Showing posts with label Marathi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marathi. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Back to Basics: Eggplant and Potato

"But is it blog-worthy?"

This is a question that I seem to ask myself quite often. Some of my favorites never make it to these pages because they seem too simple, somehow. Like this homely eggplant potato bhaaji (subzi, a combination of a braise and stir-fry) that I made last night. But these are the recipes I keep returning to, that I have made so often that I can cook them on auto-pilot, and for that alone, they are definitely blog-worthy.

This recipe is almost stereotypical in its use of ingredients favored by Maharashtrian home cooks. A textbook example of the Maharashtrian way to cook vegetables.

It has the typical phodni (tempering) trio of halad, hing, mohri, that is, turmeric, asafetida and mustard seeds.

It uses flavorful (but not hot) dhane-jeere pud (coriander cumin powder). Simply mix cumin and coriander seeds in equal quantity, toast very gently, just enough to wake up the spices, and grind to a fine powder. I make this powder in half cup batches and am always amazed at how I run through it in a matter of days.

It uses goda masala, which has a smoky, savory flavor that is hard to describe in English but has a Marathi word- khamang. I stock up on this black gold on trips to Maharashtra. You can find it in some US stores, or make your own.

Jaggery or gool lends a complex sweetness and a glossy finish to the sauce clinging to the vegetables. This is the stuff that elevates the everyday bhaaji to a lick-your-fingers classic.

Peanut powder or danyacha koot makes a thick and nutty sauce. I roast peanuts, skin them and powder them coarsely, you want to retain a bit of texture. I store a jar of roasted powdered peanuts in the fridge and use it in typical Maharashrian ways like bhaajis, koshimbir and for sabudana khichdi.

You can use almost any combination of vegetables in place of the eggplant and potato. The salt draws out water from the vegetables that then cook in their own steam, which results in a concentrated flavor. But if you feel like the vegetables are sticking to the pan, feel free to add a few tablespoons of water to get the process going.

Vaangi Batata Bhaaji
Eggplant and Potatoes, Maharashtrian Style
(serves 6-8)

1. Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a wide pan. Temper it with
1 tsp. mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
12 tsp. turmeric

2. Give a quick stir and immediately add
1 medium onion, cut in small dice
1 sprig fresh curry leaves

3. Saute the onions on medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Then stir in
1 medium Italian eggplant, cut in large dice
4 medium potatoes, cut in large dice

4. Add the powders
1 tsp. red chilli powder (or to taste)
2 tsp. cumin-coriander powder
2 tsp. goda masala (or garam masala for a different taste)
14 cup roasted peanut powder

5. Add salt to taste and 2-3 tbsp. crushed jaggery.

6. Cover and cook the bhaaji for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Garnish with a large handful of minced fresh cilantro.

Let it rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.

We enjoyed this bhaaji with rotis and radish raita. It is also perfect with yogurt-rice and dal-rice.

Dale's Tales
Dalu is a creature of routine. His day is a regimented line-up of naps, walks, treats and social visits with Tony, the newspaper guy on the corner, which result in more treats. Most dogs are so eager to please their humans; not this one. If I call out to him while he is basking in the sun, he looks slyly from the corner of his eye to see if I am offering him a treat or reaching for his leash, otherwise he quickly squeezes his eyes shut and pretends to be asleep. Don't call me unless you have something tangible to offer- that's Dale's motto.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Quick Breakfast Fix

Raaga is hosting Weekend Breakfast Blogging this month with the theme Express Breakfasts. I wake up at all sorts of unearthly hours, and am usually famished by the time the normal breakfast hour rolls around. Usually, quick breakfasts in my home can mean oatmeal, eggs or buttered toast with a spicy chutney sprinkled on it. But in honor of Raaga's undying love for Upma, that's what I whipped up for her.

On the menu today is the popular Maharashtrian breakfast- tikhat sanja. It is a sibling of the upma, the lovely Southern Indian dish which resembles a risotto made with coarse semolina. A brief "Compare and Contrast" exercise between the way I make upma and tikhat sanja reveals that-
(a) Upma is a creamy mass while sanja is fluffier and "looser" (for lack of a better description!)
(b) Upma does not usually contain turmeric while sanja is brightly yellow with turmeric.
(c) Upma is made with traditional Southern Indian "tempering" that includes urad dal and chana dal; sanja uses a simpler tempering of mustard seeds and cumin seeds alone. Following my mother's footsteps, I spike my upma generously with minced ginger too.
(d) Both are wonderful with nuts tossed in at the "tempering" stage (cashews for the upma and peanuts for the sanja).
(e) Both make for hot hearty breakfasts using simple pantry staples.
(f) Both can be fortified with vegetables like potato, peas, carrots and itty bitty cauliflower florets. This makes both of these dishes perfect candidates for "breakfast for dinner" nights.

Today, my kitchen is as bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard so here is a bare basics version of tikhat sanja. The one essential for Maharashtrian "hot breakfasts" like poha and tikhat sanja, in my opinion, is a generous garnish of fresh coconut and cilantro, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Luckily, I had some fresh cilantro at hand thanks to a little pot growing on the windowsill, so the recipe pulled together nicely.

Tikhat Sanja


1 C roasted Upma rava (coarse semolina)
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 fresh chillies, minced
1 ¾ C boiling water
1 t sugar
salt to taste
1 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1 pinch asafoetida
1 sprig curry leaves
½ t turmeric powder
2 t ghee/butter (optional)
Juice of half a lemon
2-3 T minced cilantro
2-3 T grated fresh/frozen coconut

1. Heat the oil and add the "tempering" ingredients. Stir in the onion and chillies and fry it for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the roasted rava, salt and sugar and stir around for a minute more.
3. Add the hot water (carefully!) and cook on a low-medium flame, stirring often, until the water is absorbed and the semolina fluffs up.
4. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and ghee/butter, if using. Garnish with coconut and cilantro and serve right away.

Tikhat sanja tastes fine just by itself, but you can also serve it with some namkeen/mixture or a scoop of yogurt or a dollop of pickles.

For those who like a little sweet something with their breakfast, here's a giant cupcake for you. It is fat-free, sugar-free and fiber-rich. Contains 100% fiber, in fact :D




Friday, May 23, 2008

Springing Back

Hello, everyone! I have been too busy knitting (see end of post) and being sick (nasty flu virus), so the blog was unceremoniously ignored for a couple of weeks. Seriously, this spring has gone down in my life as the season of respiratory woes. I'm still waiting for the day when I can breathe normally again :)

Yesterday, we had what I always think of as "hill station weather". In the heat of the Indian summer, people love vacationing in the mountains, in wildly popular resort towns known as hill stations. I always associate these places with bracing weather that is pleasantly cool- a sweet respite from the blazing plains. Last morning, we had some rain here in St. Louis and when it stopped and the skies cleared, the bright, clean weather and the freshly rinsed air felt so invigorating; it totally reminded me of family vacations in Khandala and Matheran. Hill station weather might prompt more outdoorsy folks to go on walks or hikes, but I must admit that the primary effect it has on me is a craving for some tasty, piping hot savories at tea-time. I made a family favorite, sabudana thalipeeth. Flattened shallow-fried patties of sago and potato. Normally, I love eating these with a yogurt-cilantro chutney. But I put a little spin on it. My good old Marathi snack had some Caribbean company.

