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Archive for the ‘Salads’ Category

I find that as one drives further toward central Asia raw onion is treated with more respect. Sweet and crunchy with a little sting in the tail, this is a condiment or a salad, depending on one’s inclination.

There are many ways to draw the sulfur out of a raw onion. Choosing a low-sulfur variety, like vidalia or walla walla is one. Time spent in the refrigerator after slicing is another (a good tip for your nachos americanos, too). Ice water is good, as are acids, if these treatments do not compromise the recipe.

But I would never be too aggressive about removing the sulfur. After all, raw onion, with its crunchy balance of bite and sweet, is the raison d’etre, n’est pas? If I do not want raw onion, I make a cucumber raita instead. That said, be warned that churri is not first-date food.

So, what is churri? Well, this churri is tame-enough slices of onion sitting in a bath of yogurt and buttermilk (a little acidic, yes?). The green flavours come from a puree of mint, coriander, ginger and a little chili, plus some ground cumin for warmth. It makes a more forceful accompaniment to the more comforting and meaty rogan josh.

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Thayir sadam, or (yogurt) curd rice, is a delicious chilled rice dish common throughout southern India, and it is a great strategy for preserving leftover rice for the next meal. Thayir sadam can be made quite thick and chunky, as I have here, or mashed to the pudding stage, or thinned with milk through to a near-liquid stage resembling the yogurt drink, lassi. Moreover, thayir sadam can be flavoured any way you might like it, with whatever whole spices and powders are to hand. It is highly adaptable, a make-ahead dish that can last days in the fridge, and is easy to pull out as the starch of a main meal or as a snack. I’ve been enjoying it this week for breakfast, although I admit the heat of the chilies is not a great partner for coffee.

The success of thayir sadam owes a lot to the food chemistry involved. The first imperative is to work with hot rice (this is where the ‘keep warm’ function on your rice cooker earns its keep). The straight-chain starches of long-grain rice set very hard if they do not have sufficent water molecules among them as they cool; you’ve noticed this with leftovers, I know. Coating rice in a wet sauce (milk, then yogurt) before it cools will ensure that there is ample water present to run interference between the amylose starch molecules and keep the grains reasonably soft. This recipe is for long-grain rice, but shorter-grained rices (like sushi rice) respond even better to cooling or indeed even freezing. My second suggestion is to choose a fuller-fat yogurt, such as a “greek-style,” which is still mostly water but does come with some fat (typically about 10% by weight). The spices involved in this salad, especially the chilies, can curdle dairy product just like heat can, but incorporating fat in the mix will offer some protection, this time by interfering with proteins rather than starches. If all you have in your fridge is skinny yogurt, then I suggest mixing a little ghee or melted butter (maybe a tablespoon’s-worth) into the rice after adding the yogurt (not before, or you’ll coat the grains and prevent the water from softening the cooling rice). So much science in a little bowl of rice…

This salad is best a little warmer than refrigerator-temperature, but a little chiller than room-. In other words, pretend it’s a blush. Come to think of it, a rose d’anjou wouldn’t be a bad wine match. Serve as a starch with an Indian meal, where this cooler temperature will be a contrast and a surprise. Or have it for breakfast with orange juice, if you like a little spice in your morning.

Tamil Rice and Yogurt Salad (Thayir Sadam)

10 minutes from cooked rice; serves four

2 cups hot cooked long-grain white rice, such as basmati
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup fuller-fat yogurt (Greek-style)
1/2 tsp salt
2 fresh green chilies
1″ peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4 tsp gluten-free asafoetida powder
small handful of dried curry leaves (about a dozen)

1. Mix the milk with the rice, then the yogurt, then the salt. Consider if you might like it wetter, with more milk, bearing in mind that it will set somewhat as it cools.
2. Mince the chilies with their seeds. Finely grate the ginger, keeping the juice. Mix all of this into the rice.
3. Heat the oil in a small heavy frying pan over medium flame. Add the mustard seeds and when they stat to pop add the asafoetida and the curry leaves. Off-heat roll them around for a few seconds more and stir them into the rice.
4. Refrigerate. To serve, let warm just a little and taste for salt.

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applepom.jpgMost Uzbeks live in the more agriculturally fertile regions of Central Asia, and these two simple salads of available fruits, vegetables, dairy, and herbs are fine starters for an Uzbek meal. The apple salad is slightly sweet, the cucumber slightly salty, and both are palate-cleansing preparation for the dinner to come. Do not be scared away by the raw onion: in both cases the separated rings are tamed by steeping them in hot water. About ten minutes should suffice, although this will depend to some extent on the onions; use a sweeter variety if you can, slice thinly, and taste after ten minutes to see if the sulfur has been sufficiently calmed. For the apple salad I used Cox’s apples, a flavourful snacking variety and especially good this year in the UK.cucdill.jpg If you do not have pomegrantate seeds handy, sultanas plumped in apple juice would also work well. For the second salad, an English cucumber can keep its seeds, and the moisture that comes with their pulp, but a less delicate cucumber might be better seeded, if you prefer. These salads are very simple, so take care to use a good yogurt and a good goat’s feta. Flatbreads are also traditionally offered at the beginning of an Uzbek meal, so certainly bring them out if you are able.

Apple Salad

15 minutes; serves four

1 small onion, sliced into thin rounds and separated into rings
3 small apples
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 tsp salt
black pepper
1 pomegranate

1. Cover the onion rings with hot water and leave to steep for ten minutes.
2. Quarter, core and cut the apples into thin wedges.
3. Place the yogurt in a bowl and stir in the salt.
4. Drain the onion slices and rinse them quickly in cold water.
5. Toss the onion and apple in the yogurt to cover (fingers are most the efficient here).
6. Dress with black pepper and seeds of the pomegranate.

Cucumber Salad

1 small onion, sliced in thin rounds and separated into rings
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and perhaps seeded, perhaps not
4 oz goat’s feta
black pepper
handful of dill

1. Cover the onion rings with hot water and leave to steep for ten minutes.
2. Slice the cucumber, crosswise, 1/4 inch thick.
3. Drain the onion slices and rinse them briefly in cold water.
4. Arrange the cucumber slices and onion in a pile on the plate, and scatter first with feta and then with dill.

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