I spent my childhood summers in a part of India where 110 degrees Fahrenheit is a cool day. So I rejoice when the weather here turns hot, as it makes me think of home. That's when, to welcome the season, my friends and I gather for our annual "henna party," a sumptuous feast for the senses featuring an afternoon of delicious food and pure pampering.
On the menu this year were a variety of Indian treats: baby semolina cakes tempered with curry leaves and coconut, quesadillas stuffed with Paneer (an Indian version of cottage cheese), a range of tangy chutneys for dipping, and a pitcher of cold Indian-style coffee (Nescafe with vanilla ice cream, crushed ice and a bit of milk). The biggest hits: delicately spiced shrimp fritters and mango lassi — a milky, palate-cooling drink that complemented the fritters spectacularly.
Because I expected a large to-do, I asked guests to bring dishes to round out the meal. My circle of friends resembles a U.N. cultural delegation, and the food they contributed reflected this — we had Tiramasu, candied ginger scones, Indian samosas and the ubiquitous spinach dip, all laid out on a table decorated with a golden sari and rose petals.
Meanwhile, out on the deck was the day's true extravagance: two local henna artists ready to work their magic. Henna is an all-natural dye that can be applied to the skin in a variety of motifs, from simple symbols of friendship to intricate, purely ornamental patterns, all in a gorgeous crimson-amber color that stays on for about two weeks. Having it applied is like spending time in a luxurious spa. The dye has a cooling effect on the skin that, coupled with an earthy aroma, is truly therapeutic: a soothing way to celebrate the beauty of summer — and my guests.
Scrambled Paneer Tapas
Yield 10 pieces
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½ -inch ginger root, roughly chopped
2 Serrano green chilies, seeded and minced
1/4 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted
2 cups grated paneer
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons cream
Table salt to taste
10 tiny pitas
1. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the spring onions and sauté until transparent.
2. Add the cloves and ginger, sauté for another thirty seconds. Add the green chilies, bell peppers and cumin seeds. Sauté for another 3 minutes.
3. Add the paneer and cook, stirring constantly. Add the turmeric and mix well. cream. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until all the ingredients are well mixed and the paneer is warmed through. Salt to taste. Serve immediately spooned over tiny warmed pita bread.
3 cups plain yogurt (regular or nonfat)
1 cup canned mango pulp (can use 1 cup fresh ripe mango or frozen mango pieces, plus a few teaspoons sugar)
1/2 cup water (or 1/4 if using frozen mango)
5-6 ice cubes
Put all ingredients in a large blender and blend well. Add more water for a thinner consistency. Serves 4.
(photo credits -are Nate Lankford)
How do you celebrate your friends? Post a comment here and you will be entered into a giveaway of my FAVORITE book of this year – Spoonfed by Kim Severson. It is a fantastic book that celebrates the cooks who saved her life. A terrific, funny, touching read that will make you wish that the book never ended.
Post a comment by 4:00 pm today, May 10 2010, and I will pick a winner at random