti roti. In the old tradition of this holiday homes had such a variety of foods that it was east to put a small amount into a dosti roti, fold, and eat. Dosti roti is two pieces of dough stuck together with butter and a sprinkle of flour. The ends are then squeezed together so it does not separate, rolled and cooked on the tawah. Traditional dishes include channa (chick peas) and alloo (potato), chataigne, split pea dahl and rice, pumpkin, anchar carailli and several sweet desserts.
Ingredients: one sizeable chataigne, one cup coconut milk, one half medium onion, chopped, four cloves garlic, minced, two TBS oil, one TBS curry powder, one half tsp anchar masala, one half tsp roasted geera/cumin, one half tsp salt.
Method: Half chataigne, remove core, cut into one-inch strips, and peel. Remove seeds and peel them. Strip the surrounding husk into thin pieces. Wash and set aside. In a good sized pot heat the oil, add curry powder and anchar masala. As the powder starts to sizzle add a half cup of water and stir until it thickens. Add garlic and onions, and simmer until it becomes a thin paste. Add chataigne husk, seeds, and salt. Lower heat and cover. Cook until mixture just begins to stick. Add coconut milk with one cup of water and increase heat until it boils. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for half an hour till the seeds are soft. Cook off all extra liquid. Add geera/cumin and cook five more minutes. Cool and serve.
Ingredients: one pound carailli – seeded and sliced lengthwise into one and a half inch strips, half TS salt, TS anchar masala, six cloves of garlic minced, two pimento seeded and minced, one TBS vegetable cooking oil, two cups hot water.
Method: in a suitable bowl combine carailli strips and salt. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Drain off extra water and then add the two cups of hot water. Cover and let sit for twenty minutes. Drain and set aside. In a frying pan add the oil, as soon as it boils add remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly, remove from heat and permit to cool before serving.
Channa and alloo
Ingredients: one pound dry channa – chick peas – boiled till tender, three pounds of Irish potato, peeled and cubed, six to eight cloves of garlic peeled and minced, three pimentos, seasoning peppers – seeded and minced, half a medium onion chopped small, quarter tsp cumin, one tsp curry powder and a TBS vegetable oil, pinch of salt.
Method: Heat oil is a sizeable pot, add curry with a TBS of water
to expand the mixture. Add Irish potato cubes with salt. Stir thoroughly, cover on low heat for 15 minutes or until potato is soft. Add chana and mix well. The potato may reduce the juice. If you feel it is too thick add water sparingly until you achieve the desired consistency. Add cumin. Mix thoroughly. A good trick is to set your spoon in the middle of the cooking pot. If the spoon falls too quickly then the dish is not thick enough. Continue to simmer a few more minutes until the sauce thickens.
Ingredients: one cup cubed pumpkin, one medium onion chopped, three cloves garlic minced, two pimento seasoning peppers whole, a pinch cumin, one TBS vegetable oil, quarter tsp salt (or more) and spice to taste.
Method: In a large pot heat oil and add pumpkin, onion, pimento and garlic. Stir and add salt. Reduce heat and cover for 15 minutes. Remove lid and using a potato smasher crush pumpkin with the pimentos until it the mixture becomes very smooth. Stir in cumin thoroughly. Remove from heat and serve warm.
Dahl and rice
Ingredients: one pound yellow dahl (split peas) washed, five cups of water, four cloves of garlic minced, pinch of salt or more to your taste, one tsp vegetable oil, quarter tsp of unrefined cumin, quarter tsp turmeric powder. Pound and a half of cooked rice.
Method: Put all ingredients except cumin in a suitable pot and add water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer covered for half an hour. Uncover and use a swizzle stick to stir the mixture breaking the clumps of split peas. Put one tsp vegetable oil in a metal ladle over heat and permit it to get hot. Add unrefined cumin to hot oil and wait until it roasts to an almost blackish tone. Stir into dahl. Serve over rice.
Ingredients: one medium eggplant, one tsp salt, one cup flour, one tsp baking powder, two tsp Italian seasoning, two eggs, beaten, half cup milk, one TBS vegetable oil for frying.
Method: Slice into rounds about a half inch wide. Place eggplant slices in a large bowl, cover with water and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let soak 1 hour; drain and pat dry with paper towels. In a bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder, Italian seasoning. Add beaten egg and, milk. Beat until smooth. In a deep frying pan heat oil over medium heat. Dip dry eggplant slices in batter, and fry is golden brown.
A Divali dessert and may have a different name per locality.
Ingredients: one pound white bakers flour, one can ghee, two cans evaporated milk, three-quarter pound sugar boiled in water to thicken, two pounds raisins, one pound whole or sliver almonds, four to eight – depending on size chopped.
Method: Heat a large pot and add the flour slowly stirring constantly until the flour browns but does not burn. Add the ghee and continue stirring. When mixture thickens add raisins, almonds and lychee. When finished the persaud should be puffed up and very light. Serve cool.