INDIA

Kidney Bean and Coconut Curry

I have fond memories of our time in India a few years back, sitting in little huts half way up mountains eating kidney bean curry (rajma). Despite being absolutely delicious, they did come with a slight risk, as Gabriella discovered when she picked a metal screw out of her meal half through eating it. Apparently it had fallen from the ceiling into the big pot. Not so nice! We decided against including screws in our recipe... 

This recipe uses garam masala, and as mentioned before it does taste so much better if your spice mixes are home made and freshly ground. Having said that, we don't always have time for that! So if you're using a shop bought mix that's maybe been in your cupboard a few weeks, just double the quantity.

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Ingredients (serves 4-6):

350g dried kidney beans
1 tin of coconut milk (or 350ml home made)
2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
3 large onions thinly sliced
2-3 inches fresh ginger root
1tsp garam masala (2 tsp shop bought)
1tsp sweet paprika
3-4 kashmiri dried chillis (substitute with 1 tsp red chilli flakes)
Large handful fresh coriander
1 lemon or 2 small limes

Method
1. Soak the kidney beans in plenty of water overnight, the next day rinse and drain thoroughly.

2. In a large pot cover the beans by about an inch of water and cook for 1.5-2.5 hours until completely soft and liquid is beginning to thicken. The cooking time will vary depending on your beans and you may need to add a little more water as you go.

3. In another large pan heat the coconut oil and fry the onions on a medium-low heat for around 15-20 minutes, until soft and caramelised.

4. To the onions add the ginger, garam masala and paprika to the onions with a tiny splash of water and cook for about a minute. 

5. Using a slotted spoon transfer the beans into the pan with the onions and enough of the cooking water to just cover the beans. If you add too much you will end up with a more watery curry. Simmer for 5-10 minutes and meanwhile mash the beans with a wooden spoon to thicken the sauce. alternatively you can use an immersion blender and just give it a couple of small whizzes, but you want to leave plenty of whole beans for texture.

6. Add the coconut milk, stir well and turn off the heat.

7. Finish with plenty of chopped fresh coriander and the juice of 1 lemon or 2 small limes.

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Varanasi – Life, death and the world’s best Lassi

I’d never really faced death so closely until we arrived in Varanasi. This enchanting, unforgetble place is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Built along the holy river Ganges, it's here that the beginnings and endings of life are woven together to create something truly extraordinary.

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Many Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi offers Moshka – freedom from the cycle of birth and death in order to reach nirvana. Thousands of pilgrims travel here every day to prepare themselves for death. People bathe in the Ganges, drink from it to cleanse their sins and offer their cremated loved ones to the holy water. It's no doubt that this can be an overwhelming place - the demanding heat, burning corpses and endless hassle can leave you feeling both physically/emotionally tired. But we promise It's more than worth it to persevere! 

Strolling along the Ghats is a fascinating, almost twisted-dream for anyone who loves to people watch. From children’s swimming lessons in the river to groups of mourning families and wandering sadhus –it’s incredible to witness a place bursting with so much life and death in one single moment. 

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And so, Varanasi instills such an indescribable feeling in so many of its visitors. To see these intimate acts of religion displayed so publically is so contrasting to our own private culture. But intensity aside, it’s hard not to be astounded by this crazy, magical city that celebrates both life and death in such a unique way. 

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Although strolling along the Ghats and through the ever-winding alleys is a great way to see the city, a sunrise/sunset boat ride is the most popular way to see the streams of life that run through the Ganges. We joined a sunset boat ride which slowly rode us along the Ghats, ending with a perfect view of the famous evening ceremony.

As hundreds of people sung from the Ghats, the golden fires reflecting upon the water and clouds of smoke filling the air, this definitely felt like one of the most surreal experiences of our lives so far. We didn't even take any photos as we were so consumed by the whole moment – either way I’m not sure they could do it justice!

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Sleepy dogs in hidden corners  

Sleepy dogs in hidden corners  

No surprises - we also found some delicious food in Varanasi, including (probably) the best Lassis in the world from ‘Blue Lassi Shop’. For those new to Lassi, this is a tasty Indian drink made with fresh yoghurt, water and often fruits and spices.

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Blue Lassi Shop is no secret to Varanasi, in fact it’s got a pretty legendary reputation as being one of the oldest joints in the city to churn out incredible Lassis. Served in rustic clay pots with mounds of delicate toppings and a spoon – each Lassi is incredibly thick, creamy and so tasty. Definitely the best Lassi we had in the whole of India. There’s a huge amount of flavour options – we tried quite a few, but our favourite was this perfect mango and coconut one.