You see, Zlamushka has come up with a brand new event. Every month, a chosen food blog will be opened up for mass testing and tasting, and the recipes from that blog will be joyfully cooked and devoured. This month, the Tried & Tasted event focuses on one of my favorite blogs, Tastes Like Home, written by soon-to-be-cookbook-author Cynthia. If you are ever feeling uninspired or your taste buds are a little jaded, visit Cynthia's blog for a jolt of freshness and flavor. Her posts are companions to her wonderful columns in the local newspaper. There are two things I really love about Cynthia's blog. Actually, make that three: I love the name of the blog..."tastes like home" is surely the highest compliment that can be paid to any food. Second: the way she brings food to life with her vivid pictures. This mango had me pawing at the screen. Third: her words ring so wise and true to my ears. Like when she says "Sometimes love means hard work" in this post, or when she says, "Nothing so sweet as sour" in this one.

That last post was especially tempting! Tangy food really does tempt me like nothing else can. So it was settled! I tried and tasted Cynthia's tamarind relish as a dipping sauce for my typical Marathi snack. See Cynthia's tamarind relish recipe here and my version (with small modifications) below. Sabudana thalipeeth has already been blogged by Manasi and my version is no different, but for what its worth, I'm typing up the recipe here.

Cynthia's Tamarind Relish


(Adapted from Tastes Like Home, makes about 1 cup)
¼ C dried tamarind pulp
1 t oil
½ medium onion, finely diced
1 inch ginger, peeled and grated
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ t red chilli flakes
1 t coriander powder
2 T jaggery (or brown sugar)
1 t salt
1. Soak the tamarind pulp in 1 cup boiling water for 30 minutes. Press out all the pulp. Strain out thick tamarind juice and discard the seeds and fibers.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the oil.
3. Saute the onion, ginger, garlic until soft.
4. Add the tamarind pulp and the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thick and jammy.
5. Taste and adjust the balance of flavors if necessary. Cool and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Sabudana Thalipeeth

1. Knead together:
a) 1 C sabudana (sago pearls) which have been soaked in water, then drained thoroughly to get rid of the excess water.
b) 2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
3) ¼ C crushed roasted peanuts
4) 1 t cumin seeds
5) 1 fresh green chilli, minced
6) handful of minced cilantro
7) 1 t sugar
8) salt to taste
2. Divide the mixture into 12 portions. Place each portion on a piece of heavy plastic (good way to reuse some packaging bag) that has been wetted. Use damp finger tips to flatten it into a thin disc.
3. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet and fry the patties on both sides.

The spicy tamarind relish made for a wonderful variation of the usual date-tamarind chutney I normally make! Cynthia, your blog has been tried and tested and is certified "delicious"!! :D

*** *** ***

Meanwhile, the knitting mania continues unabated (ahem...that might be a bit of an understatement). I will always adore my kitchen but there is no denying that is a sudden new love in my life (all those who hate knitting and needle-craft can safely unsubscribe at this point). The only yarn I currently have on hand is plain old dishcloth cotton, so dishcloths it is! Actually, they are very satisfying projects to knit, because they are small and can be finished in just a few hours, and every new pattern teaches me a few new stitches.
Wanna see what I made?

Ballband (slip-stitch) dishcloth. My first time working with two colors together in a project. It is waaaay simpler than it looks!

Petal dishcloth. My first time working with a pattern that is some shape other than a rectangle!

And just to prove to myself that I can knit something besides dishcloths, I made a bath mitt. My first three-dimensional project. Yay :D

I also made another paw-print dishcloth and I'm going to give it away to one of you! Check back tomorrow to throw your name in the hat if you would like to have it :)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Pseudo Panha

Dear Winter,
How can I miss you if you never go away?

But I should not fret too much. This being St. Louis, the lingering chills of late winter will turn into the sweltering heat of summer soon enough. And this time, I shall be prepared with a tall jug of rejuvenating panha in the fridge. The traditional version of this drink calls for raw mangoes, but what I tried making today is a very clever and innovative version that uses applesauce, a creative recipe shared by The Cooker. In North America, the odds of finding a 20$ bill on the sidewalk are far better than the odds of finding a decent kairi (raw mango), so coming upon this recipe was a very lucky thing.

Applesauce, which is nothing but stewed, mashed apples, is ubiquitously available in the US. If you use store-bought applesauce, just check the label to make sure there is no added sugar or other additives. The one I used has only one ingredient (apples). Applesauce is easy to make at home; see recipes here, here and here. For this panha, I would make plain applesauce without any added spices.

My slight tweak to the recipe: I used agave nectar as the sweetener instead of sugar. Agave nectar is a newfangled product of the ancient agave plant, the same succulent that gives us tequila. I have started using agave nectar as a sweetener for beverages like tea (and this panha) because it dissolves really well, and has a lower glycemic index than sugar. It is more expensive than regular sugar, but I am quite happy to pay a little extra for something that I use very little of in the first place. Of course, in this recipe, one could use any sweetener at all. In fact, next time I will try using jaggery, the way I make the traditional version of panha.

Applesauce Panha

(Makes about 3 servings; adapted from The Cooker)
1 C plain applesauce
2 C filtered water
hefty pinch of salt
2 t lemon juice (or to taste)
2 t agave nectar (or to taste)
1/2 t cardamom powder

1. In a small saucepan, cook the applesauce on low heat for 10 minutes or so.
2. Let it cool down for 30-60 minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and taste. Adjust the flavors if necessary to get the right balance of salty-tangy-sweet.
4. Serve chilled!

There is nothing "pseudo" about this taste of this panha: it is utterly refreshing and startling similar to the real thing. I poured myself a glass of applesauce panha when I got back from the gym, all thirsty and exhausted. Every gulp was oh-so-sweet and restorative. Thank you, Ms. Cooker.

This post goes to Coffee's popular Monthly Blog Patrol hosted this month by our favorite mixologist Sig with the theme (surprise, surprise): Mixed Drinks! Cheers!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Shengdana Chutney

We have a snow day today! That can mean only one thing- I have time to log on and ramble on and write a post. This is an entry for My Legume Love Affair, an event hosted by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. I have been indulging in a not-so-secret love affair with legumes for most of my life, and hardly could pass on an opportunity for this PDA :D

Often disparagingly called the Poor Man's Meat, the family of lentils, including peas, lentils and beans, are finally being recognized as the culinary gold that they are. Full of fiber, iron and protein, and low in fat- they are a tasty way to break away from a meat-guzzling diet ( as Mark Bittman calls it) and into one that places a high value on plant-based foods. Legumes are some very selfless and community-minded plants: as they grow, they convert atmospheric nitrogen into "fertilizer" and enrich the soil. Remember the nitrogen cycle from elementary school science class?

