One of the most exciting cookbooks I’ve come across this year is Asha Gomez’s My Two Souths. Gomez spent her childhood in Kerala, at the southern tip of India. She learned to cook with her family there, and was often called upon to hand-grind spice mixes, reveling in the scents of classic South Indian spices like black pepper, cumin, fenugreek, turmeric, and clove. As a teenager, she immigrated with her mother to Queens, New York, and in 2000 she settled in Atlanta, Georgia. In Atlanta she learned to love and respect the cooking of the American South, and began to blend the sensibilities of her two Souths in a variety of dinner clubs and restaurants.
Reading that history, I fell in love with My Two Souths before I ever actually touched it. I checked it out from the library and read it like a novel. Then I headed into the kitchen.
The first thing I tried was a breakfast dish, Puffy Ginger Hoecakes with Spiced Syrup. It was terrific – a really special breakfast, not much harder to make than pancakes (except for the frying step, but it’s a shallow fry so not too bad). Good enough that I returned the library book and ordered a copy, and and was dancing with excitement when it arrived at my doorstep in mid-June.
All the gorgeous berries in the market this month made me think of the Bright Fruit Salad Topped with Seasoned Shrimp and Cardamom Honey Lime Dressing that had jumped out at me when I first read the cookbook. The fruits Gomez used leaned more toward the tropical – mango, papaya – and I nodded toward that with a handful of pineapple, but primarily I used beautiful seasonal berries. And when I went to buy shrimp, the salmon looked better. And I used spinach instead of arugula.
But the dressing I left pretty much alone. Well, except for adding more lime. (I always add more lime. I’m a lime fiend.) Even before I added more lime, this dressing made my eyes roll back. It is so good, with some of the appeal of a honey-mustard dressing – sweet, tangy, and surprisingly creamy. (The honey can be hard to incorporate, which is why I suggest warming it, but gives it that creaminess and keeps it emulsified.) But instead of the spice of mustard, the dressing tingles with the aromatic complexity of cardamom. Which, oddly, especially with the substitution of salmon for shrimp, makes my version of this dish influenced by South India and the American South seem kind of… Nordic to me. Salmon, of course, is deeply associated with Norway. And cardamom has been beloved throughout Scandinavia for almost a thousand years. The combination made me wistful for the beautiful fjordlands we visited last year.
The overall effect of this salad, whatever nationality you associate it with, is stunning. It’s gorgeous in the bowl and even better on the tongue. I think it would work with almost any fruit, though I love the juicy berries and tangy pineapple here. The cucumber adds a nice vegetal freshness and crunch. Gomez’s recipe calls for tangy arugula, but I went for milder spinach. Butter lettuce would be lovely too. The dressing somehow makes everything taste brighter and more like itself.
If possible, eat this in the backyard on a warm June evening, as the sunset casts lengthening shadows across the table.
Freely substitute whatever fruit is in season; it's far more important that the fruit be fresh, juicy, and full of flavor than that you make the same choices I did. Yields 2 hearty main-dish salads
Freely substitute whatever fruit is in season; it's far more important that the fruit be fresh, juicy, and full of flavor than that you make the same choices I did.
Yields 2 hearty main-dish salads