Here are some of my top picks from the vegetable markets this season and ideas on how to add them to your salad bowl
Strolling around markets is my favourite thing to do, be it in my home cities of Mumbai and Bengaluru, or in the places I visit. In India, winters are the best time to check out your local markets. Brimming with fresh produce, they carry loads of inspiration for anyone who loves to cook. While you can always cook the traditional seasonal dishes, the freshness of the greens shines best in salads. Here are some of my top picks from the vegetable markets this season and ideas on how to add them to your salad bowl.
Methi (fenugreek) leaves: This may sound blasphemous but lettuce is the most boring thing to happen to a salad, serving no other purpose than being a bowl filler and reducing the restaurant’s overheads. Indian greens like fenugreek come with their own little pockets of flavour. The baby methi that comes in 3-4-inch tall bunches is full of the perfumed bitterness that is bound to make anyone sit up and go wow. The seasonal baby methi is often grown in sandy areas, so make sure it’s washed a few times until it’s grit free. Some varieties might have slightly overt bitter tones, so pair it with a dressing that has a sweetness to it from orange juice or honey.
Choliya: Green chickpeas, sold in bunches with the greens or shelled, are available only in winters. Street vendors roast them in their pods until charred from outside. This imparts a smoky aroma. Add the shelled chickpeas to a salad with some vinegar marinated onions, feta, croutons and plenty of extra virgin olive oil.
Green garlic: A herb with a strong punch, this is the younger version of garlic with its green scapes attached. Each stalk of green garlic carries the flavour of an entire head of garlic, which is quite logical given that left to itself, it would develop into a head of garlic. It gives a big flavour boost when minced and added to salad dressings. Mushrooms or tofu sautéed in oil along with chopped green garlic make a hearty warm salad.
Fresh groundnuts: Wash the pods and put them in a large pressure cooker. Cover with water and add a good handful of salt. Pressure-cook for two-three whistles. Cool down, open and drain out the pods. Now the fun begins. Squishing the pods open with a squirt of salty water to dive into the soft salty peanuts is a fond memory from childhood. While these can be consumed as is, they add a nice seasonal touch to salads. Try the south Indian bar snack-style peanut masala with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, lemon juice and a generous hit of red chilli powder, or a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chillies, or the salad recipe given below.
Mustard greens: Sarson ka saag is as sacred to Punjabis as undhiyo is to Gujaratis. It is not easy to find these greens in and around where I live in Bengaluru, so I tried to sow mustard seeds in the hope of growing my own greens. My dreams of making a homegrown sarson ka saag came crashing down when the yield turned out to be just a handful of leaves. I took solace in the mustard greens and new potatoes salad (see recipe). The tender leaves, washed thoroughly, are a good substitute to rocket. Mature leaves can be quickly blanched and used in a warm salad bowl.
In a small pressure cooker, combine groundnuts with 1 cup water and 1 tsp salt. Pressure cook for one whistle, turn off the flame. Strain out the groundnuts and add to a mixing bowl.
Wash and pat dry the methi leaves with a cotton towel. Peel and dice the potato ( about 1 cm). Toss the methi leaves with the groundnuts and potatoes. The still warm groundnuts and potatoes partially cook the methi leaves.
To the mixing bowl, add the tomato, onion and chillies. Add honey, lemon juice and salt to the salad mix and combine gently with fingertips until it coats all the ingredients well.
Pile the salad on a plate. Garnish with microgreens, sesame seeds and place a lemon half on the side.
Note: When fresh groundnuts are not in season, use regular groundnuts available in your grocery store.
SARSON KA SALAD
2-3 cups mustard leaves
A handful of radish leaves (optional but complements the flavour of mustard leaves)
2 new potatoes, medium-sized
2 small red radish
1 fresh red chilli
1 tsp whole grain mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp mustard oil
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/3 tsp salt
Bring a small pot of water to boil. Keep a bowl of iced water ready. Plunge the mustard and radish leaves in boiling water for 10-15 seconds. Remove with a pair of tongs and refresh in the bowl of iced water. Gently squeeze excess water and chop the leaves roughly.
Pressure cook the potatoes. Peel and chop into 1-inch sized chunks. Thinly slice the radish and chilli.
In a small cup, whisk together whole grain mustard, lemon juice, oils and salt with a fork until thick and creamy.
In a bowl, lightly toss the chopped greens, potatoes, radish and chilli in the prepared dressing.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting seasonal ingredients prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.