I never met a bean or a lentil that I did not love, but my heart belongs to peanuts! Well, those peanuts too, but mainly these:
Yes, although peanuts are classified as nuts in the kitchen, they are botanically part of the legume family- rather unusual members of this family because they grow under the ground. In fact, one of the common Marathi names for peanuts is bhui-moog which literally translates as earth-beans (am I right?); the other, more common name is shengdana.

I grew up in a peanut-growing region of Maharashtra (in fact, a region that grows all sorts of cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, peanuts, tobacco in abundance, and has the prosperity to show for it), so peanuts have always been a big part of my life. In season, when fresh newly-dug peanuts arrive on the market (with dark soil still caked over the shells), it is time for one of life's greatest edible pleasures: boiled peanuts! Peanut oil is the natural choice for a cooking medium. Even today, my mother buys peanut oil straight from a refinery- every few months, she hops in her car with two stainless steel jerry cans, drives to a tiny oil-pressing unit in the heart of town and waits as they fill the cans with still-warm peanut oil. It is sold by the kilogram. The peanut residue, which remains quite nutritious, is pressed into cakes and fed to cattle (who also live in the heart of town with their owners). Only in Kolhapur!

Recently, my love for peanuts was intensified even more when I heard a talk by a local doctor who is doing some incredible work in the African nation of Malawi- he has developed a peanut-based ready-to-eat paste that has shown impressive results in being to rescue severely malnourished children. I admire a lot of things about this Project Peanut Butter, including the fact that locally produced peanuts are being bought to make this nutritious paste, thus helping the local economy while saving tiny lives (the majority of food relief programs rely on surplus cheap grain being shipped in from far away).

Today, I am making a dry peanut chutney, one of a family of dry chutneys that are very popular in Maharashtrian homes. A scoop of flavorful chutney can liven up even the simplest of meals. It is actually very similar to a number of chutneys I have written about before, such as this garlicky one. This one is heavy on the peanuts, but also contains other flavors that I love, such as coconut and sesame and garlic and coriander, in a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fashion. I have tweaked the proportions over countless batches to get the taste that I happen to like the most. Use my proportions, or feel free to tweak them to your own taste. I often make this chutney to give as a small gift from my kitchen, and most people who taste it seem to like it.

Shengdana Chutney
(Dry Peanut Chutney)


1 C peanuts, roasted lightly and skinned
2 T sesame seeds
2 T unsweetened dry coconut flakes
4-5 dried red chillies (or to taste)
10-15 fresh curry leaves
2 garlic cloves (optional)
1 T coriander seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1-2 t tamarind pulp (not paste) (optional)
2 t sugar (or to taste)
1 t salt (or to taste)
1. Heat a heavy skillet (low-medium heat) and add the peanuts first. When they are lightly browned, add the sesame seeds, coconut, chillies, curry leaves, garlic, coriander and cumin. Keep stirring and roasting until all the ingredient are toasty and fragrant.
2. Let the mixture cool down completely (the curry leaves will be crispy and dry by then). Place in a food processor/ mixie bowl with the tamarind, sugar and salt. Process until the mixture is uniformly powdered. Keep processing until the oil starts to be extracted from the peanuts and the chutney starts to clump together (not until it becomes peanut butter, mind you). Taste for a balance of flavors and adjust them if necessary.
3. Store in an air-tight bottle at room temperature for 3-4 weeks or so. This recipe yields about a medium jar of chutney- perfect for a family of 2-4.

How do you enjoy this chutney? Let me count the ways...
1. Spread on little buttered crackers to make chutney toasts like in the picture above. They make great little snacks!
2. Stir into yogurt for an instant dip.
3. Sprinkle on hot buttered toast for a spicy breakfast treat.
4. Eat as a podi with ghee and rice.
5. Mix with untoasted sesame oil to make a chutney for idlis and dosas.
6. Serve in a little heap as an accompaniment to any home-style meal such as dal and rice, yogurt rice or chapati and vegetables. This is the way it is traditionally served.
And creative readers mentioned other ways of enjoying it
7. Sprinkle on pizza instead of red pepper flakes (Bee)
8. Sprinkle on buttered bread, then toast the bread on a tava (Shankari)
9. Add some yogurt to the chutney and enjoy with poli/chapati//fulkas (Anjali, Manasi)
10. Eat with hot poli/chapati and ghee (Musical)
10. Eat with vada pav (Pooja)
11. Eat with dhokla (Coffee)
12. Use as a masala over shallow fried green chillies (Roshni)

Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Suralichi Wadi

While samosas and pakodas have become international sensations and are on everyone's lips (literally and figuratively), there are quite a few Indian snacks that would be unfamiliar to many people: this post is about one such snack. Let's should I describe suralichi wadi to someone who may not have seen it before? Think of a Swiss roll; only the "cake" is a silky, thin sheet of cooked chickpea flour and the filling is a savory mixture of coconut, herbs and chillies. OK- so it is nothing like a Swiss roll, except that it is a roll. This delightful little bite is commonly called Suralichi Wadi in Maharashtra (surali is roll) and Khandvi in Gujarat. I am not sure if other states of India also make this but it sure is popular in these two Western states. You will find mounds of khandvi beautifully stacked on counters in halwai shops (akin to delis) all over Bombay. It is a dish that Aai (my mum) often made when she had too much rapidly-souring yogurt on her hands and needed to use it up quickly. Suralichi wadi is served cold or at room temperature, making it the perfect snack for hot days, but of course that should not stop anyone from making/eating it during any other weather.

Suralichi wadi is one of those things that can seem quite difficult to make if one has never made it before but my mother shared her recipe for making it in the microwave oven. I was very surprised at how quick and fun this recipe is! Apart from some basic ingredients and a microwave-safe (I prefer to use glass) bowl, what you need are some surfaces to spread the cooked chickpea-buttermilk mixture on. I use upturned steel dinner plates.

My mum says to keep three things in mind:
1. The proportion to remember here is adeech-pat or 1 part besan: 2.5 parts buttermilk. Here, I am referring to what we call buttermilk in India- diluted yogurt, essentially. In fact, for Indian dishes that call for buttermilk, I just whisk together yogurt and water. The buttermilk should be of a medium consistency. Think Goldilocks: not too thick and not too thin.
2. As you cook the besan mixture, remember to do so in short bursts, stirring each time, to prevent lumps from forming.
3. How do you decide when the mixture is cooked enough? Do the test: on an ungreased steel plate, smear a small amount (teaspoonful) and let it cool for a few seconds. Try rolling it off the surface. If it comes off easily, the mixture is ready. If it sticks to the plate even after cooling, cook it some more.
A lot of the cooking time etc. will depend on the properties of the buttermilk (how thick, how sour), so you will have to standardize it for yourself.

