"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Southern-Fried Chaat; or What Do You Get When You Cross a Watermelon with a Papad?

It seems here of late that certain themes present themselves, and stay awhile, and then leave as quietly as they came; much as when one swirls and stirs the water in the pot, and that which is cooking within swirls up to the surface, and swirls, just so, back below.
First, it was the puppets. Then, it was Frida, inexorably linked in this month of birthdays with watermelon: watermelon, which evokes, by its very nature, for it is so sweetly-large and juicy- sweet, images of sharing. And come to think of it, that sharing in and of itself has been another theme that has laced these days here: recent times at table with loved ones; more distant past times with friends.

This particular post brings to mind two specific memories of sharing a table with two friends. The first? When I first met AFKAPW in person. We attended the same retreat, and one night the entire group went to an Indian restaurant. I had no experience with this cuisine, and faced with the prospect of splitting and sharing dishes that I wasn't certain that I would like, she graciously guided me through the menu, explaining and teaching as only she can do. We had a tremendously great meal because of her savvy and good company. Not only is she directly responsible for my serious obsession with gulab jamun (and Indian sweets in general), but by her introduction, she gave me a culinary "home base," so to speak, when my dietary requirements turned to vegetarianism. (Artist, should you ever show up on my doorstep, I would cook you a feast!)
The second was going out to dinner with a friend and colleague who had never before had Indian food. We ate a lot of good things that night, and had a great time talking, talking, talking, but the food we loved the best at the table that night was the papri chaat, one of the inspirations for the particular recipe that follows.
I look to so many Desi food bloggers to help me learn more about their cuisine. I am most grateful their generousity in allowing strangers into their kitchens and to their tables, so to speak, and so wonderfully say to a stranger like me, "This is the picture; this is how you do it; this is how you enjoy it."

It's a beautiful thing.

So when I saw the announcement for the A-Fruit-A-Month for July over at Jugalbandi, I was excited: watermelon! And then I was a little deflated, for I felt that as a newcomer to the blog world, and one who is not even a food blogger, I felt that maybe I wouldn't have much to offer to these people I admire so much. But then I remembered my grandmother, my Almeda-of-the pie-crust, who never went anywhere without a pie, a trifle, a cake or a dozen-or-so cookies in hand, to give to the one who was at the place where she was going, to say, thank you, I'm glad to be here. (Side note, dear reader: I've wanted to post my grandmother's recipe for pie dough, with her words and organization. It took me this time to find the paper, hiding beneath Yamuna Devi's beautiful Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, on my kitchen shelf. If you've followed the link in her name, you'll find the amended post, in which her kitchen influence first appeared here in this blog.) It is in that spirit that I offer to you a recipe that is an Indian/American hybrid: one that results from living so long in the American South, where watermelon, bacon, peanuts, cola, and black-eyed peas are often considered essential food groups in their own right, and from learning to cook from a unique culinary home by the light of the computer screen, the warmth of graciousness---past and present, and the feeling of childhood, with Almeda looking over my shoulder. An uncommon, strange hearth, so to speak: but it is my own.

I'm glad to be here.

Southern-Fried Chaat

Dear reader, please accept my apologies as to the format of the recipe: Blogger and I seem to have varying opinions as to how it should be spaced. I opted for vertical lists of ingredients at each stage, Blogger keeps giving me horizontal ones. So I've inserted semi-colons between each ingredient in the lists, hoping for at least some measure clarity. Many thanks in advance for your kind indulgence.

1 cup black-eyed peas, dried ; 1 black cardamon ; 1 red pepper pod ; 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Sort and wash the black-eyed peas. You may use canned if you wish, but the sorting and washing of the dry peas is very pleasingly tactile and relaxing, so if you have the time, I would encourage it; otherwise, 1 cup of canned peas, rinsed and drained, will happily do instead. Soak the peas overnight. Drain the soaking water, and add the peas to the cookpot. To this, add the cardamom, pepper pod, and turmeric, and about 2 1/2-3 cups of water; it will depend on the freshness of the peas. Bring to a boil; then turn to a simmer, and simmer until peas are tender, but not soft. If there is liquid remaining in the pot, please drain from the peas, and discard the pepper pod and the cardamom. As the people in the region in the South where I lived enjoyed themselves some sassafrass tea, I've evoked that fresh, herbaceous resinous quality with the black cardamom. If you're fortunate enought to have access to fresh sassafrass root to make the tea, I would strongly recommend the cooking of the peas in that tea, rather than the water. Just do remember that in that instance, you will not require the black cardamom; I would use one pod of the green in its staid. To the hot peas, add:

the juice of 1/2 lemon; 1/2 teaspoon of black (or kosher) salt; 1/4-1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or to taste); a drizzle of molasses, about 1/2 teaspoon (maple syrup or jaggery will also be happy here)

Divide the quantity of peas into two equal halves; there will be approximately a generous 2 cups in total. Immediately put one of these halves aside for later use in other dishes. (I always try to work ahead when taking the extra time in working with dry beans. If you do not need or wish to do so, then please divide the above quantities in two.) If you would like the contrast between hot and cool temperatures, please proceed with the making of the rest of the recipe; if not, please chill the peas, and then proceed.

