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photo courtesy C. Katt

An Indian menu for non-Indians:

Spicy, Pan-fried Fish Chettinad, from  Madame Jaffrey’s cookbook, ‘Flavors of India’ (Carol Southern Books, 1995)

Cauliflower/potato/cashew curry, adapted from *Joy

[* 1975, p 361-62, Joy of Cooking, Irma Rombauer, et al]

Fragrant rice (basmati) (cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper)

Tea

Fresh Raita (also Jaffrey)

Paratha bread, from the local market & heated in the oven

Three Pickles:  Tamarind, bitter lemon, green mango

We ate ocean perch in a spicy marinade, sauteed,  with fragrant saffron rice, and cauliflower & potato curry with cashews, cooked in Ghee.  Also, various pickles, from bitter lemon, and hot mango-, to sweet tamarind.  Everything was brought together with a fresh mint and cucumber Raita.

Indian cuisine has close connections with The Ayurveda tradition, which means that food is also medicine, hewing closely to  Chinese beliefs.  Turmeric in particular is a potent purifying agent, and key to many basic curry blends.  Here are the recipes we used:

Spicy, Pan-Fried Fish Steaks Chettinad

For 2 fillets:

1 Tbsp ground coriander

1 Tbsp cayenne pepper

¼ tsp ground dried turmeric powder (very purifying)

½ tsp ground cumin (preferably roasted whole & ground)

1 tsp salt (or less)

3-5 tsp lime/lemon juice

An equal amount of water (I ignore this)

2 nice fish fillets, or steaks

2-3 Tbsp any good vegetable oil

Make a paste with all these ingredients and let the fish marinade in the paste for at least 15 minutes, up to 3 hours.  Eventually saute them 4-5 min on a side, depending on the thickness of the cut, It will be spicy, sharp and pleasant.

Fragrant Rice

1 c dry Basmati Rice (essential that it  is Basmati)

A 2” stick of true Cassia cinnamon, broken

One whole pod of cardamom- black or green- depending on your preference

Several (4-9) grains of Black Pepper

½” piece of fresh ginger

2 generous pinches of dried saffron

½ tsp salt (I often reduce salt proportions)

Rinse the rice in several changes of water, taking out the starch.  Then add a small can of coconut milk into a measuring cup, and add sufficient water for a total of 1-1/4 cups, and bring everything together up to a boil.  You can also substitute plain water with an equal measure of stock, for added richness and flavor.  Allow to simmer for an additional 12-14 min, with a lid over everything.  It’s done.  Let it relax before you fluff it all with a fork, and cover it with a tight lid, or some foil until service.

Cauliflower & Potato Curry

This is an adaptation of a preparation from *Joy.  I have taken liberties with a traditional recipe, but it is still very recognizable.  We used to prepare something very close to this at The Riverside Cafe, many years ago.

½ head cauliflower, de-stemmed & broken into medium florets

A large red potato, cut into generous cubes (maybe 1”)

Steam each vegetable separately until al dente and shock in cold water.  Drain.  This is a short-cut, but useful.

Meanwhile, add to a wok over medium-high heat:

2 Tbsp Ghee (clarified Indian butter.  It has a higher than average smoking point)

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp grated garlic

2 c minced onion

½ a jalapeno pepper, or one fresh red cayenne

(I spun the onions and fresh pepper in a food processor until it was a light pulp)

Add the cauliflower and potatoes to the mix and add:

1 big Tbsp good curry powder (I used a hot blend)

1 scant Tbsp all purpose flour

Stir-fry everything for 3-5 minutes, and then add:

1 small can of coconut milk

¼ cup chicken stock, or any good stock

½ tsp salt

½ cup broken roasted and salted cashews

Continue cooking until everything boils gently (important, because of the flour), stirring frequently.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and it will be ready to serve in about 4-5 minutes.

Raita

This is a cooling condiment, also improvised for our lunch:

½ peeled, de-seeded and coarsely grated fresh cucumber

2 Tbsp minced fresh mint

1-1/4 cups natural (plain) yogurt

½ tsp salt, to taste.

Whisk or stir all of the ingredients together.

I can’t remember the first time I made green tomato pickles, or why.  It might have been 10-15 years ago, but I make them in some form or another almost every autumn.  I usually make green tomato mincemeat (my great-grandmother’s recipe) every fall, too.

They can be sweet or not, and they are simple & good, either way.  This year I made them a little sweet.

Use 2 or 3 medium green tomatoes and slice them into medium wedges.  In a cooking pan combine 2-1/2 cups of water, a cup of white vinegar and 2 tbsp of salt. Boil altogether with a tbsp of pickling spice, 1/4 cup of sugar and some skinned & sliced fresh ginger, not quite as big as your thumb.  Or probably more accurately, my thumb.

Now place the green tomatoes, 1/2  a thinly sliced, small purple onion and the pickling liquid in a non-reactive container (that means non-aluminum).  Use stainless steel, pyrex/glass or ceramic.  Allow it all to come to room temperature & then refrigerate, submerged under a small plate & covered with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate & forget about it for a few days, and then you will have a tart-sweet traditional pickle that will make all your meals special.  This pickle will remain sound & good for 2 weeks in your refrigerator without heat-canning.  Good luck, if you and yours can make it last for that long.

The Native American students involved with the Dream of Wild Health Network recently held their last sale of the summer at Little Earth-  There was a wild summer storm that afternoon in Minneapolis, and we stood protected from the warm tempest… and admired the harvest.

Of course I made a few things right away – cold Borscht, coleslaw and icebox (cucumber) pickles.  When I was growing up in the prairie provinces in Canada, I had Russian and Ukrainian friends.  Borscht was and the famous pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter Eggs were very popular.

I gradually learned how to make borscht over a period of years, particularly after I spent some time in our hippie vegetarian collective with one of our head cooks, who was Ukrainian American.  She could make borscht; and she has a fund of family heirloom recipes with poppyseed.   Actually everything she cooked was quite amazing.  I keep my borscht simple – veggies sauteed lightly, seasoned with salt, pepper, bay leaf, caraway seed and a little dried dill- and lots of good fresh cabbage and shredded beets.  Caraway is very good for digestion and it tastes good.   I simmered everything in chicken stock and let it cool before taking an immersion blender to the whole soup pot (always remember to take the bay leaves out).  Chilled, in the summer, with a little yogurt or sour cream.  Some people have been known to put a suggestion of orange zest in borscht- and it’s tasty.

Cole slaw originates in Dutch language- the word for salad I believe.  I like my cole slaw simple, but I also added pineapple from a little can, as a tribute to country-church basement dinners.

The other two dishes that came out of this trip to the Native garden stand were cucumber ice-box pickles, and some skillet cooked summer squash.  The cuke pickles have maybe 6 ingredients in total: cukes, shavings of red onion, a bruised clove of garlic, vinegar, salt and a bit of sugar.  Mix a light pickle and keep the thinly sliced cukes in your fridge.  It’s very refreshing in the heat of summer.