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I've been going to this indian restaurant that makes this fantastic onion salad, which is essentially small cuts of white and red onion, cucumber, tomato, garnished with mint leaves, coriander leaves and a pinch of garam masala. I tried to make it at home and the results are astoundingly different. They get wet, soft and slightly bitter; whereas the restaurant tastes sweeter, has a bit of a bite and it is dry-ish. Any idea how restaurants make the salad so tasty?

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Do you know for sure that they use garam masala, or is that a guess? Also, what's in their garam masala? Everybody's is different, there's no set recipe. If you use store-bought that may be where the bitterness comes from. –  GdD Mar 12 at 16:56
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How long are you letting the salad stay around? Assuming that you didn't use wet vegetables, I'd expect them too not weep any water for hours. Also, are you buying good quality vegetables? Cucumber gets soft a few days after picking. –  rumtscho Mar 12 at 18:30
    
Some pertinent questions. @GdD I am sure they use GM as I could tell a few notes of cumin, cinnamon/cassia bark and cloves, but again this is a mild spicing. What do you mean "where the bitterness comes from"? –  Goncalo Mar 12 at 21:30
    
@Rumtscho, I normally put it in a plastic take-away container straight into the fridge for flavours to meld and normally served anywhere from 15mins to the next day. The vegetables may not be top drawer (LIDL, asian grocers, etc) but they are fresh enough most often. –  Goncalo Mar 12 at 21:31
    
This sounds like kachumber. Look into recipes with that name and try some out to see if any match. –  WasabiFlux Mar 13 at 4:33
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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted
  • Cucumber << water, water, water +++
  • Tomatoes << water, water
  • Onion << water

Do you see how much water each of those main ingredients contain?

Let's take one at a time.

Onions:-

Fresh onions are not only have a high volume of water, also natrual chemicals that make strong pungent flavour. These chemicals (e.g. Sulphur) work quite well with oxygen in the air, resulting the bitterness.

In order to tone down the flavour and bitterness, soack the onions in ice water. Another method is to add fresh lime juice immediately after slicing/dicing the onions.

Cucumber:-

  1. Cut and remove the entire section of seeds. Now dice the cucumber.

  2. Remember the little science projects about drawing out excess water from vegetables? Soak Cucumber in ice water with little salt. (Perhaps you could refrain from adding salt to the final salad bowl, if the quantity used at this point suffice)

Same theory goes for making potato chips. Slice potatoes are soaked in water to draw out that extra moisture. No ricket science here though ;)

Tomatoes:- Remove entire section of seeds. Dice them and add into your salad.

Garam masala has Fennel and Cineman, that has the sweetness. It's also possible restaurant adds in a bit of sugar. However, certain onion species are sweeter naturally.

To be frank, we don't use garam masala, mint or corriander. Insated you could have the following simple ingridients to make a heaven of a salad, if you may.

fresh :{cucumber, tomatoes, onion, spicy green chilli, black pepper, salt, lime}

Bon appetit!

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Excellent tip, thanks a million bonCodigo. –  Goncalo Mar 12 at 21:24
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Just a clarification, how long to soak the onions/cucumber for? –  Goncalo Mar 12 at 21:27
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Depends on the quantity, I hope you figure out the water volume. Then 15 minutes max would do. Ice water is more suitable for onions. Lemon room temp water is better for cucumber in my experience. Glad to "join" in your kitchen :-) –  bonCodigo Mar 13 at 2:43
    
Thanks bonCodigo! ;-) –  Goncalo Mar 13 at 11:45
    
I don't understand how plain ice water is going to draw water out of a vegetable. The science of osmosis tells me it won't. You would have to use salt water to achieve that. –  Carey Gregory Mar 14 at 0:04
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The water is definitely coming out of the vegetables. You could salt them before making the salad, but that will leave you with limp, lifeless bits of onion and cucumber, and that is certainly not what your favourite restaurant is doing. The trick to make this salad crisp is to omit the salt! I'm sure you have experienced horrifying results when you forgot to add salt, and it should be one of the foremost things on your mind, but here the mix of fresh herbs, rich tomatoes, strong onions, and fragrant spices won't need much to boost their flavours. A splash of lemon or lime juice can be added, as one does when preparing low-sodium meals, but if you really can't resist salt's allure, sprinkle some on at the last second - any earlier and the flood gates will open.

The bitterness could be from a number of sources: the spices in your mix (try adding sugar to balance them), the seeds of the tomato, or the cucumber if it's a large field variety (gut them), the type of onions you use (try the sweeter reds or Vidalias, not yellow cooking onions), or the fresh herbs (which bruise easily when cut and will become bitter very quickly once that happens - you can tear them to reduce bruising, and add them just at the end).

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Thanks Zack, what herbs would these be? I'd normally only use dry mint and fresh coriander. –  Goncalo Mar 13 at 20:36
    
If you used dried herbs, then that wouldn't contribute to the bitterness. You should try fresh mint in the summer though, or get a window plant and pull a few leaves off when you want them. –  Zack Wolske Mar 14 at 0:24
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Strangely I don't notice any bitterness from the use of dried mint leaves (although I do buy fresh sometimes and use interchageably) - thanks for your thoughts anyway! –  Goncalo Mar 14 at 1:56
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