"HAVE YOU EVER sprinkled salt on your strawberries?" asked Madhur Jaffrey during the course of yet another unbearably hot summer afternoon in New York City. "Whatever for?" thought the visitor. As if on cue, Jaffrey explained:
"Indians have been eating salted fresh fruits for centuries. They are very refreshing for summer snacks and I especially like to start off hot-weather meals with a savory fruit salad. It whets the appetite."
Indians divide spices--and all foods, for that matter--into two categories: cooling and warming. In summer, explains Jaffrey, they seek cooling flavors such as cumin, fresh coriander (also known as Chinese parsley), green cardamom, lemon and tamarind. These flavors, judiciously used, will have a cooling effect on the body.
Jaffrey, a television and film actress and author of three cookbooks, was born in Delhi and knows of what she speaks. Among her fondest childhood memories are long, hot summer afternoons in a huge house by the Jumuna River, beyond which stretched endless fields of ripe, juicy watermelons. She often swam across the river to fetch those watermelons. Staggering beneath their weight, she hoisted them into the river and floated them across to the opposite shore. There her family would be waiting with buckets of ice water. After chilling the melons, they would all indulge in an unforgettable red-and-succulent feast.
Such colorful memories are impossible to replicate in her Manhattan apartment or even in her summer home in upstate New York, but the richness of Jaffrey's culinary heritage as a child in India eventually inspired her to write cookbooks. The latest, "Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking," has been on the British best-seller list for nine months. (The same volume was recently published in the United States by Barron's, Woodbury, N.Y., for $7.95.)
It was written in conjunction with a very popular cooking series she did for BBC television. Jaffrey also recently finished filming a small part in the soon-to-be-released motion picture called "Heat and Dust," an appropriate title to lead us back into the subject of summer cooking.
"What happens in summer," says Jaffrey, a petite woman with luminescent almond-brown eyes, "is that on a hot day you don't feel like eating. Indians use spices to titillate the palate, to give variety to the same foods you've eaten again and again." She likens spices to the colors on a painter's palette. "India is a country where spices are used magically," she claims. "Cooks know how to get the different shades, tones, and colors from spices."
In summer, however, Jaffrey lets fresh herbs usurp the prominent -----place of spices in her kitchen, letting them suggest to her interesting ways to combine elements of both the eastern and the western kitchen. If she spots an appealing bunch of fresh tarragon in the market, for example, she might marinate chicken in yogurt that has been infused with the chopped tarragon and some cayenne pepper. "The tarragon will have a cooling effect," says Jaffrey, "and the cayenne will add just a touch of heat to counterpoint or balance the coolness."
Since yogurt itself has a very cooling effect, she uses it often in summer. "I ignore mayonnaise in the hot weather," she says, "and simply use yogurt instead. It's much lighter and less fattening."
Jaffrey's favorite yogurt-based salads are made with cucumber and crushed mustard seeds, cauliflower and fresh peas, or zucchini and onions. These are usually scented with roasted cumin seeds and freshly ground black pepper. Another yogurt salad that is unusually delicious is prepared with sliced ripe bananas and hot green chili. (There is an especially fine selection of these yogurt salads in Jaffrey's "World of the East Vegetarian Cooking," Knopf paperback, $9.95.)
For desserts in the summer, Jaffrey relies upon fresh fruits. For a festive and colorful dish, she makes a medley of fruit and melon balls and dots them with small scoops of various sorbets. As a special treat, she adds peeled loquats, a yellow plum-like fruit native to the far East, when she can find them in the market.
A final word of advice: "During the summer months in India, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the hot sun. We don't. But if any of us ever shows the slightest sign of suffering from the heat, we drink a cool infusion of tamarind and cumin or a milk-and-almond drink flavored with cardamom, called thandai. These drinks do not cool only because they are served on ice, but because the ingredients are chemically cooling to the body."
