Okay first up, guess what makes the yogurt dressing spicy? PICKLE! I’m not talking about gherkins or brined vegetables, I’m talking about our very own ooruga! (South-Indian pickle for the uninitiated.) I figured if you could use curry pastes, harissa and other such punchy condiments to boost the flavour of dishes with one simple addition, why not pickle?! It made total sense. Sounds wack, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!
I once bought this jar of sun-dried tomato pesto that had chillies in it. It tasted great. But you know what it really tasted like? Ooruga. I stirred it through some yogurt and served it with potato pancakes. The similarity between the two blew my mind and I haven’t bought a jar of that pesto since. Why, when a good pickle might well be the most ubiquitous condiment in Indian households by a long shot.
Indian pickles are made with a vast array of spices, with each region and community using their own blends with vegetables or meat. As is the case for most pickles, the crucial part comes after it’s made and packed into jars. They are left to pickle and ferment for days—mostly months and even years—which ensures that their flavours mature and develop. The spices and oil prevent the growth of bacteria and the end result is a slightly pungent, fermented, full-bodied paste.
So what kind of pickle should you use here? Honestly, it really doesn’t matter. Pick your favourite and use that. I change it up based on what suits my fancy at the moment, but always opt for savoury pickles over sweet ones. Now obviously what pickle you use would change up the flavour of the dressing entirely, but I see this as a good thing. Change up the pickles and you have something new every time! And using it in a dressing is just one option. Slather it on chicken or other meats and roast, toss it through some vegetables – cauliflower, eggplant and chickpeas are great roasted with pickle and spices. After they’re charred around the edges and the chickpeas are crispy, sprinkle over mint leaves and dot with cool yogurt. So many possibilities with the humble ooruga!
Chicken here is optional of course, but is a great addition to make this salad a meal in itself. The bread is here for that very reason too – to add bulk, but mainly for the crunch factor (borrowed from the Caesar salad combo as you can see). Tear it up with your hands and get it in a pan with a touch of oil. You want the pieces nicely browned. Wipe down the pan and use it to cook the chicken. Make sure you get some good char marks on the chicken – keep the heat on high and cook quickly until the insides are no longer pink. (This is possibly the only time I’d use chicken breast. Breast meat cooks faster than thigh is one; but also, since we’re only doing a quick sear on them, they stay moist and don’t dry out.)
To serve, mound the chicken pieces and toasted bread over the lettuce. Serve with lashings of spicy dressing over the top. Apply to face.
CHICKEN SALAD WITH A SPICY YOGURT DRESSING
- 1 small head of iceberg lettuce, roughly chopped
- 200 grams chicken breast
- 2 slices of bread
- 1 avocado, diced (optional)
- 2-3 tsp olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- ¼ cup yogurt
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tsps of your favourite Indian pickle (see notes)
- ½ tsp cumin powder
- Salt, to taste
- Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces. Add 1-2 tsp of oil to a pan, cast iron preferably, and toss until they brown on all sides—about 4 mins. Set aside.
- Wipe down the same pan and put it back on the heat. Chop the chicken into small pieces. Toss with 1 tsp oil and salt. Add to the pan and cook over high heat until browned on all sides. Test a piece for doneness. Set aside.
- Dressing: I like to use about equal amounts of the saucy bits and oil from the pickle. I find that it forms a better emulsion without the pieces, but use if you prefer.
- Stir with the rest of the dressing ingredients. Taste and add more pickle if you want it spicier. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Arrange the lettuce at the bottom of the plate. Top with chicken, avocado, and toasted bread. Drizzle over the dressing and serve immediately. Dress the salad just before serving.