Suralichi Wadi

(My mother's recipe)
1 C besan (chickpea flour)
2.5 C buttermilk (medium consistency)
0.5 t turmeric powder
salt to taste
0.5 C grated coconut (fresh or thawed frozen)
0.5 C packed minced fresh cilantro
1 T minced fresh ginger
2 hot green chillies, minced (or to taste)
salt to taste
1-2 T oil
2 t mustard seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the filling and set aside.
2. Set out about 4 upturned dinner plates on the work surface (steel thalis work best). These should NOT be greased and they do need to have flat bottoms.
3. In a large microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the besan, buttermilk, turmeric and salt making sure there are no lumps. Cook the mixture by microwaving for 30-45 second spurts and stirring in between.
4. When the mixture appears to thicken into a paste, test it (see notes above). Cook it until it is can be rolled properly once smeared on a plate.
5. Ladle portions of the cooked mixture onto the upturned plates and spread it thinly, using a gentle circular motion.

6. Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes or so. Then sprinkle the filling evenly on the surface (divide the filling equally among all the plates you are covered).

7. Use a knife (or pizza wheel) to gently score the sheet into strips (an inch wide or so). Then gently roll each strip into a tight roll.

8. Set the rolls on a platter. Make the tempering by heating oil and spluttering mustard seeds and asafoetida in it. Pour the tempering evenly on the rolls.

Eat up :)

I'm sending this any-time snack to Srivalli for her microwave cooking event. The theme this month is Tiffin. To me, this Anglo-Indian word holds much promise of good food. Tiffin was our word for the lunch-box that we took to school every day for the mid-morning meal. The stackable stainless steel tiffin boxes bearing 4-course meals and the dabbawallas who deliver them all over Bombay are internationally known. Tiffin-the meal- was my very favorite of the 4 meals served in hostel here, served at 4 pm. Eating a hearty snack at 4 pm is a brilliant concept, allowing one to eat smaller meals throughout the day and getting away with a very light dinner!

Anyway, here are a couple more microwave tiffin ideas from this blog:
Sabudana Khichdi
I am fairly sure Kothimbir Wadi could be easily steamed in the microwave although I have yet to try it myself.

*** *** ***

I am so grateful to everyone who helped me with useful tips about making the puris for pani puri. I got together with a friend and we had a great time making a big batch last night. Here are my results using 1:1 maida to sooji with a tiny bit of baking soda and sugar in the dough; stamping out circles from a large rolled sheet and further rolling each piece thinly: about a 50% puff rate, with a wonderful light and crispy taste. Puff daddies and rebels were both devoured in minutes :D

Real life is going to be hectic from this week on, and blogging life might suffer as a result: programming on One Hot Stove could be sporadic for a while. Y'all stay warm and happy!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Two Tangy Milky Desserts Maharashtrian favorite, and the other, an American favorite.

The first is Shrikhand, a simple dessert of strained thick yogurt mixed with sugar and flavorings like saffron and cardamom. I must confess that of all the profusion of Indian desserts that I know and love, shrikhand would never make it to even the top 20. I usually find it too thick and rich and cloying after a few bites. But I was making a typical Maharashtrian meal for some friends last night and decided to give it a try. After all is said and done, it *is* a low-maintenance no-cook dessert and when you make it at home, you have full control over how much sugar you add to it.

I got this recipe from an aunt (actually one of my parents' closest friends). She belongs to that band of Indians who settled in the US in the 70s, in the days when Indian ingredients and stores were few and far between in this country. Over the decades, she has tried and tested and perfected (and how!) ways of making Indian favorites using ingredients commonly found in American supermarkets. When she informally told me how she makes shrikhand, I tuned out everything else and filed away the instructions carefully in the voice recorder of my brain. When you collect recipes as I do, you quickly learn to memorize every detail when an accomplished cook is talking. Virtually every shrikhand recipe that I come across mentions that it is essential to use full-fat yogurt. According to my aunt, *low-fat* yogurt yields the best shrikhand (full fat is too buttery and non-fat is too chalky, as per her trials). Now, this is not someone who would ever compromise taste for the sake of low-fat anything, so when she says that low-fat tastes the best, I am convinced. She also mentioned that she prefers Dannon brand yogurt. I used Trader Joe's and it worked just fine. The taste of this shrikhand was so irresistible that I felt absolutely no need to add sour cream or anything else to it, as some recipes do. Thank you, Anju maushi, for sharing your recipe!


(serves 4-6)
1 tub (32 oz/ 4 C) low-fat plain yogurt
3/4 C granulated sugar (anywhere from half to one cup, according to taste)
pinch of salt
1/2 t powdered cardamom
1 t warm milk
1 hefty pinch saffron threads
2-3 T chopped almonds or pistachios
1. Set a large strainer on a bowl. Line the strainer with clean porous fabric (eg. cheesecloth) or clean coffee filters. Pour the yogurt into the strainer. Cover the strainer/bowl and place in refrigerator overnight (8-12 hours).
2. Place the thick, strained yogurt into a fresh bowl. The nutritious whey that has dripped away can be used to knead paratha/roti dough, in dals or soups.
3. Add the sugar 2-3 T at a time, stirring every time you add some, at 3-5 minute intervals. This way the sugar dissolves evenly into the yogurt.
4. Meanwhile, stir the saffron into the warm milk and let it soak for 5-10 minutes.
5. Finally, after all the sugar has been mixed in, add a pinch of salt, saffron, cardamom and nuts. Stir and refrigerate until you serve it.

This shrikhand was delicious, and might be worth a try for those who think they don't like shrikhand much. Low-fat, was utterly creamy with just the right consistency, to my palate. And far less indulgent than most other desserts I can think of. Other delicious additions to shrikhand are nutmeg powder and charoli. At feasts in Maharashtra, shrikhand is often the accompaniment to puri-bhaji.

Fruity takes on shrikhand:
Strawberry Shrikhand from Ashwini
Blackberry Shrikhand from Manisha
Peach-Saffron Shrikhand from Suma
Amrakhand from Aarti
There is such a thing as "chocokhand" (chocolate shrikhand) sold as a novelty by some Indian dairies, but it looks like no blogger has tried making that yet :D

Strained yogurt is such a versatile ingredient. Among other things, it can be used to make sandwiches, frozen yogurt, tzatziki, and delicious dips.

*** *** ***

There are so many parties and get-togethers this month that an over-abundance of desserts is almost inevitable. I swear I am making these sweets to take to holiday festivities and to share with lots of people and restricting myself to itty-bitty servings (that's not what her hips are saying). To continue with the sugar high, here is the other dessert I made this week: Lemon Squares.

I saw Key Lime bars being made on an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS and they looked irresistible- a sweet cookie crust baked with a sweet and tangy custard filling made quite simply with citrus juice and sweetened condensed milk. I used lemon instead of lime because it is what I had on hand. I also could not find animal crackers in the store so I subbed something called Teddy Graham Honey crackers. Sorry, cute little teddies who got blitzed to crumbs in the food processor :( I loved the graham cracker crust here, so I will continue to use it instead of the animal crackers.

