Legends of Quintessence – a column that interacts with Science Fiction in a South Asian context.
On Sunday, November 22nd, India Currents Sci-Fi writer, Rachna Dayal hosted a live interview with Seema Vaidyanathan (@addictedtospice) on Instagram as part of the Sci-Fi Column: Legends of Quintessence.
Seema is a home cook, foodie, philomath, home gardener, idea queen, and busy mother. Trained from a very young age by her mother Girija, an expert traditional Indian home cook, Seema is widely influenced by the different regional cuisines of India, through her upbringing and travels across India and abroad.
She loves to share the hidden delicacies of simple, traditional South Indian cuisine of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka states. She has a special love for the coastal cuisines of India. She enjoys experimenting with food and is passionate about using seasonal produce in her everyday cooking. Her motto is to keep it simple & fast yet delicious & nutritious.
We threw a challenge at Seema to come up with a recipe to feed aliens. Seema decided to create a salad that would provide a multisensorial experience to the aliens by combining sweet, sour, bitter flavors, and soft and crunchy textures.
The salad was a mix of arugula, pear, and burrata cheese with pomegranate molasses and honey dressing. This salad has some special seasonal toppings of roasted spiced honeynut squash, spicy candied pecans for some crunch, and fresh pomegranate seeds.
Find the recipe and conversation below!
Arugula Pear Burrata Squash Salad
- 3-4 handfuls of baby arugula salad greens
- 1 large ball of burrata cheese, drained from whey
- 1 firm pear sliced into very thin slices
- ½ cup of candied nuts of your choice (pecans, walnuts, or toasted pine nuts)
- ½ cup of sautéed honeynut squash/butternut squash (see a separate recipe for this below)
- ½ cup of fresh pomegranate kernels
Crispy bacon bits
Sliced clementine/mandarin oranges
Pomegranate molasses salad dressing recipe
- Combine two tablespoons of balsamic or cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of Pomegranate Molasses
- 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a bottle/bowl
- 1 tbsp of honey
- Salt and pepper to taste. Stir until well combined.
- Optional: crushed garlic
Pick a platter to assemble the salad
Hint: wait until just before serving to add pears, and drizzle dressing at the table. You may even leave dressing to be self-served by diners individually.
- Begin by preparing a bed of baby arugula greens
- Next, scatter the cooled sautéed honey but squash (refer to the separate recipe)
- Tear the burrata into a few pieces and place pieces on a platter – try to make it visually appealing
- Spread the pomegranate kernels evenly
- next up candied nuts
- lastly slices pear
- add more of earlier fixings to create a layered salad, so that each serving has all the elements.
- Lastly, drizzle on pomegranate molasses dressing
Tadka Chilli Honeynut Squash
- 1 large butternut/honeynut squash, peeled and cubed (1/2 inch) (may use acorn, kabocha, or other orange-colored, sweet squashes or pumpkin available in the fall)
- 1 tsp – Red Chilli powder/ cayenne pepper/ gojugaru Korean chili flakes
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/4 tsp – Asafetida
- ¼ tsp – turmeric
- 2- 3 tbsp. – extra virgin coconut oil (may be replaced with sunflower, peanut or canola oil)
- few fresh curry leaves (may skip if not available)
- Kosher/sea salt (To taste)
- 1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
Utensils: Wok or a wide shallow pan, long spatula to stir, and a lid for the wok/pan. Begin preparation by tempering hot oil (technical word in hindi- “Tadka” or in Tamil “Thalippu”)
- Peel and Chop butternut/honeynut squash into ½ inch cubes
- Warm the wok/pan on medium heat, add 2 tbsp. oil to this, let the oil warm up slowly on medium heat
- Add mustard seeds, let sputter
- Add cumin seeds and wait 20 secs to be toasted
- Add curry leaves (bruise the leaves or tear in half before adding)
- Add turmeric and in 30 secs add asafetida, wait 30 secs to a min
- Add cayenne pepper, sauté for a minute, (notice the fragrance)
- Add chopped squash, add salt, mix well and cover to cook for 5- 10 mins (folding occasionally to turn up the cooked pieces at bottom of wok/pan)
- When close to being done, add some sugar (depending on how sweet you like this to be)
- Continue to cook on medium-high with the lid opened
- Check for doneness and seasoning, adjust accordingly.
- Keep squash just tender, take care not to overcook- affects the texture.
- Let cool.
Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.