Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mango Coconut Raita

It's mango season in India. People complain of the sweltering heat, the mosquitoes, the rain, the absence of rain, the traffic. For me, it's the time of year that warrants a long flight and all the above complaints, because I get to eat an uninterrupted supply of Alphonso's. What's in a name? Alphonso, appoos, king of fruits lead to one fact... Undisputed, the best damn mango in the whole world!!! My ma in law, Pam, has them ready as I walk into the house!! It was the first food I ate when I got off the plane and entered my Mum's apartment. And it is touching that Pam remembered!

There's a great deal of hoopla going on with mangoes being banned by the EC. Then again that should spell for cheaper fruit for the locals. I am blissfully ignorant of any political intrigue. But a road trip to Goa has given me quite a different perspective on the going rate for Alphonso mangoes. As we drive past picturesque villages, we traverse roads lined with a few sari-clad women selling baskets of the golden fruit. They squat under ancient banyans, whose aerial roots make me ache to do a Tarzan-like maneuver!! A childhood activity that has turned into an errant fantasy. These villagers surround themselves with baskets of fresh produce. We amble up to handle the fruit. I am told I have to look nonchalant. But my smile and eagerness gives me away before I can reach for the first mango. The price stuns and shocks us. We haggle in a desultory fashion, my sister being the local expert. We buy a dozen to eat in Goa. 

On the return trip we find women selling mangoes at each curvy bend in the lush green countryside!!!! It's a day for this part of the world. Women on scooters, dressed in colorful saris, gajras in their hair, sit behind long-sleeved spouses, clutching on for dear life,  as the scooters wend their way through hairpin bends. Each market is a flurry of activity. Huge mounds of what looks to me like gray pebbles, but in reality are unpeeled raw cashew nuts! Mountains of maroon Sankleshwar chilies incite and invite. And the mangoes... How do I describe my bliss? How should I transport the aroma that emanates from the countryside? How does one bottle up these memories? 

We stop by a lake. The mango sellers are reflected in its shimmering waters. We buy more! Then we spot baby ones. Miniature versions of the real thing. We think they are raival mangoes, ones that arrive just before the monsoon. But then I am sure the monsoons has commenced as we have encountered blinding rain! The woman lays my doubts to rest as she calls them baby appoos. Enthusiastically we buy some. We plan on cooking some tonight!!

A few meanderings later we see more Alphonso's. We cannot resist. The kids protesting, cry out that the car smells like a truck carrying mangoes to market!! The vendor gives us a slice to eat!! My eyes grow big and round as i savor the unmistakable taste of the real thing. Manna from heaven, so of course we buy more!!! They are ridiculously cheap, two thirds less than we would pay in the big cities. The car, now burgeoning with bags of fruit, does look and smell like a ripe mango orchard!! The thought of mango jam, ice cream, juice or just plain slices, is the carrot at the end of our stick. My sister makes short shrift of the long ride home!! 

The baby mangoes are sugar sweet. After eating a few I decide to turn the rest into raita... Not the traditional yogurt kind, but a coconut milk-based one. A raita my sister and grew up eating in our grandmother's house. It is salty, sweet, spicy and peppery. It is to be eaten with a spoon, but we always ate it with our fingers, using the seed as a spoon! Hard to explain how we managed that.!!!... You dipped the seed in the sauce and sucked on the seed!!! A bit gross,  but for us kids it was the best way to eat the raita. And we shall do just that tonight!!!

Serves 4 to 6

6 small Mangoes
1 14 oz can Coconut Milk
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Green Chile
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
A large pinch of Kosher salt

Wash mangoes well. Put mangoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water.

Place pot on medium heat, bring to boil, lower flame and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drain the water and run cold water over mangoes. Let them cool for 10 minutes.

Gently squeeze one mango to loosen the pulp. Make a tear at the top end and squeeze the pulp and seed out into a bowl. Repeat for all the mangoes. 

Open up the mangoes and scrape the skins with a knife to get as much of the pulp as you can.

Gently scrape the pulp off the seeds. Put the seeds back into the pulp.

Open the can of coconut milk, stir well and add to pulp.

Grind green chile and mustard seeds till they are finely chopped and add to the pulp.

Add sugar and salt and stir vigorously to mix all the seasonings. 

Refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 6 hours to let the flavors develop.

Serve raita cold along with any Indian meal. 


I used baby Alphonso's as they are readily available to me in India. Back in the US I have used mangoes from Mexico with great success!!

Prassy has invited some friends for dinner. Guinea pigs for raita is what I call them!!! Sadly, I will not be able to suck and scoop in my favorite fashion.Then, the joy of making a childhood favorite for my sister and her friends, makes me happily reach for a spoon!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Indulging A Craving--Potato Subji

I crave the crisp crunch of a well formed dosa. I yearn for a bowl of spicy sambhar to dip my crisp dosa in. And I need some bright yellow potatoes to fill the crisp dosa, that sits in a pool of spicy sambhar. The first two are ready in a jiffy. Store-bought dosa batter ferments on my countertop. Shortcut Indian-made sambhar is just a defrosted moment away. But the potatoes, that takes planning. Since the craving hits home swift and hard, I quickly set a pot of Yukon Golds to boil.

As I wait for the potatoes to cook, I retrieve all the accoutrements of dosa making. A special convex dosa pan that comes all the way from India, a pan I use ONLY for dosas. A small amount of oil in a bowl, to drizzle over the hot pan. A stainless steel ladle that doubles as a batter pourer and a dosa spreader. A non stick spatula to flip the crisped dosa. All these are assembled to make dosa making a snap.

Impatiently, I peel hot potatoes, literally playing the game! A quick, rough chop and they are ready for the pan. Hot oil gets a spluttering of mustard seeds and curry leaves. That bright yellow color develops with a heaped spoon of turmeric. Turmeric, with its numerous healthy qualities, adds color and flavor and stains my hands relentlessly. Fresh cilantro dresses up potatoes. The sizzle in the pan tells me it is time to stuff the dosas.

Makes enough for 15 dosas

8 medium sized Yukon Gold Potatoes
3 tablespoons Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
15 fresh Curry leaves
1 Onion
2 slices Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
2 Green Chiles
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Juice of 1/2 a Lime
3/4 cup Cilantro

Boil potatoes. Cool, peel and chop into rough chunks.

Peel and chop onion into small pieces.

Trim chiles and cut them into thin slices.

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

When the oil shimmers, add mustard seeds letting them pop and splutter.

As the seeds pop, drop in curry leaves, onion, ginger, turmeric and chopped green chiles. Stir to mix.

Add potato chunks and stir to coat potatoes with spices.

Season with salt and lime juice, cover and cook for 5 minutes. 

Chop cilantro and add to potatoes. 

They are ready to be used as a filling for the dosas.

You can stuff the dosa with a heaping spoonful of potatoes and roll it up in a traditional manner or serve the potatoes alongside, accompanied by sambhar. You get to decide!

The dosa pan gets a workout as I scurry making golden brown, lacy rounds. Everyone has their favorite way of eating these crispy delights. I like mine rolled up like a crunchy wrap, ready for its spicy dipping sauce. No time for chutney or podi. Just enough momentum to get past my craving and indulge in one of my favorite South Indian staples.