This simple salad dish has the potential to set the table to an Indian Vegan Dinner, a Pescatarian Fusion Dinner or a simple Cuban dinner!
At the time when I was growing up in India (I came to the US in 1991), salad was not really a thing.
This tomato, onion and cucumber and mix was never referred to as salad in my house. We ate this concoction mostly when we went to Tandoori Restaurants (Indian Barbeque) where this would accompany tandoori chicken and sheesh kababs, or when my mom made her tandoori chicken at home. The only other time this salad was a major player in our house was when one of my dad's bosses, a particular character, would come from out of town. After work in the evening, there was always a session with a bottle of whiskey each, yes, a bottle each, and throwing that down with nothing but this salad as accompaniment. The only difference was that the veggies were slices instead of cubed to make it easy finger food. My dad was never a fan of the activity especially because my grandmother despised drinking and would not talk to my dad the days he had these drinking sessions. For my dad however, that was part of the corporate culture he was in and from his perspective, he didn't have an option. After such heavy drinking, when it was no longer necessary my dad stopped drinking completely to help restore the mental unrest that it had caused in my grandmother. As we grow up, we realize all the balancing acts adults do to make a life and a living.
At any rate, I never thought too much about this 5 lettered word, S-A-L-A-D, till I showed up in East Hartford, Connecticut, as an exchange student to live with the sweetest and most culturally curious people. It was then that I was forced to confront the notion of why was salad not a thing in India.
In talking to my parents, I found out that the main reason folks stayed away from ANY kind of raw vegetables was to avoid a serious stomach issue because of the water quality back then. I remember, there was a time where we would boil the water and then filter it before it was safe and ready to drink. That made clean drinking water a very precious commodity and no one was willing to waste that on washing raw vegetables, especially when there was no guarantee that it was germ-free.
That being said, I want to be clear that things are NOT the same in India any more. There are a plethora of safe and healthy preparations now with raw vegetables and creative salads among the many other foods that have permeated the culinary scene.
Despite the various salad options now available globally, I have to say that the simplicity and the combination of the tomato pulp, lime juice, thai chili and salt creates a certain flavor and natural salad dressing that makes this salad my absolute favorite, even to this day. I remember drinking the "salad juice" (sorry if it grosses you out but it's just tomato pulp, lime juice, thai chili and salt :) after the veggies were done, as I cleared the table on my way to the kitchen. One thing to note here is that despite the main ingredients being the same, tomato, cucumber and onion, the seasoning can vary depending on the family. Variations may include holding the thai chili but sprinking some Chaat Masala (a tangy spice blend) or adding mango powder instead of lime juice.
This is very reminiscent of a greek salad but without the feta cheese and olive oil in the dressing.
As you might imagine, this goes really well with simple Rice and lentils or thrown over some grilled/roasted meat wrapped in a tortilla or naan.
If you are really looking to make this salad work a little more for you, then keep everything you have and throw in a cup of salted and roasted peanuts to make Spicy Nutty Pico de Gallo, a standard Indian appetizer but with a fun fusion name :)
If you want a third option, how about a simple Cuban meal of Crispy Tilapia, Rice and this salad?!
1 cup cubed Persian or regular cucumbers
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup finely chopped onion (more or less per taste)
1/4 tsp or to taste finely chopped thai chili
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tsp cilantro
Chop the veggies and place them in separate piles.
Just before serving, mix all ingredients.
Squeeze lime juice and season with salt.
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