Shachi Mehra, executive chef at Tamarind of London Restaurant in Newport Coast, says that her mother was such a masterful cook, that when her family dined at friends’ homes they just ate rice and naan (Indian flatbread). They saved their appetites for feasting on mom’s delicacies at home.
Born in India and raised in New Jersey, Mehra says that her late mother’s cooking helped to develop her palate. She also credits the long list of prestigious restaurant kitchens where she honed her culinary skills. She says that her work at Tabla, Danny Meyer’s contemporary Indian restaurant in New York City (sadly now closed), helped to refine her ability to balance flavors.
Tamarind’s delicious quinoa salad is an example of her skills. The somewhat neutral tasting seeds (pronounced KEEN-wah) get pleasantly bathed in citrusy vinaigrette amped with toasted-and-ground coriander seeds, as well as chaat masala, a spice blend of that typically consists of amchoor (dried mango powder), cumin, kala namak (black salt), coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper, and chili powder. Roasted beets, avocado, grapefruit and orange segments, as well as cilantro, team with the fluffy-yet-chewy quinoa to make the salad irresistible.
For a main course, prepare twice the amount of dressing and use half of it to marinate shelled and deveined shrimp for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Grill the shrimp until cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side (time will vary depending on heat of fire and size of shrimp). Serve the quinoa with the shrimp arranged on top or around the edge.
Or, if you prefer a vegetarian entrée, garnish the salad with crumbled soft goat cheese or grilled paneer (Indian cheese).
Tamarind’s Quinoa Salad and Avocado Salad
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup uncooked white (golden) quinoa
1 3/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ripe avocado, pitted, one-half diced, other half cut into 1/2-inch long slices
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon chaat masala
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium beets, roasted, peeled and quartered, see cook’s notes
2 oranges, peeled and segmented, see cook’s notes
2 grapefruits, peeled and segmented, see cook’s notes
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced, see cook’s notes
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Garnish: lime wedges
Cook’s notes: You can buy ready-to-use steamed beets in the refrigerated deli case at Trader Joe’s. Or to roast them, preheat oven to 400 degrees; wash beets with 1-inch stems attached in cold water. Wrap wet beets in foil; place on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until fork tender, 40 to 60 minutes, depending on size. When cool enough to handle, slip off peel. To segment citrus (it is easy to see how in the video): Cut top and bottom off cutting below white pith to reveal flesh. Place cut-side down on work surface. Following the contour of the fruit, cut off peel and pith in strips about 1-inch wide, starting at the top of the fruit and cutting down. Working over bowl (to collect juice), use a small sharp knife to cut parallel to one section’s membrane, cutting toward the center. Cut along opposite membrane on the other side of that section to remove it. Repeat. Use caution when working with fresh chilies; upon completion, wash work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch face or eyes. Chaat masala is a ground spice mixture that typically consists of amchoor (dried mango powder), cumin, kala namak (black salt), coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper and chili powder. Buy it at Indian markets or at The Savory Spice Shop (Newport Beach and Costa Mesa). Chef says you can omit it if you prefer.
1. Rinse and drain quinoa thoroughly in fine mesh strainer. Combine water, salt and quinoa in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low; simmer until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with fork; spread on rimmed baking sheet to cool. If cooking ahead of time, cooked-cooled quinoa can be kept in airtight container in refrigerator.
2. Meanwhile, in medium bowl or measuring cup with a handle, whisk together orange juice, salt, sugar, coriander and, if using, chaat masala. Slowly add in olive oil, whisking constantly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
3. Assemble: In large bowl, add cooked, cooled quinoa, orange and grapefruit segments, serrano and herbs. Toss with dressing. Gently mix in the beets and diced avocado. Garnish with cilantro sprigs, avocado slices and lime wedges.
Source: Shachi Mehra, executive chef at Tamarind of London Restaurant in Newport Coast
A Melissa’s Quick Tip
LYCHEE LOVE: Fresh lychees have the alluring taste of super-sweet cherries blended with kind of a banana-like flavor.
Watch the video to see how easy they are to peel. The push of a thumbnail is all you need.
Peeled lychee are delicious in iced tea. Peel them over the glass so any escaping lychee juice falls into the mix, then drop in the fruit. Drink, then capture lychee with a long-handled ice tea spoon; eat around each lychee pit, then spit that inedible central part out.
The sweet tropical taste of the lychees brings out the best in the tea. One of my favorite teas to use for Lychee Iced Tea is Cost Plus World Market’s Organic Masala Chai Black Tea.