Why should salads have a predominantly Western flavour? Here’s some fantastic Indian salad recipes that will surely impress your guests.
By Praerna Kartha
“When in doubt, ask Google” is the motto I live by. When I was struck by the inexplicable urge to find out the definition of the word “salad”, Google predictably flooded me with definitions, explanations and recipes.
What I realised was that, except for the Oxford Dictionary which keeps the definition relatively inclusive, the general discourse strongly suggests that salads are a purely western concept. The phrases used to explain the term often include “leafy vegetables” (read lettuce) and “dressings” (read mayonnaise, ranch, caesar and vinaigrette). A Google image or Pinterest search will lead you to scrumptious images of leafy and/or creamy salads.
The fact that salads are considered a part of the Western domain does not surprise me at all. After all, the word salad comes from the French “salade” and the Westerners are definitely responsible for the name. To top that, the information, images and salad recipes available make them synonymous with lettuce and dressing.
What we tend to forget is that vegetarian salads have also long been a part of the Indian consciousness. Just because the traditional Indian salaad was more discreet doesn’t mean it didn’t occupy an indispensable space on the dining table. In fact, no Indian feast is complete without the Kachumbar – which fits the definition of “raw/ cooked vegetables or other cold items seasoned with a dressing” perfectly. As an appetizer, a big platter of beautifully sliced and arranged carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes seasoned with chat masala and lemon juice was the norm.
Not to forget chanaa-chaat and the spiced mattar(kulcha). Or the infamous fruit chaat, bhel-puri or dal salad – all served by street vendors. Just because their traditional name doesn’t include the word ‘salad’ doesn’t mean they don’t fit the bill (read definition above). If a boiled potato and mayonnaise concoction can be named salad, I wonder why a roasted shakkar-kandi chaat (sweet potato) fails the test!
I think the difference comes from the way that food has been viewed in India. Although it is an intrinsic part of our culture, history, tradition and consciousness, it was not talked about, except by those involved in actual cooking –read chefs and home-makers. It was not considered polite conversation and was a very personal part of our lives. Recipes and culinary craft was handed down by the women of the family and it was considered a matter of pride to have well-trained and capable daughters – expert in the art of cooking and managing the home. Meals seemed to appear magically on the dining table, without any thought to the effort and expertise that went into planning and preparing it.
But today, with our busy lifestyles, erratic food patterns and diverse restaurant options, nobody has the time to learn from their grandmothers. Whenever we feel the need to pick up the art of cooking, we now turn to cook-books and the Internet. Having the advantage of being the first movers, the Westerners and their cuisine obviously dominate cyberspace. Can we really fault ourselves for seeing food through West-tinted glasses?
Whatever the reason, there is a real need to put more of India on the cyber food map and show the world that we’re made up of more than Chicken Tikka Masala and Naan!
Coming back to salads, it seems that they occupy a much more important place in our lives now than they did a decade ago. I personally think that the main factor in this increased popularity is the increasing level of health (or weight) consciousness. Sadly, if we continue to follow the Western model for salads in isolation, it comes at a price. Lettuce is definitely overpriced and so are the delicious and colourful red and yellow peppers. Don’t even get me started on broccoli! If you’re into organic produce, then the pricing takes on a whole new dimension.
If you’re looking to go the salad way, as a side or as a main course, try and find the freshest and most colourful local produce. It could include any combination of vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses and nuts. As seasoning options, we have the ever popular chat masala, kaala namak (rock salt), lemon juice, dahi (yoghurt), dhaniya (cilantro/coriander)-pudina chutney, imli (tamarind) chutney and so many more.
While you mull over that, here’s a simple but nutritious and very filling vegetarian salad recipe in the form of dalia salad. This Indian style salad served with a glass of lassi or chhachh along with a piece of fruit for dessert can be a perfectly satisfying lunch menu.
Ingredients (serves 2)
1/3 cup dalia/ cracked wheat
1/3 cup moong dal sprouts
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 capsicum, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 green chillies (or as per spice threshold), chopped finely
3 heaped tbsp fresh coriander, chopped finely
3 heaped tbsp mint, chopped finely
1 tbsp finely chopped raw mango
2 tsp chopped or sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1 tsp vegetable oil
½ tsp salt
Juice of 2 lemons
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp chaat masala
1 tbsp green dhaniya-pudina chutney, if available
½ tsp powdered sugar
A pinch roasted jeera/ cumin powder
For garnish – few almond flakes and whole mint leaves
In a small kadhai, dry roast the dalia on medium – high heat for about 10 minutes.
Add 1 cup water, ½ tsp salt and 1 tsp oil. Stir and increase the heat to high. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover with a lid for approximately 10 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
Remove the dalia from the kadhai and spread it out on a plate or tray and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes, preferably under a fan.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cooled dalia, sprouts, onion, tomato, carrot, capsicum, green chillies, coriander, mint, mango and almonds.
In a separate katori/cup, add the chutney, lemon juice, chat masala, sugar, cumin and garlic together. Whisk for a few seconds with a fork till well combined. Add this dressing to the dalia mix.
Serve in a pretty bowl garnished with a few almond flakes and whole mint leaves.