That’s sort of the central sentiment of the Indian holiday Holi, the annual festival celebrating the arrival of spring. The observance has origins as an agricultural festival but also commemorates various events in Hindu mythology. As a seasonal celebration, it’s a Pan-Indian holiday, marked all over the country by Indians of every religion with a variety of games, pageants and bonfires. Wherever it’s celebrated, Holi is the most colorful Indian holiday — literally. Friends and family ply each other’s faces, hair and clothing with colored powders — faces turn red, yellow, orange and purple; hair goes from black to blue or pink or green. In India, the colorful festival is a time when social norms are temporarily abandoned: When everyone is covered in colors, the distinctions of gender, status, caste and age are far less visible, and the revelry brings people together.
On Sunday and Monday, Feb. 28 and March 1, Taj India will host its annual Holi celebration. The doors open at 5 p.m. and the set price, which includes the dinner buffet and a complimentary glass of wine, is $17.95. The buffet features a bounty of colorful dishes, a few of which are detailed below.
Aloo bonda – It seems that almost every culture has its own unique variation on the fried potato. The Indian version is stuffed with spices and has a near-perfect amount of heat.
Fish pakora – Pakoras are vegetable nuggets, usually battered in gram flour and deep-fried. In other words, these are the same kind of deep-fried treats that Southerners would probably call fritters. The Punjabi variety made from fish is delectable.
Kadhu Wali daal – Lentil dish with chunks of coconut, red chile, tumeric, tomatoes, lemon juice and black pepper, as well as other spices.
Tawa Masala Bhindi (Sabzi) – The availability of good fresh produce is as important in Indian cuisine as it is in our own home-cooking. That said, this dish depends on the bhindi (okra) available in the market in the days before Holi. If good “lady’s fingers” are gettable, then you can expect excellent (un-breaded!) okra, prepared with tumeric, cumin, coriander and garam masala. Otherwise, another vegetable dish may be substituted, and will doubtless be just as good.
Masaladar Bengan – In India, the vegetable Americans call eggplant is called bengan, or, in British English, aubergine. The spicy and aromatic Bengan Bharta is one of the most popular dishes on the regular menu at Taj India. The Holi preparation of the purple vegetable includes fennel, cumin, coriander, tumeric and garam masala.
Veggie Kofta Korma – Soft cheese, or kofta, is the heart of this dish, complemented beautifully by more than half a dozen vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices to add color and flavor.
Bombay Fish Curry – The name tells you everything you need to know.
The two rice dishes on offer will be herbal pillav, basmati rice prepared with a variety of herbs; and rang bhare pillav, a dish whose name means “rice full of colors,” that includes carrots, corn, cauliflower, broccoli and other vegetables. The capable kitchen staff at Taj also plans to prepare a chicken dish. At press time, the cooks were still testing recipes and hadn’t decided on a favorite.
Desserts will include besan ki barfi, a golden sweet made of gram flour, ground nuts, condensed milk and sugar; moong dal halwa, a dessert made of milk and yellow lentils and sweet pretzels called jalebi.
By the way, even though Holi is called the festival of colors, it’s best to wear all white if you’re planning to go all out in joining the celebration. Some revelers opt only for a little color applied to their faces, and it’s even OK to refuse the hues. But if you’d like to be covered in colors, the staff of Taj will be more than happy to oblige.
Taj India celebrates Holi on Sunday, Feb. 28, and Monday, March 1, starting at 5 p.m. each night. The set price, which includes the buffet and a complimentary glass of wine, is $17.95. Reservations are strongly recommended; call (205) 939-3805. Visit Taj on the web at www.tajindia.net.