Photo kindly borrowed from Tripadvisor

What is this landscape photo doing on my food blog?  But it’s nice, isn’t it?  This is the town of Satara, India, located in Maharastra, India.  It’s just a few hours away from the town where my father grew up.  (Although, I’m not certain my dad is totally grown up yet. Still a boy at heart.) 

I went to India for 2.5 months in Fall 2002 with my parents and sister.  It was a get-in-touch-with-your-roots-after-graduating-college trip because, until then, I could never afford more than a few weeks to travel overseas.  And we were not about to go there in the summer because we weren’t interested in a heat exhaustion survival test.

Our first stop was in my Dad’s hometown, Jaysingpur, which originated with 100 inhabitants many years ago.  (I guess most towns start that way?  You don’t have 50,000 people that just appear, I suppose).  My Dad and his 10 siblings and their spouses/kids were numerous enough for this town to warrant an official  name and place on the map.  The family has a tobacco farm and many members of our extended family still live there today.  [Dad SAYS tobacco, but who really knows.  😉 ]

After a few days, we went to visit Neepa’s family in Satara, just a few hours from Jaysingpur. 
Neepa is my cousin, but to spell it out, she is Dad’s 4th eldest brother’s eldest daughter.  On the way there, we passed many streetside vendors selling sweet fire-roasted corn on the cob, each seasoned with lime, chili powder, and salt filling the nooks and crannies of each kernel on the cob.  We were amazed by the scenery on the roadtrip there.  Satara’s lush green hills and expansive windmill farms are a serene break from city life.  Imagine a tiny pocket of Scotland or New Zealand, nested in India. What a gem of a city! 

Upon arrival, Neepa hosted a feast of a lunch at her house with at least 7 dishes from what I can remember.  Everything on the menu was sooooo delicious, but the dish that was unforgettable was her Pomegranate-Squash Raita.  I didn’t get a recipe, but this is my best re-creation.

Neepa’s Pomegranate-Squash Raita

This Raita (yogurt sauce) is made with thickened yogurt, so greek yogurt is the best choice.  There is a flavor party going on in this dish: sweet, spicy, soft, crunchy, and creamy.  This is a great complement to Indian curries but can also be served as a delicious and healthy party dip for crudites.

Ingredients:

3 6-oz containers of Plain Greek Yogurt
1/2 cup Pomegranate seeds
1 Bottle gourd*
3 Tablespoons Roasted shelled peanuts, coarsly chopped
1 serrano pepper, seeded **
2 Teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Empty 3 yogurt containers into a large mixing bowl. Mix yogurt into a smooth texture.
2. Using a knife, remove thick skin of bottle gourd.  Then, cut in half lengthwise and remove the big seeds.  Cut into segments to handle easier for grating (or use the food processor).  Grate, and set aside 1/2 cup packed grated bottle gourd.
3. FINELY mince the seeded serrano pepper.  For best results, use the food processor.  Scrape the sides of the work bowl after processing.  Set aside 3/4 teaspoon of minced serrano pepper.
4. Combine 1/2 cup grated bottle gourd, 3/4 teaspoon of minced serrano pepper, sugar, and salt into yogurt.
5. Just before serving, add roasted peanuts and fold in pomegranate seeds into the yogurt mixture.

*Pomegranate and bottle gourd grow in opposite seasons, I think, but you might be able to find them here at the same time in an Indian or Asian grocery store. Alternatively, you can substitute another mild flavored squash. You can also use a heartier, flavored squash like acorn or butternut: After grating, immerse the grated mixture in water in the microwave and cook for a few mins until tender.

**The heat of the serrano pepper in this dish is almost a contradiction because a cooling raita is intended to counteract the heat and acidity of spicy Indian curries. It really adds something to this dish.