After the meat feasts of last week (when Kay was conveniently away) my heart, stomach and husband decided it was time for a few vegetarian dishes (there is still one more meat dish to come, but I decided it could wait for a few more days).
I realised some time ago, that I haven't posted as many Mangalorean or indeed, Indian vegetable dishes as much, so its time for a change. Normally when I cook vegetables, especially Indian style, they tend to be more of an afterthought than the star of the show. But at the same time, we almost never have a meal that doesn't have some kind of vegetable in it. It could be anything from a simple side of steamed broccoli, to a spiced vegetable fugath (with oil, mustard seeds and coconut) or a mixed vegetable curry. But its not often that I post them up. I mean, I do have vegetarian dishes on here, but they are usually the stars not the sidekicks. And the recipe I am sharing today has always been a sidekick :-)
One of my fondest memories from childhood is going to my grandparents' house in the little village of Attur in India, for summer vacations. We'd get packed off from Mangalore the day after our report cards arrived in the mail, usually the first week of April [an exciting day, for sure :-)] and would get picked up a few weeks later, usually with just enough time to spare before school began again in June.
They were magical days of roaming through our grandparent's extensive lands, picking and collecting cashews and selling or roasting the nuts, going for a dip in the local watering hole, trekking up endless hills and exploring caves, climbing up every tree imaginable, and picking luscious mangoes, guavas, roseapples and blackberries and sometimes just sitting on a log, daydreaming all day long! Yes, pretty idyllic memories by all standards, and still strong as ever!
My grandma and grandpa (Mai and Aba) were hard working folks. So while we roamed all day long, we still had our regular chores to do. This usually meant sweeping up the forecourts, helping clean and mop the floors, doing dishes and washing clothes. And as our reward we got some excellent food from both of them. We would eagerly wait for Aba to return from selling his betel leaves in the local town, as we knew that he almost always had some kind of treat in his bags for us, usually candy. And of course, grandma gave him lists of fruits and vegetables and samaan (dry goods and spices) to buy from town. And once all the veg and fruit arrived, we would get delicious food and desserts as a result.
One of the village traditions is a mid-morning break for a meal of congee and leftover or fresh made vegetable side dish, and a pickle. This meal was usually taken at around 11 AM, a few hours after breakfast (which was usually at 7 AM) and about three hours before lunch. It was, as you can imagine, a fortifying meal, and usually filled up even the hungriest of bellies, giving us more than enough energy to get on with our hellraising.
One of my very favourite side dishes that went with the congee, was this gorgeous cucumber kharam. Simply put, its just cubed cucumber in a lightly spiced mustard sputtered coconut sauce. Unusually for Mangalorean food, this sauce is not cooked. The only cooked element in it comes from the mustard tempering and the warming of the spices before blending them into the sauce. So in a way, it was ideal for a mid morning meal, as, not only is it quick to make (even with the grating of the coconut) but also it is incredibly cooling, and believe you me, that is a major concern in India in April-May. And for the simplest of recipes, it packs a huge punch of flavour!
I have simplified the recipe even more, and I use coconut milk or cream, whichever I have handy, to make the sauce. It works really well, especially as most blenders here don't really have the power to grind grated coconut to a super smooth paste. I do make an effort to drain the cucumber a bit, so that the dish isn't overly watery. It doesn't really matter though, I am just being a bit picky about it.
I love to serve this as a light evening meal with a lime or mango pickle and some steamed rice, but you can also use it as a salad with barbequed meats or as a side dish with an Indian meal.
2 English or field cucumbers, diced
A sprinkling of salt
For the sauce:
1 long mild red Kashmiri chilly (add an extra one for a spicier version)
1/2 tsp black or yellow mustard seeds
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp lemon juice (or 1 tsp tamarind paste)
3/4 tsp or to taste, salt
150 ml coconut milk or coconut cream
Place the diced cucumbers in a strainer and sprinkle over the salt. Leave for about an hour, then keep aside. This step is optional, and you can skip it.
To make the sauce, gently warm the chillies for a minute in a pan. Place in a blender with all other ingredients for the sauce, and blend well. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.
Fold in the cucumber into the sauce and serve with rice and pickle or as a side dish for meat (I did say it was simple)
This recipe is heading over to Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen for No Croutons Required, July 2011. The theme is 'Chilies'. Oh, and you'll be wanting to know the fact that I won last month's NCR with my Indian Spiced Roast Potatoes :-)