This luscious golden creamy pea and cucumber curry is an example of food that looks every bit as good as it tastes. To the uninitiated, adding cucumber to a cooked dish may seem strange as the crisp, watery cucumber is usually used raw. The vegetable is native to India where is most commonly added to chopped salads, grated and blended into yogurt to make raita, a cooling side dish salad and pickled. Cucumber is also added to soups, stewed lentils, and curries. Both smooth-skinned slender green cucumbers and a round yellow type called dossakai are used like a squash and is the same family as gourds and melons. Cucumbers are widely cultivated in Gujarat in Western India, adding a crisp-tender texture to many cooked dishes like this curry I cooked with Leela Patel and her daughter-in-law Sheetal near Vadodara in the country side where the two-story family house was surrounded by drumstick trees and fields of cauliflower. This falls in the general category of apnu shak, meaning vegetables dishes (shak means vegetable). We used freshly shelled peas from the pod, but frozen peas work fine are always available. Indian yogurt, made from full fat water buffalo milk is much richer than most yogurts found here so I add a little sour cream (also ensuring it won’t curdle). Diced cucumber is stirred into a mixture of lightly browning onions with cumin and mustards seeds, ginger, jalapeño, turmeric and cayenne and steamed until tender-crisp. The yogurt mixture is stirred with salt and cooked slowly at a low temperature until the cucumber is tender, with the peas stirred in the last few minutes. The thick, creamy light golden curry is irresistible with bright green peas contrasting the icy pale green cucumber cubes in both color and flavor. The peas are meaty and chewy and the cucumber mild and melting tender with just a hint of crispness. The dish is garnisheed with roasted, chopped peanuts, adding nutty crunch.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), peeled, halved with each half thinly sliced then chopped crosswise into small bits
1 fresh green jalapeño, halved lengthwise, seeded and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons peeled and grated gingerroot
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 medium cucumber (about 8 ounces), peeled, seeds scraped out and cut lengthwise into 4-5 strips, the strips cut crosswise into small cubes
11/4 cups plain yogurt (not non-fat), preferably natural whole milk or Greek strained, whisked until smooth and lump free
1 generous tablespoon sour cream, whisked into the yogurt
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals
1 1/2 cups frozen and thawed green peas
1 tablespoon roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves (about 1 generous tablespoon)
MAKING THE AROMATIC BASE. Heat the oil in a large wide skillet over medium-high heat. Drop in the cumin and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start to turn gray and sputter in about 1 1/2 minutes, add the onion. Cook, stirring fairly frequently with a slotted spoon until starting to turn pale caramel, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the jalapeño, ginger, turmeric, and cayenne and cook, stirring almost constantly and scraping up from the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute.
ADDING THE CUCUMBER, YOGURT, AND PEAS. Add the cucumber and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add a little water (3-4 tablespoons), cover, and steam the cucumber until tender-crisp, about 7 to 8 minutes, adding another tablespoon of water, if necessary (the onions will be a rich golden brown color). Add a few spoonfuls of the cucumber mixture to the yogurt-sour cream mixture and stir in (to warm it). Reduce the heat to low. Slowly stir the yogurt mixture into the pan, adding a little at a time and stirring in a circular motion until all of it is incorporated (the yogurt sauce will be creamy golden-yellow). Add the salt and simmer, stirring frequently until the sauce bubbles, about 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and cayenne. Add the peas and cook about 2 minutes (so they remain a bright green color). Transfer to a serving dish and serve garnished with the peanuts and chopped coriander (cilantro).