Pavane for the Himalayas
By Tim Hazell
Snows will return to the high chaparral of the Himalayas in winter, but now the trails leading to the hills are infested, muddy, and difficult to traverse. Here, in the season for planting rice, the Newar farmers of Kathmandu Valley in Nepal will complete their work before the festival of Ghantakarna. Labor is worship, sweat, philosophy, and sometimes fun. The monsoon arrives from the Bay of Bengal. At dawn, the sun wounds the hills and peaks with slashes of orange and red. People are ruled by a government of weather.
The Nepalese are energetic, cheerful, and spiritually complex. The ornate characteristics of Asian religions with their pantheons of gods and gilt Buddhas contrast with pious rituals of austerity and purification. These underscore the day-to-day rhythms of hamlets nestled in tender green valleys at the foothills of the Himalayan chain, amid the sounds of distant bells. In the lowlands, a moist and yielding jungle surrounds, smelling of jasmine and overripe fruit. Villages and terraced fields are shrouded in mist on cold clear mornings. In the evening, under an enormous moon and canopy of stars, ancient palaces and monasteries fill with silence.
At the trekkers hostel, in Kathmandu, indolent fans rotate throughout the night, their blades stirring a thick, fragrant gumbo of air. It is a time of sudden storms. Water pools here and there on flagstones and ruts where the ground is bare.
Nepalese cuisine makes its own distinctive statements, while retaining influences from India, South Asia, and China. Here is a zesty marinade for chicken or fish. Bold and aromatic black peppercorns and lots of pungent garlic bring out the earth accents and robust flavors!
Black Peppercorn Garlic Paste for Chicken (or fish)
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped coriander
3 tablespoons oil
One chicken, about 3 lbs., skin removed and cut into serving pieces, or 2 lbs. firm white fish fillets or steaks.
Combine the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor until they are reduced to a coarse paste. Make small slits in the meat of the chicken breast, drumsticks and thighs. Place chicken pieces in a mixing bowl. Rub spice and herb mixture into the meat with the fingers, working into the cuts. Cover and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. Remove and arrange chicken parts or fish fillets in a large baking dish in one layer. Reserve any extra marinade ingredients for an accompanying sauce, if desired. Drizzle a little oil over the meat or fish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and bake the chicken until tender, about one hour, reducing the heat to 350 degrees if it browns too quickly. Fish can be pan fried about five minutes per side until done or oven baked about ten minutes. Serve with plain boiled rice and a side dish of vegetables of choice.