Nourishing Culture: Indian Summer Foods

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Tucson’s diverse food culture is intertwined with community folklife and popular summer traditions. Whether it’s a hometown bbq or roasted corn from Dia de San Juan Festival cart, food nourishes culture in many remarkable ways this season.

For TMY food vendor Saurabh Mintu Sareem, who also is the owner of Tucson’s Saffron Indian Bistro and Kababeque Indian Grill, the spices and vegetables now fragrant in his summer kitchen evoke memories of tradition and community.

Mintu and Rosewater drink
Mintu and Rosewater drink

“Small vendor carts would bring fresh organic vegetables like okra, squash and baby eggplant directly to our neighborhoods,” recalls Mintu, who grew up in north New Delhi where his father was in the restaurant business. He remembers small shops with shelves lined with jars of chutneys, and barrels full of pickles and sauces. Spices like cloves, cumin, turmeric and cilantro were the essence of healthful summer cooking, Mintu continues, a tradition he carries through in his restaurant cuisine.

Raita is a good example of a cooling summer dish made by blending yogurt with vegetables and spices to make a salad or side dish. Mintu’s authentic North Indian variations can include cucumber or boiled potato added to the yogurt curd mixed with spices.

“The spices and herbs enhance the taste of our cuisine, but our flavorful dishes also are deeply traditional,” says Mintu, who notes that his North Indian chefs infuse individual touches to specialties inspired by the region.

For the upcoming TMY Festival, Mintu plans a street food extravaganza for his food cart, with the comfort of vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian offerings. Savory recipes will be healthy for the body, and sweet juices will refresh. Rose water, used traditionally on auspicious occasions and in spiritual ceremonies, and known for its cleansing properties and soothing aroma, will be available at the Festival, as will fresh mango juice. Mango, with its sweet aromatic taste, is an excellent nutritional source rich in medicinal properties, according to Mintu. “Certain flavors are used to aid naturally in digestion,” he says. “They’re part of our traditional culinary heritage where fresh tonics rejuvenate.”

The okras, cucumbers, squashes and melons now in season currently are part of the summer menu at Mintu’s restaurant, as well as specialties of paneer cooked with spinach and gravies with peas. Learn more at http://www.tucsonindianrestaurant.com/.

The season’s fresh offerings remind us of food’s power to carry tradition, memories, and recipes as diverse as the peoples of Tucson’s varied neighborhoods. Attend TMY to enjoy the whole range of foodways and tastes of our communities and cultures!

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