With the start of the new season, I am so ready to get out of my soup and warm curry phase and get back into fresh and cool dishes like smoothie bowls and crisp salads. We just celebrated Holi, the Indian festival of colors and the official welcome of spring, and I was feeling particularly ready for some colorful veggies and some of my favorite flavors. Growing up, there was some variation of this salad at the dinner table at all times. While the thing I love about Indian cooking is all of the flavor combinations and depth of spices you can have, there was always some kind of palate cleanser at the table as well. Chop up some cucumber, tomatoes, and onions, add some lemon juice and cilantro, toss it in a bowl, and you’re good to go! It’s just about having something light and refreshing and I love it. This version is a new favorite because it acts as a full lunch meal for me and gives me that extra bit of fresh joy to get through the day.
This is basically like an Indian chopped salad, or at least that’s how I look at it! You prep all of the ingredients by chopping them up and tossing them together with the light dressing and you’re good to go! Dishes like this are my absolute favorite for this time of year when you just need something quick that is also refreshing.
The one ingredient that might throw you off here? The coconut! Yes there is in fact shredded coconut in this salad. I took some inspiration from South Indian dishes and added those slightly sweet shreds into the dish. If you’ve never had South Indian food, (which you are totally missing on some of the most delicious food if you haven’t!) coconut is used in a lot of different ways – coconut chutney, coconut rice, coconut ladoos, coconut curries, the list could go on and on! What I love about using coconut in here is that you don’t outwardly notice that it’s in there, but then you’ll take a bite of this salad and get this subtle earthy-sweetness that goes with the sweet tomatoes and carrots so well. It might seem strange but it is crazy good.
While you could just combine the chopped vegetables and be good to go, I of course go a little untraditional and usually add some sprouts or other greens, along with some avocado to make it feel like a full lunch for me. I also use those ready-cooked lentils from the grocery store to make this something that I can just prepare on the fly without having to boil and cool lentils myself. I’m really all about those easy to toss together dishes right now!
The spice you may not be all that familiar with here is the hing (asafoetida). Hing is like the umami of Indian cooking and it brings everything together in the best way possible without you even realizing it’s there. I didn’t even realize that my mom was using it in her recipes for the longest time, and when I would try and re-create those dishes without hing, they would come out subpar.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this though – hing does not smell good on its own. It has a very pungent aroma – think like a very strong onion/garlic – and it has to be mellowed out and used in small quantities. If it’s your first time using it, start out very light-handed, and then work your way up. Even in this salad, I only use about a 1/8 teaspoon worth.
While it needs to be activated to mellow out its flavor, hing is amazing in helping with digestion, which is why so many lentil dishes in Indian cooking use a little bit of it. Some people even make digestive healing teas by combining hing, cumin, and coriander with hot water! If you can’t find hing, you could substitute some chopped chives or green onions to get a little bit of that bitter flavor.
This is just one of those dishes that always makes smile. We always eat good and colorful food during spring festivals like Holi, as a way to welcome the new season, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Definitely give this salad a try and let me know what other fun combinations you come up with!