Rustle up the right way

Rustle up the right way

Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s book is about  how to use fresh, local, easily available Indian vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, natural sweeteners and...

Tara Deshpande Tennebaum’s book is about how to use fresh, local, easily available Indian vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, natural sweeteners and cold-pressed oils to prepare a range of raw and partially cooked salads from around the world. Here, she shares some tips to make them suitable to tropical climate of India

One of the many reasons why eating green salads has notbecome a way of life in India is becausebuying and processingraw food in a hot and humid climate has its challenges.The paucity of cleanwater means cooking, sautéing or boiling is always the safer alternative. For the longest time, thelack of goodrefrigerated transport was another contributing factor.

But thingshave changeddramatically in the last ten years. Organic farmshave multiplied and I’m confident that in the next decade, organicproduce will become less expensive and we will have a greatervariety to choose from.

In the meantime, however, it is still more economical to use whatis locally and seasonally available. And the good news is that thereare several simple ways to ensure your produce is both clean and
fresh and retains its texture and colour before you eat it. There arealso many innovative and exciting ways to use produce that wegenerally stir-fry to create nutritious and tasty raw salads.

Using what grows locally and is native to the subcontinent meansthat it can survive the cloying heat better. So mint serves us betterthan thyme or rosemary. Radish leaves are tougher and cheaperthan iceberg lettuce. This, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’tor can’t use non-native vegetables and fruit. You just have to beaware of their properties and limitations. Leafy greens are themostvulnerable, followed by fresh herbs, cut fruit and vegetables.

Here are some tips to preparing salads:

Always buy leafy greens and vegetables that look fresh and perky. Avoid them if the leaves are perforated or even slightly yellowing and if the produce has dark patches and soft spots.
I carry a bottle of frozen water to the market along with a bag that’s made of cotton or canvas. By the time I’m at the market, the ice begins to melt and I pour some of this water over the bag to cool it off. I place the bottle at the bottom and any temperature-sensitive vegetables, greens and fruits on it. This helps keep them fresh until I reach home.
If you are able, buy your greens with their roots. Roots absorb moisture and allow your veggies to stay fresh much longer and they fare better with vendors when they have roots attached. Remove the roots when you get home and discard them; they contain bacteria and living organisms and should not go into your refrigerator.
To store, wrap the greens in a damp cloth and put them in a partially open, zipped plastic bag.
Fresh produce rots easily when sealed in airtight bags because it cannot breathe. If you plan to put it in a plastic bag, leave the bag slightly open. The produce is living—it needs moisture and must be allowed to breathe.
I often buy my basil and mint with the roots on. I wash the roots thoroughly, place them in a glass of iced water or a small flower vase, cover with a damp cloth and leave them in a cool part of the kitchen.
Wrap delicate vegetables and fruits in damp muslin before you refrigerate them.
Never freeze produce you plan to prepare raw.
Understand the properties of your fruits and vegetables. Kale is sturdy while romaine lettuce is less so. So use your romaine first and then your kale.
When you are ready to process your greens, wash them in cool (but not icy) filtered water and only before you are ready to drain and dress them. The more often you wash greens, the faster they wilt and lose their spring.
Wash your leaves gently in a cold water bath. When you run tap water over leaves they tend to get bruised. If they are very delicate greens use a small spray bottle.
Invest in a salad spinner. They are cheap and light and a must-have. They are great for washing and draining salad but also a good way to store processed and cut greens.
In the absence of a salad spinner, shake the greens very gently while washing and return them to a colander to drain.
The perforated stainless boxes we get in India for kothmir— the Hindi word for coriander leaves—are a wonderful invention. They help air herbs and slow down the rotting process, and are even more effective if the herbs are wrapped in a damp cloth.
When you store herbs like mint, basil, coriander, curry leaves and green chilli,leave the stalks on. Your produce will last much longer.
Don’t put heavy or hot objects near your greens. Don’t crush or squeeze produce into overfilled drawers. Leaves bruise and blacken quickly.
Salad greens are a lot like short crust pastry; the cooler they are and the less you handle them, the longer they remain fresh.
Vinegar breaks down the surface of greens and vegetables. So unless the recipe requires pickling or an overnight marinade, always dress a salad at the very last moment.
If you are adding fruits and vegetables to your greens, it is important to cut and store each according to its qualities. Apples, once sliced, blacken quickly—just like basil begins to lose its freshness and colour once it’s chopped. Sliced vegetables have a larger exposed surface area and dry out much faster so keep them refrigerated, wrapped in a moist, natural fabric.
Indian spices are complex and beautiful. But they are also potent; so it’s important to incorporate them with care. You can choose a single flavour, like cinnamon to enhance pears, or cloves to give depth to apples, but it’s also fun to create combinations, to pair together two unusual food items like miso and turmeric.
I generally do not put ground spice mixes into oil dressings because they ruin the smooth texture of the vinaigrette. Instead, I leave whole spices to infuse their flavours into cold oil and vinegar. If you make a salad dressing with yogurt or a fruit puree, ground spices can be introduced without similar problems.
Dried beans and lentils are a terrific addition to salads not only because India has a huge variety to choose from but also because they are a good source of protein, add texture and taste, and do not wilt like leafy greens.
Most dried beans require soaking to reduce cooking time. I soak mine with a pinch of baking soda. This dissipates the gases beans release when they are germinating.

Extracted with permission.

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