Long before the first Advent or Hanukkah candle was lit, Hindus were celebrating the victory of light over darkness with their holiday Diwali. In Westchester, where the Asian Indian community is the sixth-largest in the state, those of the Hindu faith will observe Diwali with family, fun, and lots of traditional food. Perhaps, no food defines the Indian culture (pun intended) more than yogurt, so it stands to reason that it will be the centerpiece of so many Indian dishes enjoyed on November 4 at this annual fall holiday. In speaking with restaurants across the county, cauldrons of yogurt will be fermenting to become a tangy sauce, a tenderizing marinade, or a sweet ending to a sumptuous meal.
At Royal Palace in White Plains, catering and banquet manager Anindita Lahiri is proud of the history behind many of their dishes and notes, “We try to find the perfect balance between modern style and our roots back in India.” An excellent example of this practice is Punjabi Kadhi, a northern Indian delicacy in which yogurt melds with besan, a gram flour made from ground chickpeas. The two ingredients form a sauce flavored with spices that beg for pakoras (fritters) to take a dip. You are sure to find Royal Palace also preparing sweet desserts, like yogurt-based shrikhand, which they stud with pistachios and flavor with saffron threads.
At Spice Village in Tuckahoe, Diwali is a vegetarian event in which yogurt is a central ingredient. One of their specials for this annual celebration is mambazha pulissery. This traditional keralan dish hails from southern India, where Joison Manavalan, owner of Spice Village, emigrated from 15 years ago. The dish is a combination of yogurt, very ripe mangos, coconut, and Indian spices, such as curry, turmeric, and cumin. Often prepared in summer months when mangos are their ripest, this thick gravy, with both sweet and sour tastes, is a regular at holidays and feasts.
Joji “George” Parappallil at New Rochelle’s Coromandel touts the value of yogurt for so many purposes but especially as a marinade for such classic dishes as tandoori chicken and chicken tikka. He explains that in India they had a lot of cows, so it seemed reasonable that making yogurt was a daily ritual. One of Parappallil’s favorite uses for yogurt, not just for holidays such as Diwali, but anytime, is in a cooling mango lassi, where yogurt is blended with mangos and thinned with water to create a true Indian smoothie. The drink is very refreshing and tamps down the heat from the highly flavored Indian foods.
Whatever you are cooking this month, try to find a way to add a little yogurt into the recipe. It lends a creamy consistency, tart and tangy flavor, and a whole lot of goodness.