Lemon Squares

(adapted from this Cook's Illustrated recipe)
1. Prepare a 8X8 inch square baking pan by lining it with foil (with some overhang) and lightly oiling the pan.
2. Preheat the oven to 325F
3. Crust: In a food processor bowl, add 5 oz. honey graham crackers, pinch of salt, 3 T melted butter, 3 T sugar and a dollop of molasses. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Pour it into the prepared pan and pat it down evenly (I used the bottom of a glass).
4. Bake the crust for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a bowl, mix 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk, 2 oz. cream cheese (1/4 of the standard pack), 1 egg yolk, pinch of salt, 1/2 C fresh lemon juice and 1 T lemon zest.
6. Pour the filling into the bakes crust and bake for 20 minutes. Cool for an hour, then chill thoroughly before slicing into 16 squares.

This dessert is really fun to make, for some reason. And tastes divine. These people agree.

To all my friends who celebrate it, here's wishing you a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Microwave Sabudana Khichdi

When my parents visited us for a few weeks this summer, my mother cast a critical eye over my undertakings in the kitchen. When I made sabudana khichdi, our favorite Maharashtrian breakfast, the way I normally make it, she pointed out that it is much easier and faster to make this dish in the microwave. You know what, she is right...the biggest challenge with this simple dish is that while cooking, the sabudana (sago pearls) often get too soggy and start clumping together, resulting in an unappetizing mess. We can take advantage of the fact that microwaves work by penetrating through food and heating the water molecules to cook food. Sabudana that is soaked correctly contains enough water that the khichdi cooks efficiently, with a much greater likelihood of perfectly cooked yet well-separated sago pearls. Here it is, sabudana khichdi made ridiculously easy.

I use a glass bowl for all my microwave cooking. While plastic containers may be OK for briefly reheating food in the microwave, I don't use them for actually cooking food in, because high temperatures can cause plastic molecules to leach into the food. I use cheap, sturdy Pyrex glassware that is just perfect for everyday use in the microwave. Microwave times can also vary according to the age and model of the microwave. These worked for me, but may need a little experimentation in other kitchens. This recipes serves 2-3.

Microwave Sabudana Khichdi

1. Soak sabudana (sago pearls) for 3-6 hours. The soaking is a crucial step: I do this by placing 1 cup sabudana in a bowl and just barely covering it with water, then covering it and setting it aside. After soaking, the grains should still feel dry and separate, although they should feel soft and hydrated (a small hard core is OK).

2. To the soaked sabudana, add 2/3 C crushed toasted peanuts, 1 T sugar and 1 t salt (or to taste).

3. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine 1 medium boiled cubed potato, 1 t cumin seeds, 1-2 minced green chillies, 1 T ghee and 1 T oil (can use 1-2 T oil or ghee instead of the oil and ghee combination). Microwave for 1.5 mins, or until the cumin seeds sizzle and you can smell a fragrant "tadka".

4. Stir the soaked sabudana mixture into this bowl.

5. Microwave for 1 minute, let it stand 2 minutes, stir, and microwave for a minute again. The khichdi should be cooked to perfection! The cooked sabudana look transluscent compared to the opaque uncooked ones. If your microwave has lower power or is old, it may take a minute or two more to cook.

6. Garnish with fresh shredded coconut and minced cilantro if desired. Stir in some fresh lemon juice, or serve with some yogurt on the side. A delicious way to start the day (and you never even turned on the stove)!

Monday, June 25, 2007

An Eggplant Endamame Entree

This is my entry for the monthly Jihva For Ingredients, an event that celebrates all the wonderful natural ingredients that form the backbone of Indian cuisine! JFI is the brainchild of Indira from Mahanandi. This month, JFI is being hosted by Sangeeta of Ghar ka Khana. The name of Sangeeta's blog means "Home-Cooked Food", and she has chosen a vegetable that is cooked in hundreds of home-style ways: the EGGPLANT!

Those richly colored royal purple eggplants- I love them every day and in every way! I was so overwhelmed with ideas of dishes that I could make for this event that I almost ended up not participating at all. Finally, I decided to go for something super-simple. A typical way that I remember eating eggplant as a kid was in a vegetable dish (called bhaaji in Marathi) called Varna-Vaangi which fits in with the "Mixed Vegetables" theme from yesterday's post. Vaangi is eggplant, and Varna are either the same or very similar to the hyacinth beans called Valor (see a gorgeous picture on this post on Jugalbandi). The texture of the silky-soft cooked eggplant contrasts beautifully with the fiber-rich mouth-feel of the beans. The pairing of beans and eggplant is quite traditional, and very tasty. See another example of this combination here.

The only problem is that the typical eggplants used in Indian cooking, as well as these hyacinth beans are not very accessible to me- they require a trip to the International market. I decided to use the more easily available Italian eggplant and substitute the beans with endamame or soybeans (I have been wanting to try them for a while, and was even more inspired by Cooker's post). Endamame is a traditional Japanese ingredient but can be used anywhere beans are. So here it is, eggplant and endameme cooked together in a simple and flavorful way. If you cannot find soybeans, they can be substituted with lima beans.

The recipe has three features that are typical of Maharashtrian cooking: (a) the use of goda masala. This can be bought in stores, or made at home. Use garam masala as a completely different, but equally tasty alternative; (b) the use of a small amount of crushed peanuts to provide a little bit of richness and nuttiness to the dish and (c) the use of a small amount of jaggery (unrefined brown sugar/ gud) to add a hint of sweetness to the dish.

Vaangi ani Soybean chi Bhaaji

(My spin on a traditional recipe, serves 3-4)
1 medium Italian eggplant, or equivalent amount of small ones
1 C endamame/ soybeans (fresh or frozen)
1 heaped t cumin-coriander powder
1 t goda masala
2 T crushed roasted peanuts
1/2 T jaggery powder
2 t oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/4 C chopped onion
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 t red chili powder (or to taste)
salt to taste
1. Wash the eggplant and cut into medium dice. If the eggplant is fresh, there is no need to take the trouble of peeling the eggplant, or of salting it to draw out the bitterness. There should be no bitterness to begin with.
2. In a saucepan, heat the oil. Add the tempering ingredients and stir around until the onion is slightly browning at the edges.
3. Add the diced eggplant and the endameme and stir to coat with all the spices.
4. Add cumin-coriander powder, goda masala, peanuts and jaggery, then stir in 1/4 cup of water (to get the steaming started). Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring ocassionally, until the eggplant is tender (by which time, the endamame will definitely be cooked).

I served this delicious vegetable with some cool yogurt rice. I made yogurt rice my usual way, except for adding some finely diced cucumber to it. I picked up this idea from some book or blog...can't seem to remember. But the crunchy cucumber tastes terrific in the yogurt rice, and the combination with this flavorful vegetable was a winner.

