While the 100+ people in the group brought dishes from every continent except Antarctica, there were a few that I remember especially well. There were two women from Mexico who would bring 1/4 sheet pans full of hand-rolled breakfast burritos made with eggs, salsa and chorizo. There was a man from the Philippines who would bring a small vat of pancit. And there was a woman from India, Mala, who always brought Choley.
Choley is the best buffet dish ever: it is inexpensive and easy to make, it can be served hot or at room temperature, most of the ingredients are pantry staples, it's not too spicy for New England tastes, and people really like it. I've never taken choley to a party and come home with leftovers. Added bonus: it's a vegetarian main dish, a rare bird at most pot-luck events.
There is one special ingredient, "Choley Spice" or Chaat Masala, pictured above. It can be purchased in a well stocked supermarket (the Hannaford's in Lowell, MA has it) or an Indian Grocery store (Google "where is the closest Indian grocery store"). It is inexpensive and keeps for a long time without refrigeration.
When I left that group, I was presented with recipes for many of these dishes, and love to make them. But the one I come back to again and again - for the reasons above - is the choley.
Thank you Mala! It was a privilege to work with you and I think of you often...especially when I make choley for dinner.
PS: if you love Indian food like I do and would like to learn more, Shilpi Rajan (based in Andover) gives cooking classes at her home. You will emerge much more knowledgeable and extremely full, since a typical class involves preparing and enjoying an entire Indian meal with your classmates. For a schedule of Shilpi's upcoming classes, see her website www.EZCompliments.com.
If you would like to see my recipes, tips and adventures in cooking every week go to www.ucancook.net and enter your email on the right side. Alternatively, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will set you up!