I've got a recipe for Cashew Curry that I use again and again. It's very versatile so I've used it as a vegetarian dish with eggplant or sweet potatoes and I've also made it with chicken. It's always good.

Why do I like it so much, besides its versatility? I used to be the chef at a research branch of a cancer center (interesting that that center's ad is at the left side of my screen right now; I've never seen it here at BellaOnline). It was a rather small facility and one of my duties was to make and serve lunch to the staff every day.

When I took on the job, I got lots of requests to cook something 'different' from the Central Texas / Tex Mex foods that had been typical before my arrival. I noticed the many ethnicities represented by the administrative and research staff at the center and started cooking things I thought a broader audience might like.

Every time I branched out into a different ethnic cuisine, it was always with the fear of being compared to how grandma made it and I knew there's no way to beat such fierce competition. I always accepted the fact that the people who knew the particular cuisine the best would know it wasn't 'authentic' but I hoped they'd accepted my Americanized version anyway.

Example? One day I made Chinese food and a researcher from China translated her mother's recipe for Kung Pao Chicken and gave it to me to use at the center. It became one of my biggest sellers and is one of my recipes I treasure most.

There was a small group of researchers from India who came to lunch most days and I wanted to cook for them. I'd had this Cashew Curry recipe for a while and thought I give it a try. I made a vegetarian / eggplant version and a chicken version.

The Indians who came to lunch regularly expressed pleasure in my efforts and bought my curry for their lunches. A little while later, new Indian faces appeared in the lunch line, people I'd never seen before but who were coworkers who usually brought their own lunches. In a few minutes, a few more Indians showed up and then a few more, until the lunch period brought a whole new group of people I'd never seen before. I had no idea there were that many people from India working at the research center. Apparently, the curry was a hit and word of it was spreading throughout the center's Indian population. What a relief on my part!

I didn't see too much of those "new" Indians in the lunch line on a regular basis but I quickly learned to prepare for extra sales when the curry recipe was on the menu because it always brought them back to my kitchen for lunch. The curry gave me a chance to reconnect with my Indian coworkers I only saw when Cashew Curry was on the menu. Good food brings good company and that's one of my favorite things about cooking!

Sandy Hemphill, Cocktails Editor
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