Cucumber Raita

cucumber-raita-onesmallpot-3-of-5

I’ve been dabbling in a spot of scuba diving. A surprise to myself as well as those who know me. Being painfully un-athletic and colossally uncoordinated (who put that wall there?!), I never saw myself in a wetsuit, 20-something metres underwater, breathing from a tank and incredibly, not freaking out!

Being a serial over-thinker is something I’ve had to push aside. Because really, if I allowed myself the luxury of thinking about it……………..I am underwater, people!! Breathing from a tank!! With compressed air in my lungs!! Air that can diffuse into my bloodstream and form painful bubbles if I come to the surface too quickly!! This is not natural!! Humans were not supposed to breathe underwater!! What was I thinking?? Why would I jump out of a perfectly good boat or walk off a perfectly good shore to breathe through a tank underwater?!?!

So as you can see, my usual over-thinking habit has no place here. Instead, I am learning to quiet my mind and enjoy the peace and beauty of the underwater world. The stillness and slowness and floatiness of it all makes it a beautiful, almost a meditative experience.

If I’m lucky, I’ll see something awesome to distract me when my mind wanders to unwanted places. A gorgeous school of fish, zebra-striped with fluorescent green dorsal fins, engaged in a perfectly coordinated dance. An underwater flash mob.  Or will it be a baby shark, hiding under a soft coral, biding its time until it is big enough to survive the big bad ocean?

cucumber-raita-onesmallpot-4-of-5

Raita has nothing to do with scuba diving. Nothing whatsoever. There is nothing unnatural about this refreshing yoghurt dish, a standard side in every Indian restaurant. It is the cooling element to any Indian meal. This is the way I like it, with a base of smooth yoghurt, sans cream and sugar which seem to feature in many restaurant versions.  Ginger and some light spices give it depth but keep it light and refreshing. Finally, tempered cumin seeds add a crunch that makes you want to interpose them between your front teeth just to enjoy it.

cucumber-raita-onesmallpot-2-of-5

Cucumber Raita

Get:

2 cups loose/watery plain yoghurt OR 1 1/2 cups yoghurt and 1/2 cup water
2-3 cm ginger, finely grated
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp mild paprika (optional)
Salt to taste
1 telegraph cucumber or 2 small lebanese cucumbers, finely diced (peeled or unpeeled)
1/2 small red onion, finely diced (omit this if you dislike raw onion)

For the Tempering:

1 1/2 tsp vegetable/canola/sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 or 5 curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Make:

Place yoghurt (or yoghurt + water) in a large bowl with ginger, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir with a whisk until well combined and smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed- the mixture should only be salty enough to neutralise the tartness of the yoghurt.  The mixture should be no thicker than a pancake batter, so add a little more water and stir through if needed.

Add cucumber and onion and stir through gently.

In a small non-stick pan, heat the oil. Turn the heat down to low-medium and add the cumin seeds. Once they have popped, add curry leaves and dried chillies. Fry for a minute or two until the leaves are crisp. If using fresh leaves, you may need to step back or use a lid to protect yourself from oil splutter (see my post on tempering here).  Add the oil mixture to the Raita and stir through.

Garnish with coriander and serve as a side dish.

cucumber-raita-onesmallpot-5-of-5

Curry Leaf Thambuli

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 1

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 1

My parents are farmers, of sorts.

Not really, but in one corner of the garden is a curry leaf tree of grand proportions.  It towers above the hibiscus, overshadows the quietly achieving chilli plants and puts the tiny basil crop to shame.  The slender, lustrous leaves caress the fence and carpet the garden bed, softly making their presence known.  They tickle your face as you walk past, filling the nostrils with their subtle but unmistakable scent.

It is quite common for Indian families to have a curry leaf plant.  The herb is a staple in South Indian cuisine, most dishes bearing a scattering of the deep green leaves.  That they aid digestion is well known, but curry leaves are also packed with iron, buzzing with antioxidants and help regulate blood glucose levels.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 6

Couple that with the fact that a small package of shriveled leaves, their fragrance but a distant memory, will set you back at least four dollars in most Australian supermarkets, and growing your own just makes good sense.  My parents’ version however, is one of mammoth proportions that surpasses what is dictated by that good sense.  It turns out that this particular Indian has taken a liking to Aussie climate and soil.  This piece of urban foliage could probably supply a small Indian city or a large Indian town without too much trouble.  It certainly does supply a sizable sector of my parents’ friends circle on a regular basis and anyone who dares to ask for a few curry leaves is usually bombarded with an overstuffed shopping bag of vegetation that will suffice for the coming year or so.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 2

The tree’s offspring have been adopted out to various friends and colleagues in the past and are now thriving like leafy teenagers in pots and backyards.  When it begins to flourish out of control, Dad has been forced to prune the tree back lest it completely destroy their pergola and invade the garden, engulfing the house and possibly even the entire street.

This Curry Leaf Thambuli sees the leaves blended with fresh coconut and yoghurt to make a spicy cold soup or condiment.  This is another recipe from my cousin Chaithra, you know, the one who brought you that delicious ivy gourd and coconut dish, Thondekaye Sukha.  You will have to make a trip to the local Indian store for this one, and a good food processor is important.  Eat it on its own, stir it through rice or even drizzle it onto a piece of grilled, Indian spiced fish.  Should you find yourself in possession of a large overstuffed shopping bag of these leaves, this is a fabulous way to use them up in a healthy, nutrient-rich way.  If you do not have access to such a bounty, well then the investment is probably worthwhile.

DSC_3786

Curry Leaf Thambuli

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Get:

2 tsp ghee
70-80 curry leaves (or the leaves from 4 sprigs)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut
1 cm ginger
1-2 hot green chillies (I used frozen ones), to taste
1 tbsp + 1/4 cup Greek style yoghurt
Water
Salt, to taste

For the tempering:
1/2 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 dried red chilli, broke into pieces
Pinch asafoetida
2 tsp urad dhal

Make:

In a small saucepan, melt and heat 2 tsp ghee.  Add the curry leaves.  If they are fresh, they will splutter, so stand back.  When they are browned and crisp, take off the heat and allow to cool a little.

In a food processor, blitz the ghee/curry leaf mixture, coconut, ginger, green chillies 1 tbsp yoghurt and a couple of tbsp water.  When it is a slightly coarse paste, add it to the remaining yoghurt in a bowl.  Add 1/4 tsp salt and stir through.  Taste and add a little more salt if needed.  The mixture should be spicy and slightly sour.  The salt serves to balance out the sourness of the yoghurt.

In a small saucepan, on medium heat, melt and heat the ghee.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and when they are popping, turn the heat down to low.  Add the other tempering ingredients and stir until the urad dhal browns a little.  If it is browning quickly, take the pan off the heat and just stir the hot oil mixture.  Add a few more curry leaves if available and stir until they are crisp.

Add the tempered mixture to the Thambuli and stir through.  Serve with rice or as a sauce.

Curry Leaf Coconut Raita 3