Learning from one's children about food can be quite an experience...
One lives and learns; with a little help from the worldwide web. The other day my daughter told me on chat that she was eating tzatziki. I've picked up a small chat vocabulary and learned to respond with “?”, not a full interrogative sentence. “Amma! C'mon, tzatziki. You know.”(I didn't.) She buys a tub and eats it with bread sticks or crackers, but after a little googling I discovered that the Greeks and Arabs eat it with meat pies, shish kabab, pita or shawarmas.
Versions of raita
Basically it's a combination of dahi and cucumbers, of varying consistency, depending on which side of the Mediterranean you're making it in. Greek-style yoghurt is a bit tart, like our home-made dahi and thickened by straining overnight through muslin. The usual flavourings are dill or mint, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. So easy and so refreshing, like a souped-up version of our pachadi and kheera raita. The Iranian version is called mast-o-khiar, dahi and kheera. The difference between theirs and ours is in the additional flavourings and thickness; after removing the whey, it has the right stiffness for a dip. And Greek cucumbers are less juicy, so the tzatziki isn't runny.
The next week the same child said she was planning to entertain her friends with an Indian meal. My amazement can be explained by what followed. She asked how to make a raita. How to make a raita? What's to tell? And could such a child cook an entire Indian meal? She's the best egg-maker I know — her “scramlette” is nonpareil, and her toast is crisp and perfect — but that's breakfast. Dinner? Fortunately she was only playing sous chef to another Indian friend and, apart from cutting, chopping and stirring, was responsible for the raita. Which, she reported later, was a huge success. She found a Bangladeshi vendor in a street market and got fresh curry patta, and at the local Tesco/Sainsbury, a pomegranate. So she assembled her own combination with a little help from the www and gtalk.
Frijolemole was another learning. Another day the same daughter said she had eaten the world's most delicious “spread”, frijolemole. I quite like this reversal of roles; from being the one who introduced her children to new flavours I'm now at the receiving, learning end. What's satisfying is the accuracy with which she describes food; you get the texture and the flavour, thousands of miles away. This, she said, is a hummus-like paste, made of kabuli chana, chickpeas. Frijol, pronounced fri-hol, (and frijoles, plural), means, simply, bean in Spanish and is one of the official state vegetables in New Mexico. Mole, that which has been pounded, is a paste, as in the better known guacamole. So a frijolemole is a bit like hummus but crunchy, with a small bite of green chillies and the freshness of coriander and lime juice. I followed her description and we had it for lunch, with Melba toast and a tossed green salad.
Vasundhara Chauhan is based in Delhi.
Pomegranate raita: sous chef's special
2 cups dahi, yoghurt
1 large cucumber, diced fine
Seeds of one pomegranate
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 dry red chilies, whole
12 leaves curry patta
Method: Beat dahi till smooth and stir in salt, sugar, diced cucumber and pomegranate seeds. Heat oil in a small frying pan and add mustard seeds till they begin to pop. Sauté red chillies and add curry leaves. When they start sizzling, turn off heat and pour tempering over raita. Cover and chill before serving.
Another version of this raita uses mint. Pomegranate has little flavour so a handful of fresh mint leaves can be chopped fine or puréed and mixed into the beaten and seasoned dahi before adding pomegranate seeds.
No tempering is required; the mint gives enough flavour.
Makes about 2 cups
1/2 cup kabuli chana, chickpeas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped medium
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp lime juice
4 spring onions, with greens, chopped fine
2-4 green chillies, seeded and chopped fine
2 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
Tabasco or other chilli sauce
2 tbsp sour cream or hung yoghurt
1 tbsp coriander leaves and stems, chopped fine
1-2 tbsp black olives
Method: Soak chickpeas overnight, in lots of water, which more than covers the beans. The next morning, drain chickpeas and boil with salt in about a cupful of water till tender. Simmer for about 30 minutes after full pressure has been reached in a pressure cooker. Drain and reserve cooking liquid. Heat oil in a medium sized frying pan and sauté onions and garlic till golden. Add lime juice, onions, garlic and any oil that remains in the pan to the cooked chickpeas. Whizz in a blender until almost smooth; a little chunkiness is welcome. If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon or more of the reserved cooking liquid and discard the rest. Transfer purée from blender jar to serving bowl, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in chopped spring onions, chillies, tomatoes, Tabasco, sour cream (or hung yoghurt) and coriander. Garnish with pitted and halved black olives, cover and refrigerate. This keeps well in the fridge for up to a week. Cut tomatoes tend to spoil after a day, and the spices and seasonings will mask the off taste. So if the frijolemole is to be kept longer, omit the tomatoes and add them just before serving.
Keywords: Mediterranean recipes