Jaffrey suggests the following menu for a warm-weather meal. Either of the drinks may be served as an afternoon refreshment or when guests arrive. Plan to serve chilled white wine with the meal and sorbet for dessert. FRESH PEACH SALAD APPETIZER (6 servings)
In India, savory fruit salads such as this one are served with meals or snacks and may be made with a variety of fruit. Peeled and sliced bananas, peeled and sliced guavas, even peeled orange segments may be used--singly or in any preferred combination. Because peaches discolor and turn very limp and watery if left in spices for too long, the salad should be made just before you sit down to eat. 2 1/2 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and sliced 3 tablespoons sugar 3/4 teaspoon salt Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1 1/2 teaspoons ground, roasted cumis* 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel serving dish. Serve at room temperature.
*Note: To roast cumin seeds, put 4 to 5 tablespoons of whole cumin seeds into a small, heavy frying pan (cast-iron frying pans are best for this) and place the panflame. No fat is necessary. Stir the seeds and keep roasting them until they turn a few shades darker. Soon you will be able to recognize the wonderful "roasted" aroma that these seeds emit when they are ready. Extra roasted seeds may be stored for future use in an airtight container. LEMONY CHICKEN WITH FRESH CORIANDER (6 servings) 2 1-inch cubes fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped 6 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 1/2 pounds chicken parts, skinned 5 cloves garlic, peeled and very finely chopped 2 tablespoons lemon juice 3 cups fresh coriander leaves (without roots and lower stems), very finely chopped 1/2 to 1 fresh hot chili, very finely chopped 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
Put the ginger and 4 tablespoons of water into the container of an electric blender. Blend until you have a paste.
Heat the oil in a wide, heavy, preferably non-stick pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in as many chicken pieces as the pot will hold in a single layer and brown on both sides. Remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl. Brown all the chicken pieces this way.
Put the garlic into the same hot oil. As soon as the pieces turn a medium brown color, turn the heat to medium and pour in the paste from the blender. Stir and fry it for a minute. Now add the fresh coriander and spices. Stir and cook for a minute. Put in all the chicken pieces as well as any liquid that might have accumulated in the chicken bowl. Also add 2/3 cup of water and the lemon juice. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over. Cover again and cook another 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender. If the sauce is too thin, uncover the pot and boil some of it away over a slightly higher heat. Serve with spiced basmatic rice (see recipe below). SPICED BASMATI RICE (8 servings)
Although basmati rice is available at some gourmet specialty shops and health food stores, carolina long-grain rice may be substituted with success. 2 cups basmati rice 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 1/2 fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon very finely minced garlic 1/2 teaspoon garum masala (see recipe below) 1 teaspoon salt (or a bit more if the stock is unsalted) 2 2/3 cups chicken broth
Pick over the rice and put it a bowl. Wash in several changes of water. Drain. Pour 5 cups of fresh water over the rice and let it soak for half an hour. Leave it to drain in a sieve for 20 minutes.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the onion. Stir and fry until the onion bits have browned lightly. Add the rice, green chili, garlic, garam masala, and salt. Stir gently for 3 to 4 minutes until all the grains are coated with oil. If the rice begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down slightly. Now pour in the stock and bring the rice to a boil. Cover with a very tight-fitting lid, turn the heat to very, very low and cook for 25 minutes. (If you prefer, you could put the pan in a preheated 325-degree oven for 25 minutes.) GARAM MASALA
It is best to grind masala in small quantities so that it stays fresh. The following recipe makes about 3 tablespoons. 1 tablespoon cardamom seeds 2-inch stick of cinnamon 1 teaspoon black cumin seeds (regular cumin seeds may be substituted) 1 teaspoon whole cloves 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Place all the ingredients in a clean electric coffee-grinder (or any other spice grinder). Turn the machine on for 30 to 40 seconds or until the spices are finely ground. Store in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Keep away from heat and sunlight. SPICY GREEN BEANS (6 servings)
This dish may be made ahead and reheated. It makes a fine complement to the lemony chicken. 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans 1 1/2-by-1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped 10 cloves garlic, peeled 5 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds 1 whole, dried hot red chili, lightly crushed in a mortar 2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, approximately 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or to taste) 1 teaspoon ground, roasted cumin seeds* Freshly ground black pepper
Trim the green beans and cut them crosswise at 1/4-inch intervals. Put the ginger and garlic into the container of an electric blender or food processor. Add 1/2 cup of water and blend until fairly smooth.
