Chicken Tikka…What?

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If there’s a place where I feel intimidated, it’s in the spice aisle of the grocery store. In the USA, the spice aisle at the local supermarket is arranged in such a way that is not as intimidating as you find here in Africa. Stateside, spices are sealed and arranged in nice boxes and jars, in alphabetical order on the shelves. There isn’t any difference in the fragrance of the spice aisle to the fragrance found in the potato chip aisle.

Here in Africa, it’s a bit different if you want to buy spices. There’s a large Indian/Asian community in most, if not all, large cities and very often in this community you will find stores where only spices are sold. The spices that are offered for sale in these places aren’t sold in nicely packaged boxes or bottles; they are sold in bulk out of large containers that vary in size. These places are relatively easy to find for their fragrance can be caught 100s of meters away – a sweet, mix of exotic aromas that is difficult to describe and it catches your imagination.

Growing up and living in the States, I had no idea that there was a whole world of spice waiting for me to discover it. Besides using salt and pepper in food, oregano was as exotic as my understanding went in the world of spices. My first exposure to seasonings other than the three that I knew was in 1987, when we first made our move to Africa. We spent some months in Kenya studying Swahili where there is a sizeable Indian community and it was there that I had my first taste of Indian food. I had no idea there was such a variety of flavors in the world. My boring salt and pepper palate gave way to amazing flavors whose names were as exciting as their flavors: masala, curry (both yellow and red), coriander, cardamom, and many others. These spices, I learned, not only were mixed with meat and vegetable dishes but also were added to deserts and beverages. Indian chai in Africa is a delicacy that I’ve never tasted adequately duplicated anywhere else in the world. It’s made over an open fire with loose tea leaves, cardamom, milk, sugar, and sometimes other flavors. Often, it is served with chapatis (a flat bread resembling tortillas) or mandasi (like doughnuts but not very sweet). There’s nothing quite like a cup of African chai on a rainy evening in Africa.

I’m still not very good with using spices in my kitchen, but I try. Spices help otherwise bland and overused recipes turn into something fabulous – if you can figure out how to use and combine them correctly. A relatively new favorite dish of mine is called, “chicken tikka masala.” It is chicken cooked in a creamy reddish sauce with a variety of spices. It can be made mild or hot and is best eaten with rice and naans (an Indian bread). I have attempted to make this dish once; it was so memorable that when my husband reads this post he will wonder when that time was! The point is that I’m ever so slowly trying to introduce new dishes into my boring repertoire of meals.

As I reached for a few new spices on my shelf this past week, in another not-so-famous attempt at a new recipe, I wondered why so many people in this world have yet to experience the wonder of the “flavor” of God? Have we, the church, become so bland that the world has lost interest in the menu we have to offer? Is this because we have not ourselves experienced the rich flavors of what He has to offer? Have we just settled for a meal void of flavor?

Seasoning can be sweet, salty, sour, spicy, hot, and even pungent – some of those don’t really appeal to me. I prefer sweet to sour, salty to hot; if given the choice, I will resist those flavors or seasonings that aren’t to my liking. In like manner, some of the experiences God seasons us with aren’t pleasant but they produce something that not only matures us but also draws others to Him through His work in us.

We can’t offer what we ourselves do not have; we can’t wonder why the world is not interested in what we are preaching because at some point, we have lost our interest, our passion, for God. When we first met the Lord, it was a new and exciting time – we wanted to know everything about God and for everyone to know about what had happened to change us. The years passed and that excitement then waxed and waned with various experiences. Life happened and with those layers of life came waves that dimmed our flavor, we became bland.

2 Chronicles 17:13 “He stored numerous supplies in Judah’s towns and stationed an army of seasoned troops at Jerusalem.”

Only seasoned troops serve in strategic positions and that is who I want to be – a seasoned servant, not a bland shadow of who I’m meant to be. Seasoned troops are seasoned on purpose, they don’t shy away from their commander nor do they resist their assignments. They allow themselves to be placed where their skills and experience can be most effective – where their aroma can reach into the smallest of crevices in their cities and draw the least likely to the feet of Jesus.

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