Other popular Maharashtrian ways with the eggplant:
1. Vaangi Kaap (Eggplant Slices)
2. Bharli Vaangi (Stuffed Baby Eggplants)
3. Vangi Bhaat (Eggplant Rice)

For a spectacular list of delicious eggplant recipes, check out Sangeet's round-up!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Kolhapuri Bakarwadi

This is one of my entries for RCI: Maharashtrian Cuisine.
Maharashtrian cuisine, like the other Indian cuisines, has one category of recipes that is specially loved: all the crispy crunchy melt-in-the-mouth tea-time snacks! Some of these goodies are made specially for festivals, others are made in batches and stored in air-tight containers, waiting for friends and relatives to drop in unexpectedly. One of these special savory foods is called the bakarwadi. What is bakarwadi? You can think of it as a Swiss roll, only fiery hot! A savory filling is rolled into a chickpea dough, and slices of this roll are deep-fried. The resulting savory bites are a favorite tea-time treat, and also specially made during the festival of Diwali. When people in Maharashtra think of bakarwadi, they generally think of a particular type made famous by the Chitale Bandhu store in city of Pune. Their version is iconic, with its sweet-savory filling. While I am a huge fan of this style of bakarwadi, there is another kind that I am also very fond of. This is the lesser-known but no less delicious Kolhapur style bakarwadi and as with all good Kolhapuri food, it is redolent with chillies and garlic! Kolhapuris have a undying love affair with devastatingly pungent flavors in food, and this love is neatly packaged into that awesome snack called the Kolhapuri bakarwadi.

The truth is, if you live in Kolhapur, you don't need to waste your time making this bakarwadi at home. You just go over to a rather industrial section of town, to a nondescript store-front called Gruhini (means homemakers in Marathi) and buy piping hot bakarwadi that is better than anything one could ever make. This store is a kind of women's cooperative, where homemakers seeking an income work together and put their amazing culinary expertise to profitable use. At the back of the store, you can see a band of experts churning out the most amazing sweets (gulkand burfi or fudge, coconut burfi), dry chutneys and masala mixes, savory goodies (chakli, bakarwadi)...all with the true authentic taste of home, only made in slightly larger batches and sold commercially. At the front of the store, there is a chalkboard listing the goodies being made, all sold at extremely reasonable prices. This place is a blessing for everyone who loves the taste of old-fashioned food made with all-natural ingredients but who is short on time or does not have the know-how, or simply does not want to take the trouble of making a large-scale complicated recipe for a tiny family. People become adept at knowing what goodies are being made at what times, and you have to be smart and show up at the right time if you want to get your hands on it! When you ask for a kilo or so of bakarwadi, a couple of the women at the front counter will fill your order, and hand you a packet of bakarwadi so piping hot that there is condensation on the bag.

This week, my mom was eager to try some adventures in the kitchen with me. She had bought some bakarwadi for V and me from this store in Kolhapur, and when she saw how we wolfed it down, she offered to try making it at home. The last time she has made this was over 25 years ago, she says. Since that time, the Gruhini store has been feeding our habit! She looked around for a recipe and found one in a slim 1987 Marathi cookbook called Swad-Aswaad by Usha Toraskar and Vasantaprabha Chitnis. This is quite a challenging recipe, not really for the beginner cook. There are many steps at which you could face pitfalls- the dough might crack while rolling, or the rolls could fall apart while frying etc. So we were happily surprised at how tasty and successful our little experiment turned out. Here it is, the recipe in my mom's words. She starts by saying, "Caution: Be prepared for hot fumes coming from your ears and mouth. Keep your hankies ready!"

Bakarwadi (Kolhapur style)

(makes about 20 small pieces)
For the dough:
1 1/2 cups besan (chickpea flour), sieved
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 1/2 tbsp oil
salt to taste
For the stuffing:
1 cup dry grated coconut
1/2 cup packed coriander (cilantro)
5 flakes garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped finely
2 green chillies
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp poppy seeds (khus-khus)
1 tbsp sesame seeds (til)
Oil for frying
1. Make the dough: Heat the oil, put in the besan, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, salt and make a stiff dough adding only a few spoonfuls of water as necessary. Divide the dough into 4 portions and set aside.
2. Make the stuffing: Lightly roast the dry coconut, sesame, poppy seeds, garlic, ginger, green chillies, cilantro. Add the garam masala, and salt to taste. Mix well and set aside.
3. Roll out one ball into a circle. The edges should be rolled as thin as possible, but the center should be relatively thicker.
4. Divide the stuffing into 4 portions. Sprinkle one portion of stuffing onto the dough circle.
5. Fold the four edges like an envelope and make a roll.
6. Cut each roll into 5 pieces or so.
7. Press the edges gently to hold in most of the stuffing while frying.
8. Deep-fry on slow fire until dark brown. If you fry on high heat, the inside of the roll will not get a chance to cook.

Tip: If the dough is not stiff, the bakarwadi will be soft and not stay crisp in the next few days.

We enjoyed this home-made bakar-wadi very much. This little trial made for an enjoyable time in the kitchen for my mother and me. But I don't see myself making this often...the deep-frying and the degree of difficulty being the two main reasons. I will save my appetite for the next trip to Gruhini instead!

Three of my favorite Maharashtrian dishes using Besan (Chickpea flour):
A delicious accompiment to dal and rice: Bhendi Fry
Two rustic favorites: Pithale and Zunka

See you at the U of Indian Vegetables on Sunday! Entries are being accepted all the way until Saturday night. It is a rather challenging letter but I am sure I will be impressed by the bloggers' entries yet again!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pan-Fried Potatoes

This is one of my entries for RCI: Maharashtrian Cuisine.
Fried potatoes. The one dish you can count on to be a crowd-pleaser. That you can conjure up from virtually nothing. Pan-fried potatoes, Marathi style, is a dish made with pantry staples- onions, potatoes, and a few everyday spices- cooked to golden brown perfection. The Marathi term for pan-frying is paratne, and potato translates as batata, hence the Marathi name for this dish is paratlele batate.

The flavoring in this dish, apart from the usual trio of salt-turmeric-red chili powder, comes from just two spices: coriander seeds and cumin seeds. This duo is used so often in Maharashtrian cuisine that I keep a coriander-cumin spice mix in the spice box, which makes it really easy to throw together quick stir-fries such as this one. To make the coriander-cumin powder at home, take equal amounts of cumin seeds and coriander seeds (I make small batches, using 1/4 cup of each spice). Combine them in a small skillet, then toast on low heat until aromatic and just a shade darker (be careful not to burn the spices). Cool the toasted spices, then dry-grind to a fine powder. Store in an air-tight bottle and use as required. For this dish, I look for organic potatoes with thin skins; that way I can simply scrub the potatoes clean and leave the skin on for extra flavor.

Pan-fried potatoes go well with just about everything- I love scooping it up with chunks of hot roti, and I love eating it with dal-rice and yogurt-rice. I have one memory of eating this dish as a small kid. It was when a bunch of neighborhood kids got together one summer evening and "camped out" in one family's backyard, lighting a fire to cook on. These pan-fried potatoes were made (by the older children) using ingredients donated by various moms, and we ate them with sliced bread. The combination tasted so good!

When I cook paratlele batate, I make sure that I'm the one serving it, because then I can put all the extra-crispy almost-burnt bits (the best part!) in my own plate...after all, it is the cook's privilege!

