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: