FOOD BY THE BOOK: Determination knows no age

Lentil and chicken curry is a traditional dish from India suitable for the winter months. Try it with basmati rice and naan bread. 

“Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon” by Simaran Jeet Singh (Kokila, 2020) is ostensibly a children’s book meant to provide Sikh children with stories illustrating their culture. What it also is, however, is a marvelous paean for adults, spreading hope for not only having an interesting and successful life between the ages of 80 and 100, but the courage to keep going into an unknown 2021, as well.

Singh, born in 1911 to a Sikh family in the Punjab region of India, had been physically weak as a child, unable to walk until he was 5, but increasing his stamina by working on his family farm. After a long and happy life of raising his children and growing old with his wife, he decided to move to Britain in his 80s to be close to his son. When he first arrived, knowing no English and having just lost his wife, he grew depressed and wondered if he had made the right decision.

While watching television he saw a feature on marathon runners and decided then that he wanted to try for that goal. He remembered what his mother had always told him, “You know yourself, Fauja, and you know what you are capable of,” urging him that each day was a chance to do his best. Not only did he reach his goal, but he set both national (UK) and world records for runners 90 and 100 years or older. He was the first person ever aged 100 to run a marathon. His belief and determination is a model for not only Sikh children, but for all of us everywhere.

Sikh means learner in Punjabi, and never has learning and adapting, collectively or individually, been so vital in our lifetime as it has been in 2020. While cooking at home many people have ventured outside of their normal culinary boundaries and tried new foods. Although many Sikhs are vegetarians, they are not restricted in their diets and can eat meat. Try lentil and chicken curry, a traditional dish from India suitable for the winter months. It’s about to be a new year and a new chance to do our best cooking for those we love.

Curried Chicken and Lentils

1 cup lentils

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. boneless chicken breast

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup sliced carrot

1 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups hot cooked basmati rice

Garnish with chutney, chopped peanuts,

diced green pepper, and pineapple tidbits

Rinse, sort, and drain lentils. In medium saucepan combine lentils, water and salt. Heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook until lentils are just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain well.

Heat oil in medium sized skillet. Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes and brown on all sides. Add onion, celery and carrots, cooking about 5 minutes longer. Stir in curry powder, cumin and pepper. Combine flour and broth until smooth. Stir into curry mixture and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. When thickened, off heat and fold in lentils. Serve with rice and garnishes as desired. 

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