Once, on a trip to Northern California I was on the hunt for a restaurant that was known for a certain chef who used a certain spice. I was obsessed. My willing travel mates indulged me and when we found it, we had one of the best meals in my eating history. The restaurant was Ubuntu in Napa. The chef was Jeremy Fox. And the spice was vadouvan.
Vadouvan is an Indian curry with a French influence. It has a mild fruity flavor that is a little smoky as well as a bit sweet. Sadly, the restaurant is no longer open, but I think of that meal, those friends, and the word Ubuntu every time I use that spice.
Ubuntu [oo boon too] happens to have an extraordinary meaning. It is a Zulu word that means ‘human kindness.’
Archbishop Desmond Tutu defined Ubuntu like this: “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
Don’t you just want to put that on a t-shirt and wear it every day? I do. Now whenever I reach for my vadouvan spice I actually call it my Ubuntu spice.
“Thought is the blossom; language the bud; action the fruit behind it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have a lot of practices in New York City that embody that quote. Whether I am in a yoga asana class, sitting on my meditation cushion, chanting kirtan in a temple or jumping around like a crazy person shouting out affirmations in a workout class - I am striving for alignment. What does that mean? It means my thoughts are getting along with my words, and my words are getting along with my actions. It doesn’t always happen, that’s why it is called a practice.
I bring a small form of that practice to my kitchen when I am cooking. If I am making anything with an Indian flavor profile or when I have a recipe that calls for vadouvan I think to myself, ‘ooh I get to use my Ubuntu spice!’ And I measure it out, sprinkle it on, and stir it in, all the while imbibing it with my own personal intention of human kindness.
The celebrated author Bob Proctor who wrote You Were Born Rich said, “Thoughts become things.” I happen to agree. So why not think the best things possible? You may not have certain spices like vadouvan in your cabinet. That’s okay. Maybe you can imbibe Ubuntu into the spices you do have like lemon pepper or granulated garlic. A sprinkle of human kindness goes a long way.
Indian Spiced Root Vegetables
This is perfect for a brunch item, a creative breakfast, or a side dish at dinnertime. I put poached eggs on top, but you can also toss in some cooked bacon or sausage.
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
1 large Russet, Yukon Gold, or New Potato, skin on and diced
1 large sweet potato, skin on, and diced
1 medium onion-peeled and diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons vadouvan (or your favorite curry powder)
1 tablespoons chopped rosemary leaves
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the vegetables. (Approximately 6 cups.) After 3 minutes add the vadouvan or curry powder. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Once the oil has been absorbed add ½ cup water and cover the pan with a lid to steam for 5 more minutes until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary, season with salt and pepper. Serves 4-6.