Ranee Ramaswamy’s Pineapple Yogurt Curry
Ranee Ramaswamy has lived in the U.S. for 43 years, but just talking about her favorite Indian dishes still makes her mouth water. The founder, choreographer and principal dancer of the Twin Cities–based Ragamala Dance Company (which she co-directs with her daughter Aparna), Ramaswamy was born in Kerala and raised in Chennai, in Southern India. Known for blending southern Indian bharatanatyam with contemporary Western dance influences, she takes a similar approach when it comes to cooking. “I remember my grandmother making this kind of yogurt curry, but I experimented with the pineapple because sweet and sour is something that I like,” Ramaswamy says. She has also added onion, an ingredient traditionally not part of the diet of the Brahmin caste into which she was born.
The original recipe lives on in a handwritten cookbook translated from Malayalam to Tamil and given to Ramaswamy when she was 17. But at this point, Ramaswamy rarely refers to it. Her spin, best enjoyed over rice, is a favorite to make for the company when they’re away at a residency. “It’s such a comfort food,” says Ramaswamy. “It’s very light and very easy to digest, and the yogurt is so good for you.”
- 8-ounce can crushed pineapple
- pinch of turmeric
- 1 cup desiccated unsweetened coconut
- 1/2 small red onion, chopped
- 2 fresh green chilies, chopped (reduce amount for less spice)
- 1/2 tsp salt (add more to taste)
- 1 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt (Greek yogurt won’t work. Stick to a whole milk, full-fat option—the sourer the better!)
- 1 1/2 tsp canola oil for frying
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 2 fresh sprigs of curry leaves (Ramaswamy pulls from the three curry plants growing in her house, but fresh curry sprigs can be purchased at Indian groceries or online specialty-food purveyors.)
- 1 whole dried red chili, broken into big pieces (reduce amount for less spice)
- Empty the pineapple with the juice into a medium-sized pot, add the turmeric and bring to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer.
- While the pineapple simmers, place the coconut, red onion and green chilies in a blender. Add a little bit of hot water to soften the coconut, then blend until fine and smooth. (Ramaswamy uses a bullet blender, but an immersion blender or food processor will do.)
- Add the blended coconut mixture to the pineapple, then add salt and let it simmer for 3–5 minutes to combine.
- Blend the yogurt in the blender until it is smooth and a little bit frothy. Turn off the heat on the pineapple–coconut mixture and let it cool a little, then add the yogurt slowly. If the cool yogurt is added too quickly to the hot liquid, it will split.
- Heat the canola oil in a small frying pan on low heat. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the mustard seeds and stir them until they start to pop. Turn off the heat and immediately add the seeds to the cooled curry mixture.
- Wash the curry sprigs and pull off the leaves. Discard the stems and add the whole leaves to the mixture, along with the broken-up red chili. Mix well.
- Serve over rice with any vegetable, such as green beans stir-fried with mustard seeds and red chilies, on the side.
Easy Oil-Free Lemon Pickle
Nearly every afternoon since the second grade, Ramaswamy has eaten a small bowl of rice with yogurt and hot Indian pickles for lunch. The combination tends to be easy on the stomach, is simple to throw together and doesn’t need refrigeration, so it’s a great snack for performance days. To make one of Ramaswamy’s favorite pickles, simply cut a lemon in quarters and put it in a glass jar with one tablespoon each of salt, cayenne and brown sugar. “Close it tightly and set it in the sun until it melts and becomes like honey,” she says, adding that she’ll move it around her house throughout the day to follow the sun’s rays.