Heat the oil in a wide, heavy saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. Five seconds later, put in the crushed chili. As soon as it darkens, pour in the ginger-garlic paste. Stir and cook for about a minute. Put in the coriander. Stir a few times. Now put in the chopped tomatoes. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes, mashing up the tomato pieces with the back of a slotted spoon as you do so. Put in the beans and salt, and add one cup of water. Bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to low and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the beans are tender. Remove the cover. Add the lemon juice, roasted cumin, and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Turn heat up and boil away away all of the liquid, stirring the beans gently as you do so.
*Note: To roast cumin seeds, put 4 to 5 tablespoons of whole cumin seeds into a small, heavy frying pan (cast-iron frying are best for this) and place the pan over a medium flame. No fat is necessary. Stir the seeds and keep roasting them until they turn a few shades darker. Soon you will be able to recognize the wonderful "roasted" aroma that these seeds emit when they are ready. Extra roasted seeds may be stored for future use in an airtight container. GUJERATI CARROT SALAD (4 to 6 servings)
This salad is lightly spiced and simple to make. You can vary it by leaving out the lemon juice. This highlights the natural sweetness of the carrots. Or you could add 2 tablespoons of golden raisins that you should soak in hot water for 2 to 3 hours first. 5 large carrots, trimmed, peeled and grated coarsely 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 tablespoon whole black mustard seeds (yellow mustard may be substituted) 2 teaspoons lemon juice
In a bowl, toss the grated carrots with the salt. Heat the oil in a very small pan over a medium flame. When very hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop (this takes just a few seconds), pour the contents of the pan--oil and seeds--over the carrots. Add the lemon juice and toss.
You may serve this salad at room temperature or cold. YOGURT WITH CUCUMBER, RAISINS AND ALMONDS (6 servings)
Although this is a Persian dish, Jaffrey likes to serve it as part of an Indian summer meal. She says: "When almonds are left to soak for a length of time, they become rather like green almonds--white, tender, crunchy, and quite unlike their more "nutty" selves. They can be eaten just as they are or they can be combined with other foods"--as in this salad. 2 cups plain yogurt 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 cucumber 1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked in 1 cup hot water for 1 hour and then drained 2 tablespoons halved, blanched almonds, soaked in 1 cup hot water 6 hours (or overnight) and then drained
Put the yogurt in a bowl and add the salt and pepper. Beat the yogurt lightly with a fork or whisk until smooth and creamy.
Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds if they are large. Now cut the cucumber into 1/4-inch dice. Put the diced cucumber as well as the raisins and almonds into the yogurt. Mix well. Serve chilled. FRESH GINGER-FLAVORED LIMEADE (Makes 1 drink)
This refreshing drink is very popular during hot, Indian summers. The following recipe makes one tall glassful, but the quantities may be doubled or quadrupled. You can, if you like, substitute club soda for the 2/3 cup water. 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice 4 tablespoons sugar 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger Ice cubes
Mix the lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Put the grated ginger in a small strainer. Lower the bottom of the strainer into the sweetened lime juice. Stir the ginger around with a spoon. (The ginger will still be in the strainer.) Lift up the strainer and discard any remaining ginger pulp (there may not be much). Pour the ginger-flavored lime concentrate into a tall glass. Add 2/3 cup water and a few ice cubes. Stir and serve immediately. THANDAI (Milk and Almond Drink) (2 servings)
The recipe that follows would serve two people but it can easily be doubled or tripled. You can increase or decrease the suggested amount of sugar according to taste. Seeds from 1 cardamom pod 2 cups very cold skimmed milk 12 blanched almonds, soaked in 2/3 cup water overnight or for at least 5 hours and then drained 1 tablespoon sugar
Crush the cardamom seeds finely in a small mortar or place the seeds between two sheets of waxed paper and pound gently with the wide section of a hammer until you have a powder.
Pour 1/2 cup of the milk into the container of an electric blender. Add the cardamom powder, almonds, and sugar. Blend well. Stop the blender and pour in the rest of the milk. blend for just 1 second. Pour into two glasses and serve.
Note: This drink can be made several hours ahead of time and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. It should be served very cold. Stand it in crushed ice, if necessary. Stir before serving.