When I arrived in the United Arab Emirates, people back in the U.S. were asking me quite frequently, “What are you eating?” For the most part, my answers were pretty routine.
Rice. Curry. Fruit and Yogurt. Samosa. Rice. Curry. Fruit and Yogurt. Samosa. Rice. Curry …
Okay, you get the idea.
But there were some stand-out experiences. Or rather, stand-out explorations, because that’s exactly what they were: me trying things at home, with the help of my first airbnb host and first friend in Dubai, D, the world’s next Michelin-starred chef masquerading as an aviation engineer.
Our best experiment? Guacamole with masala, quinoa chips and some sort beverage that mixes milk, roof awzwah (a flower-and-honey sweetener popular in India and Pakistan), and basil seeds.
Yeah, I know. It’s enough to make my head dizzy too.
Because I have prior guacamole experience, Chef D allowed me to spearhead this part of the meal. But I have to admit, he was the one who had the idea to turn the two halves of the avocado into boats. Not to mention garnishing it with cilantro.
Finally, at long last some Mexican food in the middle of the Arabian desert!
I had promised I would buy an avocado and fix guacamole during my stay, so he could try it. But at every grocery store I went to, the avocados were green! “Why would I waste money on a green avocado that might never get ripe?” I said to myself. I kept hoping to find nicely blackened ones, but I never did.
Then today D brought a green avocado—and when I cut it open, I found it was perfectly ripe.
“They’re from Kenya,” he told me, laughing. “You want them to be really, really green. What other color would you want them to be?”
I shared how Haas avocados from the U.S. actually go dark brown or almost black when they’re really ripe. We had a good chuckle at my expense—and then (to my glee) he got his own come-uppance.
I had told D that guacamole (at least, as I make it, anyway) requires a lime.
But when he handed me a bag, the small, round fruits inside were yellow.
”We need a lime,” I said. “Not a lemon. Limes are green.”
His eyes got wide. “Why would anyone want to buy a green lemon?”
Apparently sometimes you really do want them both green. ..
And yes, I wanted my “green lemons” a lot. So I did what any red-blooded Michellin-starred chef’s assistant would do: I interrupted the regularly scheduled guacamole programming, threw on some UAE approved clothes over my yoga gear, and ran to the grocery store for a lime and tortilla chips.
The lime, I found. The tortilla chips, well, I had to stretch my imagination and buy a bag of garlic-and-tomato flavored quinoa chips.
When I returned, D mixed basil seeds—which give a boba-like “pop” to any beverage and are popular here for their refreshing flavor—with milk and the sticky red Roof Awzah for our drink.
Finally, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Quite literally. D seemed to appreciate the flavor, but something was missing.
“I know what it needs,” he said, after careful consideration.
D returned from the kitchen with a box of chat masala—a spice mix with cumin, coriander, mango powder, red pepper, and other refreshing spices, often added to fruit and salads in India. “Everything tastes better with chat masala, he explained.
Indian guacamole? Well why not, I thought.
We both dumped the chat masala all over our guacamole. And yes, reader, it did actually taste better. Not to mention more than a bit more Indian, too! D and I speculated what might happen if we added green chili, next time. And a bit of garlic …
Everything about this place is a mixed-up wonder, to be sure. Ripe avocados are green. Lemons, too, can be found in green varieties. 😉 One requires chat masala to make a proper guacamole. And your new favorite breakfast beverage just might include basil seeds.
Why should everything remain as it was, stuffed into narrow pre-defined categories that constrict creativity? When cultures mingle, creativity abounds.
Fusion is a beautiful adventure. And rather delicious, too.