I spent the summer in Israel when I was 15 years old, and while I know I did all of the expected stuff–day trips, stays at hostels and kibbutz, the big cities and the desert–one of the things that stands out most clearly in my memory is something sort of random–the way the Israeli kids dressed on hot days: black jeans and often long-sleeved shirts. I’d look at them, so covered, so dark, and want to scream. “Don’t you know how HOT it is here? I’m melting in my Tevas and tank top and you’re there wrapped as tight as you can in WINTER clothes.” Clearly this penchant for melodrama isn’t a recent phenomenon.
I feel the same way on days like we’ve had this week, when the air is so oppressively thick and stagnant (seriously, I think the breath I left on our front step last night greeted me there this morning) and I see people, probably dressed for important jobs in aggressively air-conditioned offices in these woolen suit layers and shoes with covered toes and sleeves (fine, I’m talking about Alex) and I want to melt for them at the thought of having to walk more than a block in such a getup. My Eastern European genes are inconsolable in this swelter, thus if you need us we’ll be over in the corner, hugging it out with the a/c this weather stops being such a brat.
And what to eat? If common sense demands cold food, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, why am I craving Indian food? All jokes about my lack of sense aside, why do I only want thick, spicy curries? How can I crave dal when it’s 95 immobile rain-longing degrees out? But maybe this has more to do with the denim-clad Israeli kids than I think: we all handle the heat differently, and they chose to cover their skin rather than expose it to the sun’s teeth. I had a Vietnamese friend in college that used to drag me out McLean, Virginia on hot days for some pho, which along with the soothing sweetened iced coffee, he considered the only proper cure for heat exhaustion, and I have to admit, it worked like a charm. If any culture has down what to eat when it’s hotter than a monkey’s butt outside (I say this theoretically, of course), it’s gotta be India.
Seriously, don’t knock it until you try it. Despite the fact that you’re actually cooking with heat when there more than enough to go around, there is something immensely satisfying about eating spicy, wholesome food when all the ice cubes in the world aren’t cutting it. I grabbed these recipes from a San Francisco Chronicle about pairing wine with Indian food a few weeks ago, and–so unlike me–tried them without giving any thought to whether they’d work or not. My leap of faith was duly rewarded, as the Everyday Yellow Dal is going right into the recipe folder, next to the Red Split Lentils and Cauliflower and Potatoes. The Black-Eyed Peas, which I was most dubious about as I don’t really dig coconut milk outside the realm of dessert, were also delicious despite my nagging feeling that might not actually like these vaulted peas. And the salad, slaw really, is exactly what’s been missing from my Indian recipe battery–something crunchy, raw and complementary to these hearty dishes. It’s kind of a gateway drug to summer dals, refreshing in a way that my lunch of cold salad and raw fruit never is. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Everyday Yellow Dal
- 1 cup yellow split peas, soaked in cold water for 1 hour
- 1 large tomato (about 8 ounces), cut into 8 wedges
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, finely ground
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (I used 1/4, thought it was plenty, although I may be a wuss.)
- 1/4 cup minced cilantro leaves (I abhor cilantro, and always replace it with flat-leaf parsley.)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
Drain the dal (split peas) and place in a large saucepan. Add the tomato and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until peas are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Pick out any tomato skins and whisk dal to emulsify it. Keep warm over very low heat.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the cumin seeds, covering the pan with a lid or splatter screen. After the seeds have stopped sputtering, add the onion and saute over medium heat. About 3 minutes later, add the garlic and saute until most of the onion has turned dark brown, about 5 minutes altogether. Add the coriander, turmeric and cayenne, stir and pour mixture over the dal. Add the cilantro, butter and salt to the dal and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.
Tangy Shredded Cabbage Salad
- 2 cups tightly packed, shredded green cabbage (use the large holes of a grater)
- 1 small serrano chile, seeded and minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
Heat the oil in a small skillet or butter warmer over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid or splatter screen. When seeds top popping, immediately pour the oil over the cabbage salad and toss well. Let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes before serving, to allow the flavors to blossom.
Serve cold or at room temperature.
Black-Eyed Peas in a Spicy Goan Curry
Adapted from Ruta Kahate via SFGate.com, 6/8/07
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup dried black-eyed peas or two 15-ounce cans, drained
2 tablespoons, canola oil
1 small yellow onion, minced (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, finely ground
1/2 teaspoon finely grated garlic (about 1 large clove)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (I always start with the half the suggested cayenne, and then decide if it needs more. Mine didn’t.)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, finely ground
1/4 cup minced tomato (1 small tomato)
2 cups (or 1 cup if using canned peas) hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste if using canned peas
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup canned coconut milk
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
If using dried black-eyed peas, rinse and soak them in enough water to cover for 6 to 8 hours. Drain.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat and saute the onion until it turns dark brown, about 8 minutes. Add the coriander, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cayenne and cumin, and stir for 2 minutes. Add the tomato and stir over low heat until it disintegrates.
Add the peas and mix well. Pour in the hot water, if using, add the salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer until the peas are cooked through, about 20 minutes. If using canned peas, simmer for only 10 minutes (it is essential to simmer the canned peas, too, so that all the flavors blend better). Stir in the coconut milk and simmer uncovered for another 8 to 10 minutes, again allowing the flavors to come together.
Add the cilantro and lemon juice, simmer for 1 minute more, and remove from heat. Serve hot.