Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chopped Salad With Chickpeas and Minty Yogurt

This is a  type of cachumber (uncooked chopped salad), with the addition of chickpeas and dressed in a creamy mint yogurt dressing, making it similar to raita (curd salad). It is a favorite in Maharashtra State. While not a festival food, I associate it with the celebrations in Pune during the 100th anniversary of Ganesha Chaturthi on my first trip to India many years ago.  This is a mass worship of Ganesha, the beloved deity born of the goddess Pavrati, wife of Shiva who is the remover of obstacles.  Pune is about three hours south of Mumbai (Bombay) by train and I found it a pressure cooker of activity the week in early September that I visited. I was met at the station by friendship guides and bedecked in flower garlands and anointed with red rice paste on my forehead. Electric-lit decorations and makeshift wood stalls festooned with tinsel and crepe paper lined the streets—stage sets for Ganesha statues, which portray the pot-bellied elephant-headed god. He sits cross-legged on lotus petal cushions waving multiple arms, blindfolded with red strips of cloth, removed the next evening in a ceremony that kicks off the festivities, ending eleven days later with a farewell immersion of all the clay statues in a nearby river. Little cafes with rickety tables and chairs set out under the stars sprawled along roadways. Vendors offered tea, cold drinks, hot snacks and various chaat-like chopped salads, including chickpeas, diced cucumber, tomato and red onions tossed in a minty yogurt dressing. The yogurt is blended with mint, coriander (cilantro), ginger, green chiles and garlic with a little lemon juice, creating a cooling, creamy tangy complement to the earthy chickpeas and crisp cucumber. The version I ate during the festival was served in a small leaf bowl and topped with sev, fine broken bits of crispy chickpea flour noodles. These are sold in the snack section of Indian groceries and make a tasty garnish, but the salad still tastes great with just a few mint springs for adornment.


The Creamy Dressing

Chopped mint leaves (about 1/2 a loosely packed cup)
Chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves (about 2 generous tablespoons)
1 teaspoon peeled and grated gingerroot
1 small garlic clove, smashed, skin removed and coarsely chopped
1 fresh green chile such as serrano or Thai, halved lengthwise, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 cup plain yogurt (not nonfat) preferably natural whole milk or strained Greek, divided use
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

The Salad
One 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, well rinsed and drained (about 1 1/2 cups)
2-3 plum tomatoes, (about 8 ounces), finely chopped
1 small red onion (about 3-4 ounces), thinly sliced, then coarsely chopped
1 cucumber (about 12 ounces), peeled, halved, seeded and cut into small dice (or use 2 slender seedless Armenian type that don’t need peeling)

A few mint sprigs
Sev (fine chickpea flour noodles), optional

 MAKING THE DRESSING. Place the mint, coriander (cilantro), ginger, garlic, chile,  1/2 a cup of the yogurt, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil in the jar of a blender and blend, scraping down once or twice with a rubber spatula, until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Scrape into a small bowl (makes about 1 cup of thin light green dressing).

 ASSEMBLING THE SALAD. Place the chickpeas, tomato, onion and cucumber in a mixing bowl.  Pour in the dressing and gently combine, using a rubber spatula. Whisk the remaining 1/2 a cup of yogurt until smooth and stir into the salad. Taste and adjust for salt. Serve garnished with a few mint sprigs and sprinkle of sev noodles, if you wish.

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