Got tomatoes? I sure do, and you may have a bunch yourself, especially after local gardeners and farmers have combed their vines anticipating the frosty nights. I purchased a bushel for a song at a roadside stand, so tomato-centric ideas for the next week are in order.
Making and freezing tomato sauce is a given; BLT’s in every fashion a must. I could also put them in Halloween’s parade of trick-or-treat bags. Then again, I don’t want to see them smeared across my front door on Friday. Tonight, however, I’m thinking out of the tomato box and making a savory raita, a dish not typically found in Michigan kitchens, but a staple accompaniment to most meals in the Subcontinent.
Just ask Achla Karmani, a legendary Ann Arbor kitchen-diva, versatile in various world cuisines, particularly the comfort foods of her native India. Achla’s of Punjabi ancestry, but her father worked for the government and growing up she lived all over the India. A fantastic cook, I’ve often begged her to share recipes from her mother’s table. Her perennial response: “I’d give them to you if I had them, but I don’t. They’re all in my head.”
I’ve penned her down in past years, and she’s shared a few that I’ve proofed with great success, but I’m hungry for more. So when Achla said she was making tandoori chicken on the grill, and invited us for dinner, I followed her around – pen in hand – like a dog to its master.
The tandoori recipe’s a sauce-splattered mess, and I haven’t had a moment to proof it, but tonight I’ve some of that leftover chicken in my fridge – one never leaves a dinner at Achla’s without a bag of goodies. She also gave me her recipe for raita, another way of using my mother-lode of tomatoes, which was a fresh and cooling counterpoint paired with the leftover tandoori and basmati rice.
Achla tells me yogurt is a mainstay of northern Indian food, and is eaten plain or as a raita. Raitas are yogurt-based, saucy condiments – think of a cross between a sauce and a salad – that accompany meals from Pakistan to the Punjab in the northwestern part of the Subcontinent. Alway’s a staple at the dinner table, they’re often served for lunch and breakfast, depending on the meal. Vegetables may vary in raitas, or one could sweeten them by adding grapes.
Another popular raita is made with boondi, a chickpea batter deep fried in tiny balls, which Achla explains has the appearance of Kix cereal. She purchases boondi from Indian groceries, rinses it in hot water in a colander until soft, squeezes out the excess water, then substitutes it for the cucumbers and tomatoes in the recipe below.
Masalas are seasoning blends, and Chaat Masala – central to this recipe – is an all purpose spicy and sour seasoning for salads and curries, and includes flavors of red chili, coriander, ginger, cumin, cardamom and dried mango powder.
If you want a masala education, stop by Bombay Grocers on Packard. My wiki pop-up is at the ready to decipher many of the products lining shelves and freezer walls, but the boxes of masalas are easy – just read the ingredients listed on the box. The Shan brand of masala seasoning blends are inexpensive and very good.
With a few alterations, the following recipe would also lend itself to a traditional Turkish meze, which – like raita – are small relishes and salads served before, or with, a more elaborate meal. Substitute cilantro with parsley, eliminate the masala and milk, then add lemon juice and garlic to taste. Done deal.