Pan-Fried Potatoes (Paratlele Batate)

(makes about 3 side-dish servings)
2 large potatoes or 3 medium potatoes or 6 small potatoes
1 medium onion
1 T oil
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
pinch of asafoetida
1/2 t turmeric powder
1 t red chili powder
1 t coriander-cumin powder
salt to taste
fresh lemon juice
minced cilantro
1. Prepare the vegetables: Cut the onion into slices. Scrub the potatoes clean, then cut crosswise into thin slices (if large or medium potatoes are used, you want to first cut the potato into quarters or halves lengthwise).
2. Heat the oil in a skillet. Make the tempering with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida.
3. Stir in the onion and cook on medium heat until the onion starts browning around the edges.
4. Stir in the turmeric, red chili powder, coriander-cumin powder and salt and let it saute for a few seconds.
5. Stir in the sliced potato, then leave uncovered on medium heat. Turn the potatoes every 4-5 minutes and cook until the they are crispy and browned.
6. Garnish liberally with lemon juice and cilantro and serve right away.

Other popular Maharashtrian ways with Potato, all three using boiled potato:
A festive meal: Puri Bhaji
A tea-time snack: Batata Vada
As stuffing: Bharli Mirchi

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pleasing Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Alanna is challenging us to try some new vegetables all this month with her Vegetable Contest, so here are my attempts to try some vegetables that are new to my kitchen.

When it comes to buying pantry staples like onions and potatoes, I blindly grab the first ones I can find and walk right on. So I have to give credit where credit is due: V made me buy these potatoes last time we were out grocery shopping- cute little purple potatoes. Once we got them home, I was rather excited to use them. You would think the odd color has been specially bred into the potato for novelty value. But no, this is no new potato on the block. V informed me that purple potatoes were the first potatoes ever cultivated, in Peru, and from there, they have grown and spread and become one of the world's most popular vegetables (certainly the most popular vegetable in the US). Well, after realizing that these little purple beauties are the forefathers of our white and yellow and red potatoes, I suddenly had a new-found respect for them!

On a more practical note, purple potatoes get their color from the plant pigments called anthocyanins. These pigment function as antioxidants (which perform protective functions in our cells), and that is why we are always being told to eat brightly colored vegetables. Unlike red potatoes, which are only red on the outside, purple potatoes are purple inside and out. The dull purple peel gives way to a beautiful, jewel-like purple interior. They can be used anywhere you would normally use potatoes, and end up giving the dish an interesting and unusual look. Read more about them here. I used them in two dishes, one was an experimental version of poha and the other was the popular street food sev-puri.

Experimental Poha


Poha is a pantry staple in many Indian kitchens. It is nothing but white rice that is par-boiled, then flattened into flakes. Because it is par-boiled, poha cooks up quickly and is most often used in two dishes. One is a dry, trail mix-like snack called chivda- see recipes here, here and here; and the other is a cooked breakfast dish often called simply poha- see recipes here, here and here.

This poha was experimental for two reasons:
1. I used purple potatoes instead of the usual ones.
2. I used a mixture of regular poha and flakes of multigrain cereal instead of the poha alone.

It started when I bought a box of County Choice Organic Hot Multigrain Cereal as an variation to my usual oatmeal. This cereal is nothing but flakes of whole wheat, rye, oat and barley mixed together. When I tasted the cereal, I thought it was delicious, and not as gummy or mushy as oatmeal often is. In short, it might work in a dish such as poha. Pictured: regular poha on the left, multi-grain cereal flakes on the right.

(serves 4-5)
1. Mix 1 cup multi-grain cereal and 1 and 1/2 cups poha in a large bowl. Add warm water slowly and mix into the poha mixture such that all the flakes get moistened well (don't immerse it in water, however). Cover the bowl and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
2. Do the other prep: dice one medium onion, dice one medium/ two small potatoes, finely chop 1-2 fresh chilies, mince a few stalks of cilantro.
3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan. Make the tempering: 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida.
4. Add onion, chilies and 8-10 curry leaves and saute until onion is translucent but not browned.
5. Stir in potatoes, 1/3 cup green peas (frozen works great) and 1/2 tsp turmeric. Add a few tablespoons of water and let the potatoes cook, covered, until just tender.
6. To the soaked poha mixture, add 2 tsp sugar and salt to taste. Mix well, then add the mixture to the pan and stir well. Add a few tablespoons of water to generate steam. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes or until cereal/ poha is cooked.
7. Turn off the heat. Stir in 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot, sprinkled with some crunchy roasted peanuts, if desired.

Verdict: Poha is such a beloved dish of mine that I was loathe to experiment with it. But I'm glad I did! The whole grains added great flavor and texture to the dish, and made the poha more filling, so you can get away with a smaller portion size. The purple potatoes made the dish look more colorful and fun to eat, and tasted just like regular potatoes.
Two other healthier versions of poha here and here.

Now, scooting over from a healthy breakfast to a guilty-pleasure snack...

Sev Puri

Sev puri is a very popular street food (and made at home, evening snack) in India. The little tasty crunchy bites of sev puri consist of a deep-fried flour puri topped with minced onion, boiled potato, minced cilantro, sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney, spicy mint-and-cilantro chutney and garnished with sev (fried strands of chickpea flour).

I had not tasted sev puri for years, because fresh and good puris are not easy to find, and I'm too lazy to fry them myself. Last week, I came across a new product at Trader Joe's: Wonton chips. Basically, they are pieces of wonton wrappers, deep-fried, making them practically the same thing as the puris for sev puri. I used these chips to make sev puri, topped with everything I have written above, with some boiled, peeled, diced purple potatoes instead of regular ones. I can't tell you how authentic and delicious they tasted! The purple potatoes made the sev puris look quite cute, and the wonton chips are a perfect substitute for real, live puris. If there are no Trader Joe's stores where you live, you might want to try using these newly-launched chips. I'm betting they are also quite similar to the puris for sev puri.

After all this purple goodness, I'll see you in a couple of days with something green! Bye for now!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Recipe request: Vaalache Bhirde

Suma B., a reader, mailed me a few weeks ago. She had tasted a typical Marathi dish somewhere and loved it and was looking for a recipe for it. Well, it turns out that I love this dish too, so I'm only too happy to share the recipe here. What is the dish? A creamy coconut-based curry made with sprouts of a dal called either vaal or dalimbay, and the preparation is called a bhirde making it either vaalache bhirde or dalimbyache bhirde (quite a mouthful if you don't speak Marathi)!

This curry has a special place in my heart because I associate it with my aji (grandma) in Bombay who makes a delicious vaalache bhirde. It is a truly exceptional dish because it captures five flavors of food in one single spoonful: the spicy heat from chillies, sweetness from jaggery, a tangy note from tamarind, a hint of bitterness that is natural to the vaal; all bound together with a touch of salt. Add to that the creamy deliciousness of coconut and you have yourself a winner!

