Summer Dishes from India

After a weeks of 100-degree days and no rain, the Kansas City area feels like the Kalahari desert must--hot, dry, and foreign.  The shimmering heat also reminds me of photos you see of India during the dry season. Oh, for a monsoon!

So, the Les Dames d'Escoffier Kansas City cooking class I attended on Summer Foods of India was extremely timely.   People who live in India face extremes in climate as a regular occurrence (like people who live in the Midwest!), and their food helps them cope.  Our cooking class instructor Jyoti Mukharji, trained as a physician, gave us a taste of Indian home cooking we rarely get in restaurants, plus a peek into another culture. 

According to Jyoti, dishes meant for hot weather have the ancient ayurvedic properties 
of cooling the body.

Sprinkling Salt on Curried Watermelon 

In India, "vegetarian" doesn't only mean no-meat. It also means no onion or garlic, as these ingredients are said to increase body heat much the way that meat does.  In a very traditional family, a widow can never remarry, no matter how young she was when her  husband died.  She also must eat a vegetarian diet for the rest of her life, so no dishes with onion or garlic ever again.

Along the way, Jyoti also gave us 

Shopping tips: Indian herbs, spices, rice, and dried beans and chickpeas are much less expensive at an Indian market. Buy in bulk, then share with friends.

Spice tips: Use a special coffee grinder to freshly grind whole spices for a much more fragrant and flavorful recipe. Try smoky-flavored black cardamom or tiny black nigella seeds in curries, flatbreads, and vegetable dishes.

Curry tips: With onion/ginger/garlic for the flavor base, tomato for body and color, and yogurt to finish, you have the blueprint for just about any curry. You customize with herbs, spices, and other vegetables. Serve the curry with basmati rice.

My favorite dish of the evening is also the easiest to prepare and one of Jyoti's signature recipes.

Curried Watermelon

This recipe by Jyoti Mukharji balances the sweetness and crunchiness of watermelon with more pungent spice. Tiny black nigella seeds, often used to flavor naan, add a slight onion-like flavor and pleasing texture.  The classic combination of citrus-like coriander (the seed head of the cilantro plant) and hot and earthy cumin round out the flavors.  If you want to make this ahead, wait to sprinkle on the salt and toss to blend right before serving.    

Serves 4 to 6

1 small, seedless watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds (tiny black seeds in the onion family)
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste

Place the watermelon in a large serving bowl.
In a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the nigella seeds until they begin to sizzle and turn fragrant. Quickly add the coriander and cumin, gently shake the pan, then take off the heat. Stir the oil and spice mixture several times, then pour over the watermelon. (Can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated at this point.)

Right before serving, sprinkle with salt to taste and toss the watermelon. Serve chilled. 


Manu said...


Manu said...

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