Cool as Cucumber

Veni, Vedi, (Tik)vitchki -Yogurt and Zucchini Raita

 

Tikvitchki-Bulgarian Zucchini Raita

There are few things in the world that can connect nations as far apart as India and Bulgaria the way cuisine does. Having visited Sofia last winter, my daughter returned home with a great deal of memorable experiences, and some of the best of them involved food.
With a tumultuous history of invasions, Bulgaria was at one point a Turkish conquest, and this, in my opinion, could be a reason for its intensely kebab- and dairy-laden cuisine. Yogurt figures significantly in the dairy aspect, and the Bulgarians attribute their famed longevity to the Lactobacillus bulgaricus culture in it. Perhaps because of the common stage of Middle Eastern invasion in both Bulgarian and Indian history, the food of both countries seem to complement each other very well; a great example of this is the Bulgarian dish tikvitchki, literally zucchini, which would serve as a wonderful dish alongside mutton curry. My daughter smuggled this recipe back from her hosts in Sofia just in time for our hot Indian summer, where it makes for cooling, yet far from bland fare.

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/4 cups dahi / greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 3/4 cup shepu (dill), finely chopped
  • 2 tbsps chopped garlic

300 gms zucchini, cut into round slices
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
3/4 cup flour
Pinch of salt
Pepper to season

In a large mixing bowl combine the yogurt and the water to a smooth yet firm consistency. Add the dill and the garlic and mix well.Chill.
Sprinkle the lemon juice over the zucchini and set aside for 5 minutes.Meanwhile heat 1/3 of the oil in a nonstick frying pan. (Check heat level by popping a mustard seed).
Mix flour with the salt. Lightly coat a handful of the zucchini slices with the flour on both sides. Fry for a few minutes on each side till light brown.They should not be soggy but retain some bite.Remove with slotted spoon.Repeat till all slices are done.
Let fried slices cool.
In a serving dish alternate layers of the yogurt mixture with layers of fried zucchini.Garnish with a sprig of dill and freshly ground pepper.
Serve chilled.


Sugarcane Juice-Ganne ka Ras


Bullock Carts with Sugarcane

All along the highways, byways and village roads, convoys of bullock carts wind their slow way to the factories, overflowing with freshly harvested sugar cane.It is a familiar sight near Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara,the Golden Triangle in the southern part of Maharashtra, so named because of its rich soil and plentiful supply of water.Even closer by to Pune, at Uruli Kanchan and other sugarcane growing areas it is a common sight. Traffic crawls to a halt quite tolerantly as the carts trundle along.There is a festive feel to this journey because nobody returns empty handed .Ribbons and bows are bought for the children and a new sari for women in the family. At least there is something to celebrate this season, as the last harvest was washed out in Maharashtra due to the heavy rains and flooding, and at the co operative factories, farmers were not receiving even the SMP ( statutory minimum price) for their cane, as stipulated by the government.

Cane prices are still manipulated by the big guns of the sugar industry who, like the oil barons in North America are known to have political connections and form a powerful lobby.Though many factories are ostensibly co-operatives they do not always function cooperatively. Farmers have had to pay 'deposits' or 'share money', under several pretexts. This money has accumulated to form massive funds, the use of which has not been made clear,and which has not been repaid nor refunded to them.There has been talk of reforming the societies but any restructuring of the cooperative schemes, under which these farmers operate, must take these funds into account.

Meanwhile the common man takes pleasure in the sight of those carts as it means fresh cane juice and cane to chew on. How often have we fantasized about pulling out one long stem of sugarcane while passing , to risk losing our front teeth while stripping off the outer skin of the cane to get to the juice beneath.


Cleaning cane

A small amount does find its way to the sugar cane crushers who find a shady spot to set up business and churn out the golden liquid.


Crushing sugarcane for juice

Teenagers whirl around holding the rotating lever with manic energy, looking forward to the haul they will make from travellers when the sun is high.

Wooden crushers

While many of the crushers are now made of metal gears and pulleys, the old style wooden ones look a lot cleaner. Sometimes a bit of pineapple and lime is squeezed along with the cane and provides the piquant taste to the suprisingly light and not too sweet sugarcane juice.


This Is the Real Thing

You bet!


Pomegranate Salad


Pomegranates among other fruit

There is something sensual and romantic about the pomegranate.Subject of poetry, remember the part it had to play in the proposal that Elizabeth Barrett made to Robert Browning:

" -some 'Pomegranate', which if cut deep down the middle.
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity!" -

a verse to which he promptly responded with an offer of marriage..

It is also such a beautiful fruit.


Botticelli's Madonna
Still lifes would not be the same without it , nor would Botticelli's "Madonna of the Pomegranate", neither the sentimental rendition of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It was a popular symbol for the resurrection, for wisdom and fertility, for good deeds and prosperity.


Proserpine

Pomegraates are seen in Dara Shikoh' s (son of Shah Jehan  the builder of the Taj Mahal) "muraqqa" an album of pictures of birds and fruits , trees, animals and portraits. dating back to 1650.

  A_prince_copy_2 Saki_from_dara_shikoh_2

A_prince_from_dara_shikoh_detail_1 Sakiwith_golden_bowl_of_pomegranates_1

In two  portraits of a prince and his saqi , pomegranates feature quite prominently against the background of a vast desert.

Here pomegranates are redolent of  earthly pleasures and require some leisure in which to enjoy them. Almost everyone I know enjoys this pomegranate salad.Fresh, crunchy and a little sweet it tastes as good as it looks.

Pomegranate salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of small cauliflower florets
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped cabbage
  • 2 cups of chopped cucumber
  • 1 cup of chopped simla mirch/capsicum
  • 1 cup chopped spring onions with greens
  • 1 cup cooked sweet corn
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds

Mix all these vegetables and the pomegranate together in  a large salad bowl.

1 1/2 cups Yogurt dressing made from dahi/curds hung in muslin for a few hours to thicken.

Add

  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp freshly ground mustard seeds
  • 1tbsp tomato sauce

Add these last two just before mixing the dressing into the salad, a minute before serving.

  • 1 tbsp vinegar. (Reduce if the yogurt is not thick enough.)
  • 1 tsp salt.

Tastes out of this world with any crusty bread , broon or pau.