Summer's salad days

SRAVANTHI CHALLAPALLI | Updated on May 10, 2012

Sweet, sour and simple


On Ugadi this year, I posted greetings on Facebook along with a picture of the ingredients that went into the traditional Ugadi pachadi (chutney). A raw green mango, chopped; a ripe banana, sliced; a little bit of chopped green chilli; salt; about two spoons of jaggery, and some delicate and pale neem flowers went into the picture, making a pretty pastel of green and yellow.

Many friends responded, and as is wont to happen on Facebook when an update attracts a sizeable number of comments, it stayed on top of the news for a while. Among the greeters were those who declared that this was not Ugadi pachadi, and some who said it looked like a trendy salad, edible flowers et al. I had photographed the preparation at the pre- pachadi stage, just before the tamarind juice went into it. And, my photographic skills don't extend to making brown mixtures look attractive.

Indeed, it does make a tasty, sweet and sour salad, and barring the cutting and slicing, there's no more to it. No cooking involved. No dressings to be whipped up. The neem flowers add a touch of bitterness that tradition mandates. One year, in the absence of neem flowers, I added a few pieces of bittergourd — I really did — but you don't have to go that far.

The six-flavour pachadi is meant to prepare us to deal with whatever life has in store for us, sweet and not, but the bitterness is a touch one can well do without at non-festive times. If you can get your hands on sugar cane, peel it and add a few pieces of that as well to the mix. A little bit of tamarind extract is fine too but I wouldn't add it if it's not Ugadi. And the neem blossoms, with their heady fragrance, can make a nice centrepiece for your table.

A few days after Ugadi, it was Sri Rama Navami. I haven't observed that festival in a long time but the prasadam served at home for it makes another simple, no-fuss salad. Here, all you need is a fistful of soaked moong dal, pieces of fresh coconut and ripe banana, and some jaggery.

Just tip everything into a bowl and let the jaggery melt and coat the rest of the ingredients in the summer heat – it makes its own dressing! I'm not sure salt was added to this but if you want to experiment, I would recommend adding it just before serving. Otherwise, it would be a watery affair. This makes for a mild salad with alternating textures and varied levels of sweetness from each of the ingredients, none of which have strong tastes.

It is with a purpose that I haven't been specific with quantities. Assemble it as you like it, though I would caution against a disproportionately large amount of moong dal. You could even leave it out. Honey or sugar could substitute the jaggery. Go ahead, depart from tradition by adding almonds, cashew nuts and raisins. At this point, it's crossing over from salad to dessert – and that's a recipe for another day!

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Published on May 10, 2012
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