A Herb-ivore’s love affair
We had no plans. We had only what we had: two blessed zucchinis, an abundance of green peas (which are in season), a half-bagful of cherry tomatoes (from Auroville), a withering yellow pepper (provenance unknown); a couple of sad old cucumbers, and a handful each of wilting basil and dying dill–the latter of which especially could not be wasted, no matter its condition, having arrived from far-off Bangalore, being a precious ingredient in these parts, and having to make recompense for an already too-large carbon footprint. Of course, it must be said that there is always cilantro (coriander) in an Indian kitchen, and usually a few sprigs of mint.
What was to be done with so many wilting herbs and so little else? When we’d travel by air as children, my very vegetarian parents and uncle would remark sarcastically that vegetarian airline food was pretty much just “grass” for all us folks in cattle class. They weren’t wrong, really. What passed as “vegetarian” in most menus in the air or on the ground until “vegetarian” became this trending environmental lifestyle thing was tofu, chick peas, potatoes, and salad–unimaginative, tasteless, fixated on “protein sources,” and in a word, boring.
Thank goodness times have changed and a real love-affair with vegetables is possible–the kind that isn’t premised on freshness or abundance or these or those specific things, but just makes do with what is, playfully, carelessly, because what is is plenty.
So, the dill got cleaned and chopped, and separated into two heaps: one for a rice salad (we call this a “pulao”), one for a yogurt salad (we call this a “raita”). Can a yogurt salad be had with a rice salad? If you call one a pulao and another a raita, yes-indeedy, it sure can. Call it–and it is.
How? Rice Salad with Dill and Peas/ Simple pulao
1. Cook a cup your long-grain rice–basmati, preferably, and none of that faux-fragranced “Texmati” stuff please. Use 2 cups of water to each cup of rice. Bring to a boil, turn the heat way down and cover tightly till all the water is absorbed and the rice is nice and fluffy.
2. In a tablespoon of oil, fry quickly and in quick succession:
- 2-3 chopped green onions, including the green shoots;
- a minced clove of garlic;
- 1 cup boiled fresh peas (or the equivalent from your freezer, zapped in a microwave);
- a handful of chopped dill;
- salt to taste;
- a handful of grated parmesan (which makes this more of a salad than a pulao, but who’s judging really?)
3. Add your cooked rice and mix gently with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Finish with a sprinkle of lemon juice and a grating of lemon zest.
Next, the yogurt salad.. er, raita.
How? Yogurt Salad with cucumber and dill/ Cucumber Dill Raita
- 1 thinly sliced onion;
- 2 grated cucumbers, with their water pressed out (don’t waste that either, drink it!) so the raita doesn’t get too watery–it’s ok if they’re old and sad, they’ll get happy in a moment;
- 1 handful of chopped dill
- 2-3 cupfuls of plain unflavored yogurt, whipped with a whisk until smooth (OR 2 cups plain yogurt and 1 cup sour cream for a rich indulgence that stops being precisely salad-like).
- Season with salt.
See how happy everything looks now?
Ready to chutney? Or, if you prefer, salsa?
How? Coriander Basil Chutney Combine, in a blender:
- A large, roughly chopped bunch of coriander leaves (lower stems trimmed);
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- A few tablespoons of olive oil (just enough to get the blender blades working smoothly)
- a few basil leaves
- a few mint leaves
- juice of one half lime
Note: This is a truly marvelous condiment which can be used on anything: toasted bread, eggs, or really any veggies that need a bit of extra zing.
Now for those squashes.
How? Pan Roasted Zucchini with Basil, Mint, and Walnuts
1. Slice your zucchini in thickish rounds, and spread out onto a hot griddle that has been brushed with olive oil.
2. Allow to brown on one side, and then on the other–on medium-low heat, without covering. [You may need to repeat for the second squash, depending on the size of your griddle.]
3. Collect into a serving dish.
4. Toss with:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1-2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 heaping spoon capers
- a small bunch of basil leaves, minced
- a few mint leaves, minced
- 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
- a handful or more of toasted, cooled walnuts
- salt and pepper to taste
5. Drizzle a bit of the coriander chutney (or “sauce” if you go fancy) on top, and set some more out as a condiment.
We threw everything else we had (yellow pepper, cucumber, cherry tomatoes) into a salad that was not dressed but served up naked, sprinkled only with dukkah–that incredible Egyptian spice powder that deserves a post all its own.
And we finished up with these truly amazing Gaund ke laddus (laddus or sweet balls made with roasted wheat flour and “gaund” or the gum of the axle wood tree) which our lovely neighbors brought over–traditionally fed to nursing mothers for their nutritive value and high fiber content. No nursing mothers here any more, and it’s a good thing, too, because we weren’t sharing. No way in H***.
Love affairs can be terribly possessive, too, in the end.
[Recipes adapted from Deborah Madison’s spectacularly beautiful Vegetable Literacy]