Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Chopping Around

I've gotten out of the habit of planning meals for the week, but knowing that I couldn't buy much at the farmers' market on Saturday helped me focus my thoughts on certain dishes that would be easy and quick to prepare.

Since a co-worker had given me a handful of homegrown cucumbers on Friday, I knew that one of the dishes I wanted to make this week was gazpacho, one of my summertime favorites. But as I started pulling out ingredients after work, I realized that I wanted to tweak the recipe a little, removing it from Spain and traveling further east.

How far east? Perhaps I could have added fresh parsley and mint and a splash of lemon juice and remained at the far end of the Mediterranean. But, craving Indian food as I so often do, I added cilantro instead, fried some cumin and curry powder with the garlic, and chopped the tomatoes and cucumbers, pureeing the entire collection together. Then, to balance the (admittedly mild) heat of the spices, I stirred in some plain yogurt, making it more of a cross between gazpacho and raita.

Inspired, I made the rest of this week's fried okra to accompany the soup and enjoyed a light, lightly spiced, fresh meal:

To round out dinner, a tiny dish of creamy rice pudding or even a milky ras malai would have been lovely, but, having neither, I settled for a cup of chai-spiced hot cocoa made with local milk.

I know that there are people who might frown upon this mixing of ethnic cuisines and spices. I'm certainly not going to claim that this "gazpacho" is authentic to either Spanish or Indian cuisines, though it's influenced by both. I do, however, like to experiment with flavors and spice combinations, partly to understand better what works well together and to stretch my own culinary boundaries a little more.

Authentic ethnic cuisines are wonderful and irreplaceable, and I enjoy them as much as I can when I get the opportunity. But once in a while, I like to shop around and mix and match tastes.

I think it's a big enough world to make room for play, don't you?

Curry Gazpacho

Though this is derived from the basic gazpacho recipe I always use (and I don't remember where I originally found it; sorry!), it lies somewhere between a thick, pureed soup and a yogurt dip while fitting neither category very well. So call it what you like: I don't mind, as long as you enjoy it. Serve with a light sort of bread, like pita crisps, as well as some green vegetable. And don't forget to have a small dessert to tuck away at the end!

1 T olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp curry powder
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c plain yogurt

Heat olive oil in small skillet. Fry cumin and curry powder for one minute. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Remove from heat.

Combine garlic mixture, tomatoes, cucumber, and cilantro in small food processor or blender and puree until mostly smooth. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in yogurt until creamy.

If desired, garnish with sprinkling of fresh chopped cilantro or dash of cumin.

Serves 2


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