May 16th, 2023
I am making Saroj Salad. For years when I ran the yoga teacher trainings through The Center For Integrative Medicine at UMMS my students would come to my home for the Reiki training portion of the training. Five times a year 20+ incoming yogis would fill up my circular driveway carrying into my home journals, water bottles, yoga matts, manuals and most importantly their contribution to pot luck. Somewhere between 9 and 9:15am my entire kitchen would fill with crock pots with mysterious vegan soups, tubber wears of pasta salads, big salad bowls with all things chopped and homemade bread. Always someone attempted the gluten free dessert. Most of the time there was plenty of that left over to take home.
One class a colorful glass bowl was placed on my counter. I peered into it to see a symphony of colors.
“Saroj, what in the beautiful world is this?” I asked.
Saroj is from India. At 60+ she decided to become a yoga teacher. In her prior life she left India and took her law degree to DC. She is tiny. Her eyes are pools of kindness. She is very quiet but does not miss anything. She holds in her DNA all the information about yoga that I can and never will be able to claim. When she teaches in the small group break outs her accent hits sharp and concise, slightly British and authoritarian. Her education clearly was precise and strict and somehow reminds us that no matter how much we study we will always be foreigners to the true yogic tradition. The one that is passed down. When I am with her, I am the one with the accent stumbling over Sanskrit. Yoga is her homeland, and I am merely a visitor.
I get a spoon. I have to taste it. She smiles and nods her head to the side which could be a yes or no or yes…
“What?!!! Saroj…. Really?” My mouth is exploding… a little bit like the first sour patch to hit your tongue. But instead of a make-believe world you land in the vibrant garden of Eden.
“Oh it is just a little salad.”
“Ahh… no!” I say pointing to the mounds and mounds of stubborn green kale piled on my counter. “That is salad. This is from the Gods!….Please tell me what is in this?”
People are coming in, trying to find plugs for their crock pots and cell phones. Someone has brought and extension cord this time. I hear Saroj begin to tick off the ingredients…her head ticks with her.
“Well you must start with the right pomegranate. They are seasonal you know.”
Are there enough seats?
“Then dice very, very small, cooked beets, carrots, apples,”
Did I put more toilet paper in the bathroom? Did I email the address again?
“…just a little tomato…. Just a little onion. Toast pistachios…”
I hope they remember to park their cars on an angle…… Did I set the PowerPoint up right? Where is my cell phone?
“Add it all together with a little oil and a lot of lime.”
It is chaos right before a workshop, but this goes in. I don’t know why but recipes go into my brain. Unlike numbers which fall to the floor and scramble into cracks in the wall like mice, recipes know where to go. First, they travel a long hallway, then they make a left. They push through swinging restaurant doors and end up in a huge apothecary/ kitchen/ library type room where they store easily and retrieve intuitively. This recipe hops up on my big counter and jumps up into an open book propped up on a book stand. It is first and center and I just know am going to make it as soon as I can. Little did I know then that I would end up making this dish a least once a month for the next 5 years and probably will make it for the rest of my life.
So here I am missing Saroj.. wanted more and more of her far off flavors that burst of color like the islands of saris I ran my hands through in the markets of Mumbai. I cut open the top of the pomegranate and make four clear slices. I splay it open and acknowledge in a prayer of thanks the miracle of its 613 seeds. I take one quarter and bend it open and peer into the dozens of opaque red beads that hold untold power and substance. I lay the seed side down on my open palm and I take out my big flat wooden spoon. I spank the skin of the pomegranate feeling a bit sorry for the act. The seeds surrender and drop cool and moist into my palm. I slide the seeds into my big bowl and turn the skin around inspecting the corners for the seeds still hiding. I peel away the white gauzy pulp to the deeper chambers. Once again, I spank the skin till the rest of the seeds slip out. My bowl is a confetti of rubies, the tips of which hold little white seeds with the medicine that for centuries acted as birth control for wise woman.
The beets are next. I cheat and use a precooked, Trader Joes version. My cutting board is dripping with the pomegranate juice and now begins to bleed into the deep blood red of the beets. I chop up some onion and let it marinade in the nectar. My next shade of red are 6 small perfect little tomatoes. Their seeds ooze out running from my knife. I flick the seeds away into the sink to keep them out of the salad. My hands are turning a purple pink from my chopping. The pistachios are done toasting. I shake out some shredded carrots into a big bowl, slide the reds and pink onion into the bowl and turn to chop the apple. The red skin of the apple looks dull compared to the bright beets, tomatoes and pomegranates seeds. I know the crisp and tart edge of the apple will hit hard again the fresh squeezed lime and light the pomegranates on fire. The beets will ground everything. The nuts will crunch of salt. It is an extravaganza.
I learn over time that the jicama wraps from Trade Joes are the perfect purse for this salad. I make trays of them and bring them to parties, chopping cilantro last minute and sprinkling it on top like confetti. When I am alone for lunch, I sit out on my patio and scoop wads of it onto thin rice crackers. I find chicken or turkey and add it for protein. Maya comes home from school to find it in the fridge and eats it right out of the bowl with a big soup spoon. The next day there is just enough to add to the top of a big salad.
The page of the book in my apothecary is now permanently stained by my blood red, ruby fingers. I lick off the salt, missing Saroj, and the many layers and accents her beauty offered. Like so many of my students, I wonder how she is, who she is teaching, where she is and when and if she will ever return.