Blue Lassi is also famous amongst travellers for its strong Bhang Lassis. Drink one of these before a river boatride, and you're guaranteed to have a crazy, dazzling trip of a lifetime.

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We also found some delicious dosas hidden away amongst the faded alleyways. Dosa is a thin, crispy pancake made from fermented rice. This one was stuffed with cashews and vegetables, served up with spicy samba and dreamy coconut chutney! 

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So happily tired and with our bellies satisfied, we left the wonder of Varanasi to head onwards to Agra. So for anyone planning a trip to India, make sure this city is on your list. This true experience of the senses is something you won’t forget for a very long time….

Little Andaman Island

As we rode through Little Andaman Island in the back of a jeep, a small part of us felt like we'd reached the end of the world. And it felt like pure magic, like a true adventure beginning to unfold.

Nowadays it’s rare to visit a place in the world that feels undiscovered, but Little Andaman still feels special in that respect. Its beaches are dramatic in their emptiness, the locals’ huge smiles are warm and genuine…and there isn’t a souvenir shop in sight.

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Despite its name, there isn’t actually much all ‘little’ about Little Andaman – it’s got a big heart, it’s large in size and the boat journey from Port Blair is around 10 hours long. With infrequent boats, no internet, vast rainforest and a few crocodiles (yes, really), this is definitely a place more suited for those wanting to escape the beaten path and feel truly disconnected. And while the longish journey and remote location puts a lot of tourists off, we practically skipped onto our boat and could have stayed forever more…

So here’s more about our favourite place we’ve ever been to and the kindest souls we had the pleasure of meeting…

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Blue View 

Our 10 day stay on Little Andaman was partly so great due to the home we made at Blue View Resort. Run by possibly the happiest and friendliest man in the whole of India, Bubba, we immediately felt so at home here in this basic but extremely welcoming hostel.

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There aren’t a lot of accommodation options on Little Andaman and on the first few days of our stay there were only 4 other tourists on the whole island. But while most of the hostel options are aesthetically similar, Bubba’s real priority is creating a contagiously happy and relaxed atmosphere for his family of guests. And it works so well. Our simple beach hut cost just 100RS (£1) per night with shared toilets, but more importantly we have incredible memories simply hanging out here with new friends and delicious food.

There were also 4 puppies clambering about the place during our stay…making hammock time even sweeter!

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Highlights: Butler Bay, Big Waterfall, The Lighthouse

There is a lot to explore on Little Andaman, from empty beaches to waterfalls to sweaty jungle trekking. These were our favourite three spots:

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Butler Bay

Butler Bay is the most famous beach on Little Andaman – a dreamy turquoise bay tucked away behind the forest. Despite being the island’s main attraction, we only saw around 2 other people on the beach during all our visits. This is also a great spot for surfing – boards are available to rent on the island if you ask at your accommodation. We opted for the sloth-like option and buried ourselves in books and mangos.

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The Big Waterfall 

The Island has 2 main waterfalls, helpfully referred to as the little and big waterfalls. We heard great things about the latter (official name: Whisper Wave Waterfall) and found ourselves flung into a day-long adventure getting there on our first full day. Located deep into the jungle, getting there yourself requires renting a motorbike/moped, driving on tricky terrain for 1-2 hours and then over an hour trek in the jungle. As you can imagine, it feels like quite an achievement finally arriving there, and it's worth it to see this beautiful waterfall and its surroundings.

It is possible to rent a guide to get you there, but we really enjoyed the journey and it was a great day trip with a few people. It sound obvious, but make sure to get clear directions before you leave! Annoyingly we didn't bring our camera, but trust us, it's cool! 

Lighthouse Beach

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Near the islands' lighthouse lies the favourite bit of beach we visited. White sand and crystal clear, shallow water make this place seem almost unreal. I definitely had to pinch myself when we arrived here...

There's also some really beautifully rugged beaches on the road past the jetty, so we recommend exploring there!

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Food

The food on Little Andaman was one of our favourite parts of Island life – with endless fresh coconuts, incredible fish and classic Indian dishes. Mainland India is a very cheap place to travel, but Little Andaman was even cheaper.  Any place where fresh fish fry costs 60RS (60p) and mangos are 30RS (30p) for a kilo (!) is our version of paradise. Oh and you can find small lobsters for 120RS (£1.20)!

Hut Bay is the main place to get food on the island but, weirdly, most places close during lunchtime hours (12 onwards). Everywhere begins to open again from 3pm onwards, so it’s best to adjust your mealtimes accordingly and buy lots of snacks!

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Some of the nicest memories we have are from this special island and it's warm-hearted people. For more island life, check out our posts on Neil Island and Ross Island.