As soon as I stepped out of the airplane, the humid, sticky air paved through my hair. I wondered if I should have infact had dinner on the plane, it was 2 a.m. and spending time to find any restaurant in this murky weather could be disastrous. To my relief, we sailed through the customs and airport procedures which admittedly is always the case at the Ahmedabad airport, the largest city of the North Western State - Gujarat . But I could hear my stomach growling increasingly and to break to my father who was receiving me, that I hadn't had my dinner, specially so because I was pregnant, would create a very stark reaction from Papa. It wasn't as if I didn't try, I did but I couldn't help feeling like I would throw up, really.
Our hired driver, who was going to drive us for next 6 hours to our home in Udaipur was confident about the hygiene of this particular South Indian restaurant. Talking about the hot crispy paper dosas, and dunking fairy white idlis in spicy broth of lentils called sambar created such sparkle in his eyes, it's the kind of thing only one foodie sees in another. He escorted us to the dingy staircase to the restaurant, the walls on both sides of the staircase filled with posters of Gods, the bollywood actors along side - who of course are no less than God. The spare lighting and the curved staircase created an illusion of a cave, where 'Anita loves Amit' and countless other lovers engraved their love on whatever was remaining of the wall. The driver assured us as Papa ran his handkerchief over his forehead - 'There is air conditioner inside.'
The restaurant was cacophonous even at this late hour. Constant loud and mellow stream of conversations flowed from all the five tables that were occupied by what looked like workers on a mission. Luckily, we found a corner to grab.
The air was heavy, heat prodigious with the mixed aromas of food, the fans circled on a slow pace and the so called air conditioner only created a remote sound in the background. As we settled in at a table, our jubilant waiter arrived to take our orders. The menu had made little sense to me, both because the words seemed to be in a different dialect but because all I wanted to look for was idli with some chutneys not sambaar. He nodded saying 'idli only morning'. As I starred at other tables to pick clues I ended up telling him to get some chutneys and any, absolutely any type of mashed potatoes.
He arrived with generous pile of turmeric and chilli speckled potatoes with a barrage of condiments, green and red chutney, ginger and coconut chutney, red onions, lemons to name a few.
As we got back to our ride, the sun was rising, illuminating the starkly beautiful Arravalli hills, a new day was beginning and my stomach and I believe my daughter in there where quite happy, no wonder she loves every version of chaat she has ever tasted!
Red Quinoa and Sweet Potato Salad With Tamarind and Mint Chutney And Peanuts
This salad is inspired from the quinessential Indian 'chaat' which in essence is the heart of North Indian street food. Chaat usually has elements like crispy fried dough, sweet and sour tamarind sauce, chutneys, yogurt and often fresh crunchy red onions. While this might not look anything like a chaat, the elements are there. The combination of mint chutney and tamarind chutney pretty much elevates any food in my opinion but here the ingredients as as much the hero, if not more. I usually opt for pomegranate seeds for this salad but since I didn't have any black grapes worked equally well. Roast the peanuts if you like.
1/2 cup red quinoa, boiled
1 sweet potato, cubed and roasted with salt and herb of choice, I did rosemary
1/2 cup grapes or pomegranate
1 avocado, chopped
1 cup mixed salad greens
1/4 cup peanuts
1/4 cup yogurt or coconut cream for vegan
1 cup mint leaves
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
2 tbsp tamarind paste
1/4 tsp fennel (seeds) powder
1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder
1/4 tsp red chilly powder
1 tbsp sugar
Salt to taste
1 tsp peanut oil
1/4 cup water or according to the thickness of the paste
* You want to taste as you add this as tamarind paste can be very different in sourness from brand to brand.
Grind together all the ingredients for mint chutney except yogurt. Once it becomes a paste, whisk in the yogurt. Keep aside.
Heat oil in a pan. Add tamarind paste, water and the spices and let it cook for 5 minutes. The consistency should be that of balsamic vinegar. Let it cool.
Toss together the quinoa, roasted potatoes, grapes, greens and avocado. You can either dress the salad by adding both the chutneys or serve them on the side to be spooned over the salad.