Fried green tomato pakoras and cilantro, tamarind, almond sauce

Fried green tomato pakoras

September 11, 2001 was a perfect golden day, just like today. We had just moved to the town we now live in from Boston. It felt like coming home. I felt as glowingly hopeful as the weather. And then, of course, everything changed. So much has been written and spoken about that day – I feel like there are no more words for it. Everybody has a story of where they were, and how they heard, and friends that they lost. It’s impossible to forget the dizzying feeling of standing in a bright green world, with a vast, clear blue sky overhead, thinking about the horror occurring so nearby. And what a tangled mess in the years that followed, when the tragedy was cynically exploited to keep us in a constant state of fear, to build support for a war that caused so much more death. Our world changed, and it kept on changing, with all of the lies, and mistrust, and disappointment. And little did we know, in our own small world, how soon our life would change – Malcolm was born exactly ten months later. And, to be honest, half of his class was born around the same time. September 11 babies. Because it’s also impossible to forget the feeling of clinging to life and love and hope. It sounds trite and saccharine now, as I write it, but it was such a strong, renewing feeling at that time. It’s discombobulating to think about Malcolm’s life, sometimes, to think about his bright, strong, creative spirit, and to think that his whole life we’ve been at war, or preparing for war.

Little Malcolm

Phew, I was not going to go on like this! There are no more words, she says, and then she rambles on and on! I was going to talk about tomatoes. Tomatoes – they have such a lovely life cycle, where we live. They grow all summer, the little sweet ones ripening early, a delightful promise of more to come. The weighty, ripe, beautiful late summer tomatoes come all at once, so warm and sweet and juicy, and they continue on into autumn, as their leaves wither around them, and the fruit glows like bright stained glass. I went picking last week, and I got a lot of green tomatoes, because I find them an inspiring challenge. As I was picking I got very excited with the idea of making these fried green tomato pakoras. Hooboy they were good! The batter perfectly crisp and tasty, the tomatoes inside soft and just the right amount sweet. The sauce was good too – cilantro and jalapenos from the farm, brightened by tamarind and tempered by almonds.

Cilantro almond tamarind sauce

Here’s Talib Kweli’s The Proud, which is one of the most honest and intelligent songs about 9/11 and how complicated it was (and it samples Nina Simone!)

THE PAKORA BATTER
1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup regular flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
1/2 t tumeric
1/4 t fenugreek
warm water to mix (about 1 1/4 cups)

Combine the flours, spices, salt and baking soda in a medium-sized bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups warm water and whisk everything together. It should be the consistency of lightly whipped heavy cream. Leave to sit for about half an hour.

I used about 4 medium-sized green tomatoes, but I had batter for more. Slice them evenly crosswise into 1/3 inch pieces.

Heat olive oil in a wok or saucepan at a depth of about 1/2 an inch. I started at medium-high heat, and turned it to medium once everything got sizzling. You don’t want it too hot, because you want the tomatoes to cook and soften a little bit before the batter burns.

When the batter is hot enough to fry a tiny drop of batter in about a minute, you’re ready to go. Drop the tomato slices, a few at a time, into the batter. Fish them out with your fingers or two forks or a slotted spoon, letting the excess batter run off. Drop them, a few at a time into the hot oil. Fry on both sides till golden. If all of the better slides off the tomato, which it did for quite a few of them, drop the slice of tomato, just as it is – sizzling hot and half coated with batter – right back into the batter. The second coating will stick nicely, and it will be extra crispy.

When the pakoras are golden on each side, remove from the oil and let drain on a rack over a plate or paper towels. Keep in a warm oven until they’re all done. Serve with cilantro tamarind sauce, below.

CILANTRO/ALMOND/TAMARIND SAUCE

1 cup cilantro, cleaned, stems removed
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1 t tamarind concentrate
1/2 cup water
3 T olive oil
2 T brown sugar
1 t balsamic
1 t cumin
1 t ginger
1/2 t coriander powder

Combine everything but the olive oil, vinegar and water in a food processor or blender. Blend until everything is chopped up, but it’s still chunky. Add the water and vinegar and process till quite smooth. While the machine is running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Process till smooth and thick. If it’s too thick, add more water. If it’s too thin, fear not, it will thicken a bit as it sits. (Or you could add more cilantro)

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