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It must have been somewhere around late eighties or early nineties perhaps, when I was growing up in a small nondescript town of northern India, that my mum purchased a set of plastic bowls that a friend was selling for a discount and giving a free recipe book along with it. While on one hand Mum was relishing the ‘good deal’ that she got for the bowls, she was not so happy with the choice of the cookbook that the company had selected as the freebie. But, I was in awe and totally fascinated by the recipe book since everything in it – ingredients, names, recipes, method of cooking looked so very exotic. Foreign cuisines had not yet caught the fancy of us Indians and in smaller towns we poor souls had not even heard of them. Forget about foreign cuisine, at that point of time, I had no idea about so many Indian cuisines/dishes as well; each state has its own distinct dishes and flavors. All that I had heard of was perhaps south Indian cuisine (sambhar & dosa for that matter). Money constraints ensured that we hardly travelled or went for holidays and the only ones we did were visits to my maternal granny’s house that was just an hour away from our town. Anyways, once I entered college, the book that held me in rapt, gradually took a backseat and I was busy enjoying my time with friends and the new found freedom of college life followed by ‘burdens’ of university education.

Over a decade and a half ago, when I came to Delhi for work, I began discovering new cuisines, and the book suddenly bounced back in my memory. I immediately called up my Mum then, to find out from her, if she had still kept with her the copy of that exotic looking book. And to my utter relief and joy, she had not given it away to the scrap dealer; I wonder if she too was fascinated by the book. On my next visit to her, I collected the book and one night I slowly went through each and every dog eared page (since I had been through the book God knows how many times) of it with utter nostalgia; those childhood memories filled my heart with so much warmth Well, let me now disclose to you that it was an Italian cookbook. And the recipe that I am going to share with you today is inspired from that very book. The author had kept the sauce rich for obvious reasons, which is, that this sauce goes to be served with the pasta. However, since my intent was to use it as a dressing for the salad using the wonderful winter produce, I have heavily tweaked the recipe. For one, I have substituted almost all the cream with yogurt to make the dressing light and to have that natural tang of yogurt. Instead of parsley, I have used cilantro and I also threw in a garlic. This pasta sauce goes well with grilled fish or roasted chicken and it can be turned into a dip for crudités or crackers. You can even use it as a spread for your crusty bread or add a few teaspoons to the soup. This dressing is so good on its own that I have a tough time stopping myself from eating it by spoonfuls. Use your fertile imagination to put it to as many uses that you can think of…Enjoy!

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For Salad

½ – ¾ C Chickpeas (boiled)

1 Carrot, sliced or diced

1 C Cauliflower florets

1 C Broccoli florets

1 Apple, thinly sliced

1 Pear, thinly sliced

A few tablespoons Pomegranate seeds (optional)

A few teaspoons lime juice to drizzle over the chopped apple and pear

2 tsp Oil

For the Sauce/ Dressing,

¾ C Walnuts (shelled and halved)

1 fat clove Garlic

2 tbsp extra Virgin Olive Oil

¾ C Fresh Coriander (Cilantro/ Dhaniya Patta)

4 – 5 tbsp Yogurt (Dahi)

1 tbsp Cream

2 tbsp Bread Crumbs (I used fresh bread for this but dried crumbs will work just fine)

Salt to taste

Red Chili Flakes (according to heat you want)

Vegetable or Chicken Broth to loosen the sauce (if required)

Lime juice (I didn’t need to use the lime juice since the natural sourness of yogurt worked perfectly)

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For Salad: 

Wash the vegetables and set them aside. In a bowl, add some ice cubes and a cup and and a half of water. Set aside.

Boil water in a medium pot and add some salt. Bring to a boil and cook the broccoli for half a minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli and transfer it to the cold water. Repeat this process with the cauliflower and the carrots. Basically you need to ensure that the vegetables are just slightly cooked and retain their crunch even after blanching. Drain the vegetables and place them in a single layer over a kitchen towel.

Heat a heavy pan or wok and add oil. Add the broccoli and cauliflower florets to it. Stir fry them on very high heat till them begin to get brown charred marks. (You can skip this step if you wish to but I like those char marks and also this process helps remove any excess water that might be there)

Slice the apple and pear and drizzle over two teaspoons of lime juice to prevent them from changing color.

Mix together all the ingredients together in a serving bowl.

For the dressing: 

Lightly roast the walnuts in a pan and allow them to cool. Using a grinder or a food processor, grind the walnuts (I kept their texture a bit coarse) to a powder. Remove them on a plate. Now, pulse together the garlic, cream, yogurt, bread crumbs, cilantro and olive oil. Season with salt and also add chili flakes. To this mixture, add the ground walnuts. Pulse the mixture once again and feel free to add broth or water or milk or cream at this point to loosen the sauce/ dressing. Remove in a bowl and serve along with the salad.

Yield: One generous cup

Note: Slice the apple and pear just before serving.

Note: Since the sauce was to work as a dressing here, I loosed the sauce using the water from the boiled chick peas.

Note: For using the sauce for the pasta, get rid of the yogurt and use a few table spoons of cream and butter. Also increase the amount of olive oil.

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You may also like to check out these recipes…

Vegetable Salad w/ Yogurt Pesto Sauce

Wheat Berry Salad w/ Roasted Winter Veggies 

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