To make the bhirde, you have to start a couple of days ahead to allow time for spouting. I had talked about the vaal-sprouting process in this post, but will repeat some of it here:
(a) Take dried vaal. These beans are often sold in Indian and international stores under the name "Surti Val" (I spell it "vaal" because I think that is a more accurate transliteration of the word).
(b) Soak vaal in plenty of warm water overnight (8-12 hours): they will swell up.
(c) Drain and place in a colander, covered with a damp cheesecloth. In 36-48 hours, the vaal will sprout.
(d) Peel the sprouts by placing them in warm water; the peel should pop right off. Discard any beans that are discolored.

Peeling the sprouts is a necessary step and can be a little labor-intensive. I personally don't mind doing this task when I am relaxing on the couch watching TV or chatting with friends. Putting the curry together is a snap once the sprouts are peeled and the result is worth all the time spent!

Vaalache Bhirde

1. Take 1 and and half cups of vaal beans and soak, sprout and peel them as above. Set aside.
2. Soak 1 heaping tsp tamarind in 1/4 cup hot water to extract the juice (if you use tamarind paste, it does not need to be soaked).
2. Make a coconut paste as follows: In 1 tbsp oil, fry 1 large onion cut in large chunks until slightly browned. Add 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, and 1 cup fresh or frozen grated coconut and 1-3 (more or less, depending of hotness desired) fresh or frozen green or red chilies. Stir around until coconut is fragrant, then blend to a fine paste using a little water as required.
3. In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, pinch of asafoetida, 5-6 curry leaves. Add 1 small onion, minced finely and fry it for a few seconds. Add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder and salt to taste.
4. Add the peeled sprouts and stir well. Add 1/2 cup water, cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are just tender.
5. Add the coconut paste, tamarind extract and 1 heaping tsp of jaggery. Add some water if the curry looks too thick. Simmer the curry for 10 minutes. Taste for the balance of flavors and add a little more tamarind/jaggery/salt if required.
6. Garnish with minced cilantro. Serve with steamed rice or rotis.

This curry really brings back the taste of home! To make a delicious pilaf with the same vaal beans, try making this dalimbay bhaat.

Friday, February 10, 2006


This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.

V is for Vaangi Bhaat.

Inching our way towards the end of the alphabet, we arrive at "V"! It is a letter of several complex and spicy Marathi dishes. Most of the "V" foods need a bit of time and effort to make, but are so worth it in the end. The most sought-after V is Vada or deep-fried fritter...a general term that in fact encompasses a wide variety of tasty morsels. The darling of all Maharashtra is the potato fritter or batata vada, spicy mashed potatoes formed into little balls, dipped in a thick chickpea batter and deep fried to a golden brown. A great way to convert these into a quick meal is to sandwich them in a bread roll to make vada pav, a food sold on street corners everywhere in Maharashtra. See my recipe for these goodies here. I can't resist adding the picture of vada pav again in this post...By the way, the combination of batata vada and sheera is a classic, often served at tea-time get-togethers.
Vada Pav
Another slightly unusual vada is made by combining different flours into a dough, making a flattened doughnut-shaped disc with the dough and deep-frying it. This vada is traditionally eaten in a combination with chicken curry, called vada-kombda ("komdba" is rooster). The chicken curry is quite dispensable; the vada tastes just as wonderful with any spicy lentil curry.

In the produce section, "V" stands for vaangi or eggplants; in India ones we find small eggplants that would fit in one's palm, unlike the huge Italian ones that are more common in the US. They are well-beloved in Marathi foods and most popular preparations are bharli vaangi or stuffed eggplants, which we made already in the "B" of Marathi food, and vaangi bhaat or eggplant pilaf, which we shall make today. Vaangi bhaat is popular all over Southern India, a culinary vestige of the Maratha invasion of Southern India in centuries past. In talking about eggplants, I should not forget to mention vaangi bharit, a dish of roasted eggplant popular in many sub-cuisines of India, and better known by its North Indian name, baingan bharta.

Another important "V" veggie is vatana or green peas. In India, this is a winter vegetable and for just a few months during the year, plump little pods show up in the markets. I remember as a kid, my mom would often recruit me to help shell peas while in season, and store them away in baggies in the freezer for use throughout the year. Two favorite "vatana" preparations are vatana patties made in the same way as these patties were, replacing beans with peas; and vatana amti a wonderful peas curry with a coconut base.

Speaking of peas, we cannot forget the "V" beans, vaal, also known as dalimbay. We already made a rice dish with these in the "D" of Marathi food, but they also can be made into vaalachi usal as a semi-dry preparation.

We finish up the "V" foods with the sweetness of velchi/veldoda or cardamom, which is my absolute favorite spice. Cardamom is found in almost Indian dessert (often paired with saffron) and in Northern India, cardamom is used in savory foods to dramatic effect. Cardamom pods tucked away in one's pocket or purse make for a convenient and effective (not to mention sugar-free) breath freshener.

On to our "V" dish, vaangi bhaat. Now deciding on one "authentic" recipe for this dish was well-nigh impossible! This rice dish can be made with stuffed baby eggplants or just with cubed eggplant; the spice mixture can be one of many different combinations. So here is my disclaimer: after sifting through many recipes, and thinking back to all the vaangi bhaat I have eaten in my life, I present to you my very own version. No claims that this recipe is THE ONE. It tasted great though!

Vaangi Bhaat

(serves 3-4; prep and cooking time: approximately 1 hour)
1 cup long-grained rice such as Basmati
8 small eggplants
For tempering
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
1 bayleaf
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
For masala paste
1/2 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fresh/frozen grated coconut
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
3-4 cloves
1 small piece of cinnamom stick
2 cardamom pods
salt to taste
2-3 dried red chillies
1 tbsp oil
4 tbsp minced cilantro
1. Wash the eggplants, trim away the stems, slit part-way into quarters.
2. To make the masala paste, heat the oil, saute all the masala ingredients and grind into a fine paste.
3. Stuff the masala paste into the eggplants and set aside.
4. Heat 1 tbsp oil, add the cumin and mustard seeds, then saute the bayleaf and onions. Add the salt and turmeric and then the rice. Add 2 1/4 cups of water and let it come to a boil.
5. Simmer the rice for 2 minutes, then add the eggplants, placing them in the pot gently. Simmer the mixture till the rice is tender. By then, the eggplants should also be tender to the fork.
6. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

1. It has been brought to my attention that sometimes, the eggplants do not cook by the time the rice is tender. I usually make this rice in the pressure cooker and have no problem with the eggplants getting cooked. If you are making it on the stove-top, you might want to partially cook the stuffed eggplants either in a pan or in the microwave before proceeding to cook them with the rice.
2. To make this dish with eggplant cubes, simply saute the masala paste and the cubes with the rice and proceed.
3. To make "masale bhaat", substitute mixed veggies (cauliflower, green pepper, green peas, carrot, potato, eggplant) for the eggplants.
4. Make sure the heat is low and that you watch it often so as not to overcook the eggplants (they fall apart).
5. Serve with a generous dollop of ghee, some papads and yogurt for a complete meal.

See you soon for the "W" of Marathi food! Have a great weekend!