March 21, 2022
Most people have no idea how to truly eat an Indian meal and I'm on a personal mission to change that. Once while eating Indian out, my younger daughter just sat and waited with her arms crossed after the food arrived. We all wondered what was going on. When the waiter finally came around again, she asked where the salad was? The waiter gave us a knowing smile and immediately brought out a small plate of freshly sliced onion, sliced green chile, lemon wedges, and a sprinkle of chaat masala. My daughter, around ten at the time, patiently squeezed lemon juice over everything and sprinkled the plate with salt. No one could touch their food until she was done. And then we ate. Everyone at the next table stopped and stared. They asked us what she was doing and then proceeded to order their own salad.
It drives me batty that Indian restaurants, especially those that serve Punjabi food, do not educate on the art of eating an Indian meal. That side salad is essential to our culinary and dining experience. It provides crunch with every single bite and adds a layer of spice and tanginess at every turn. A North Indian meal may be good, but it will be a heady experience with the side salad. Even folks who swear they cannot stand raw onions are huge fans of the Indian side salad alongside their Indian meal. And if you are truly not a fan of raw onions, just leave them out, but keep the cucumbers and add other crunchy veggies like daikon or even moong sprouts. The point is that crunch with the tartness of the lemon paired with the tanginess of the black salt.
There are many ways to create the salad, which is nothing like the green leafy one with dressing that we're used to eating in the West. You can make it with any crunchy veggies, lemon or lime, and spices. There is never oil, making these salads healthy and a perfect way to get your kids to eat their veggies. My kids were raised watching TV with a huge plate of veggies, lemon, and black salt instead of chips to munch on. And then they would fight over the sips of flavorful lemon juice at the end - just like I did when I was little.
When eating this salad with the meal, a small spoonful is added to your plate. Then, as you take a bite of food, you also take a small bite of salad. This mix of textures and tastes all in one spoonful is exactly the food experience that we are trying to achieve especially with North Indian cooking.
There are many ways to slice and dice up this side salad, and a good Kachumber is a popular one. You'll notice a photo of it in the bottom right corner on the cover of my third book, Indian For Everyone. You can find the recipe on page 52. Here is a modified version.
1 small onion, minced
1 medium cucumber, diced small (with or without skin)
1 medium tomato, diced small
2-3 green Thai chiles, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 lemon or lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon kala namak or black salt
1/2 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Stir all the ingredients in a bowl until well combined. Serve immediately with North Indian food, with grilled veggies or protein, or as a topping to a burger or hot dog. This will not stay fresh in the fridge for too long, so it's better to eat immediately.
Watch me make it! It's truly as simple as this.
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