This summer is the oddest one since I came to this continent; it’s been over a decade, closer to two, hence many summers to compare to. Humid and dump, this July feels more like somebody else July; a summer on a different continent. The perpetually grey sky reminds me of England, while the endless showers are reminiscent of the faraway lands of the British Empire; these are no ordinary rainfalls, like the monsoons of India and Sri Lanka the New York city rains are now heavy and unforgiving. The humidity does wonders to my complexion, much less so to my broken bones. The humidity plays tricks on our habitat too -- the apartment wears a thick scent of monsoon -- in a good way and the bad way. And when I go to the market, it still kind of feels like the market in July, but again, it does not; the colorful produce and turbulent sky are not the best of friends, and the market is kind of distant, like an old friend you do not know anymore, like a Bollywood movie shot in cinemascope.
Maybe it is this odd July, or maybe it is just my disposition, slightly off, but everything fell grey and moody at the market last week. That is until I saw them, the perfect little rubies, glittering against the darkness of the stall. And when I brought them home and placed them against the dark wood of my coffee table, they shone million little sparkles and we all experienced a feeling of early Christmas. We left them there, on our living room table for a while, instead of flowers, until it was time for the compote, and poof, in a split of the second, the Christmas was gone.
Whenever my grandmother came back from the market with a bowl of currants for a compote or her famous red currant preserve, we would all vanish into thin air, nowhere to be found, as no one had the patience for cleaning the little devils. To this day I dread this task, and can still commit only to about a cup or two of currant cleaning, unlike my grandma, who would easily polish off half a dozen colanders in the course of one afternoon. Of course, we would all promptly return once the compote was on the stove, as no one could resist the delightful scent of vanilla, lemon zest and currants in boiling syrup. My grandmother used lemon zest, but over the years I replaced it with the zest of pink grapefruit. It is a magical combination.
Greek Yogurt with Red Currant & Pink Grapefruit Compote
* about 1 1/2 - 2 cups red currants, or mixed red and white currants (it should yield one full cup of currants when cleaned)
* 1/2 cup of water
* 1/4 tsp zest from pink grapefruit
* 1/2 inch vanilla pod, halved lengthwise (or a drop of vanilla extract)
* 3 cups thick Greek yogurt (or about 4-5 cups of plain yogurt if you want to “thicken” it yourself)
* metal mesh strainer
* large bowl
One day before serving, prepare the yogurt: Line the strainer with two layers of cheesecloth. Place the strainer over the bowl; make sure that there is enough space between the bottom of the strainer and the bottom of the bowl to prevent the yogurt from sitting in its own liquid. Pour the yogurt into the strainer. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. (I do this even with Greek yogurt, as it will always give away a little bit more liquid.)
Wash the currants and gently remove them from their stems. Discard the currants that are dry and damaged.
In a small saucepan mix the sugar with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Add the grapefruit zest. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Boil for about a couple of minutes, until it has reduced slightly (you are looking for not so thick syrup, but this is entirely individual). Add the currants, reduce the heat to low and poach the currants for about two minutes. Keep the compote at gentle simmer to prevent currants from falling apart. Remove the compote from the heat and let it cool completely.
Using ice cream scoop, spoon the yogurt into individual bowls. Top with the compote and serve.
If you are not using the compote right away, ladle the compote into sterilized jars, and keep it in the refrigerator. If you would like to preserve the compote, process the jars for about 15 minutes in boiling water bath.
p.s. If you are not into seeds and red currants are a seedy little thing, you may not like this compote. Or you may simply strain the currants out and pour the syrup over the yogurt. It will still be wonderful. Works with ice cream too.