To the generous 1 cup of peas, add: 1/4 cup finely diced (to black-eyed pea size) white onion; 1/4 cup packed, torn mint 1 cup finely diced (to black-eyed pea size) watermelon; 1 green chile, halved and thinly sliced into slivers; 3 anise hyssop flower bracts, the individual tiny flowers removed (discard the stem portion) or leaves from one sprig of tarragon, finely sliced + a drop or two of honey

Blend together gently with your favorite wooden utensil. The chaat is almost complete. For the accompaniment, blend together with a whisk:

1/4 cup thick yogurt; 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cola; 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar; 1/4 teaspoon chili powder; 2 tablespoons smooth-style natural peanut butter

To serve, top the chaat mixture with: 1/4 cup smoked almonds (Playing the role of bacon in this performance). Pour the yogurt mixture to taste over the chaat and scoop up with crisp shards of green chile papad.

Due to no working digital camera, a paper illustration of my dish. I'm rather pleased that the scan of the original paper rendering resembles a children's book illustration!

Bee and Jai, please accept this almost-too-late entry to:


bee said...

melissa, you are so breath-takingly innovative. love your recipe, and that paper illustration is the most charming i have seen. thank you for participating.

I have lots of neckties said...

I'm recently back from a brief vacation, in case you were wondering why I suddenly disappeared from the blog.

Anyway, I'm skipping all the way down to reference something at the end of your post: the illustration that includes the origami paper. Do you fold? I do, or I should say I used to. I'm afraid I haven't made much time lately for origami, but it wasn't long ago that my home (and office) blossomed with my latest paper creations.

neroli said...

Bee, welcome!---it is so good to see you here!
Thank you so very much for your kind comments---I'm so very glad that you like the recipe!
I've always loved paper illustrations; and I was so pleased to find a color of paper to match my grandmother's Fire King Jadeite for the plate ;-)!
Thanks for having me for AFAM; I can't wait to see all the dishes laid out on the table.

neroli said...

Lots Of, we've missed you!
Hope you had a wonderful vacation; I read an article in the local paper last week how more and more orchards are planting berry patches for self-pick and I thought of you and your dad.
I knew I liked you instantly---I just keep finding out more and more reasons why.
I do, but as you, not much time these days. My skill level is such that if it's beyond my kiddos' grasp, even with guided hands, then I probably will struggle as well.
I've got some fantastic folding books though...
and the papad? That's a lunch bag, embossed on the sole of Little Guy's snowboot!

min said...

mmmm! Origami food. Looks wonderful. I admit it...I too, fold.

The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

You are so sweet to remember that night!!

Or maybe I feel like a drug pusher! Just try one and now it is an obsession!

(But we all do love our own bad habits and being with you at that conference was magical!!)

neroli said...

Dear Min,
I knew I liked you also when I first met you (figuratively speaking of course!)
Like I said, I don't fold much these days, but I am a paper tart, hoarding all the purty stuff for myself.
Paper food? The sacrament-wafer they gave us in church when I was growing up was my first introduction to the concept :-0!

Dear Artist, obsession is good, yes? At least when it comes to sweets. And cheese. We did have fun that week---when I get out of school, we have to replicate it in some fashion!
PS--Do you fold, too?

min said...

She folds the most beautiful things!!

The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

I fold spindle and mutilate!! (But mostly mutilate!)

Anita said...

I come here often and get engrossed in your posts. Had been looking for a reason to comment...when you got talking about tea one time was a good opportunity to step in...

A nice take on the Indian chaat!

neroli said...

Welcome, dear Anita!---I'm laughing, for I've been engrossed in your blog for some time, and just about commented on your most recent mention of tea---until LG interrupted for something, and then something else came up, and so on...:-)

I'm glad you like the dish, and so glad to see you here!
(raising my cup of tea to you!)

Pelicano said...

That paper illustration is totally awesome! How innovative! Ever play the game Yoshi's Story on the Nintendo 64? I'm not admitting to anything... :-)

I'd be impressed enough with the paper- but what a neat chaat itself as well!

neroli said...

Welcome, Pelicano!
I'm glad that you liked my solution to my digital camera problem.
No, I've not played this game---although I'm certain my sons would love if I brought home a Nintendo ;-)
I do hope you like the chaat if you try it. There are so many beautiful recipes at the roundup it's hard to choose what to try first!