Community Kitchens: Bhunna Gosht Masala

[This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Pune Mirror as part of their Community Kitchens series.]

Pune Mirror Link: https://epaper.timesgroup.com/Olive/ODN/MumbaiMirror/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=PMIR%2F2018%2F07%2F20&entity=Ar02406&sk=9EB3E2B2&mode=text

Date: Friday, July 20th, 2018

Jaspreet and Chandrika Narula of Chiya's Gourmet
Jaspreet and Chandrika Narula of Chiya’s Gourmet

 

Jaspreet Nirula had a degree in hotel management and had worked with multiple F&B chains before switching to a role in sales and retail. However, his heart was always in food. Chandrika, on the other hand, was already baking professionally and had a strong clientele through her Facebook page. When they moved to Pune a few years ago, they were disappointed with what restaurants passed off as Punjabi fare and decided to start a home-run catering business that specialized in North Indian cuisines. Today, they’re best known for their range of non-vegetarian pickles, their authentic flavours and the charm and joy with which they run their business.

From catering for IT companies to creating birthday boxes for children’s parties, Jaspreet and Chandrika have it all figured out – the division between running errands, doing the dishes, cooking and deliveries is all handled seamlessly between them, without any additional help. With Jaspreet’s knowledge of quantities and time management from his work in the F&B industry, and Chandrika’s expertise in traditional North Indian recipes, together they started running their catering business from their home well before the term “home chefs” and aggregator platforms like Authenticook and MealTango became cool.

“Our portions are Punjabi size,” says Chandrika, who fondly goes by Chiya, “If you love food and you love feeding people, you’ll never scrimp on quantities or quality. It’s something I learnt from my mother. And her, from my nani.”

The couple believes in cooking fresh and manages the orders they take accordingly. There are times when they need a couple of days notice if they’re expected to cater for large parties and at other times, they’ve found themselves politely turning down order requests because they fear they may not be able to meet the demand and deadlines. “We’ve has strangers call up to tell us how much they enjoyed their food. Knowing that you can touch someone so deeply with authentic recipes and home-cooked goodness is what makes this worthwhile,” she says. From time to time, however, they do get customers who are needlessly nitpicky because their idea of a biryani, for instance, is different from the biryani the Nirula’s make. “There are 36 kinds of biryani in Hyderabad alone! So it’s difficult to master something which can mean something different to different sets of people. That’s why over time we’ve learnt our lesson and decided to restrict our menu to what we know our customers enjoy eating and what THEY think we’re good at.”

Chandrika’s grandfather moved from modern-day Pakistan to Haryana after the partition in 1947. Haryana, back in the 1940s and 50s was dense with forests, where Chandrika’s grandfather would occasionally hunt for a hobby. He’d return with rabbit or boar which her grandmother would then cook. While game like rabbit could be consumed over a family meal, her grandmother began using larger animals like boar, or junglee maas, in several ways – some part of it was portioned into curry for home and the rest of it was made into a pickle which was then distributed around the village or gifted to guests who were visiting.

While junglee maas may be hard to come by nowadays, one of Chandrika’s favourite recipes is a slow-cooked curry that uses lamb instead. “Bhunna meat, as they call it in Punjab, refers to cooking the meat on a low flame and stirring continuously, for hours together,” she explains. Since the recipe uses a fair quantity of sarson ka tel (mustard oil) and very little water, it allows the cooked meat to stay without spoiling for several days. “In fact, it’s half-way between a pickle and a curry. When I was younger, we used to take 3-day long train journeys from Orissa to Karnal, with our dabbas packed with bhunna meat!”

Punjabis use a lot of sarson ka tel (mustard oil) in their recipes not only because mustard is a staple crop in Punjab but also because the benefits of using smoked sarson ka tel in cooking are likened to those of ghee. The trick to cooking Punjabi style food with mustard oil is to heat the oil to smoking point first. Once it cools down, it can be stored for later use. Burning the oil adds more flavour to the curries and the pickles it is used in. This is distinctly different from how Banglas use mustard oil and mustard paste in cooking, which results in the two cuisines being so different from one another, even though at the core, both heavily rely on the use of mustard oil.

“My mother was handed down a diary filled with handwritten recipes, all in Urdu and Punjabi, from her grandmother. She got my nani to translate the Urdu recipes and I’ve gotten her to translate the Punjabi ones.” With cooking being such an integral part of the family’s heritage, it was only obvious that the cooking bug bit Chandrika early on and she found herself cooking her way into people’s hearts.

 

Chandrika suggests asking your local butcher for ‘gol’ meat – a cut of lamb that is fattier and has less bones,  for this recipe because “Very often the grain of meat (the direction in which it is cut) alters the texture of the finished dish greatly, so ensuring that you use the right cut is essential.”

Bhunna Gosht Masala –

This dish is a traditional Punjabi Mutton dish, the recipe for which has been passed on from generations and is about using simple ingredients and Pure Mustard Oil – it’s all about the art of bhunnoing (combination of Stir and Stew) here.
Preparation Time: 20 min
Cooking Time: 90 minutes
Serves: 4


Recipe:



Mutton 700gm

Mustard oil ½ cup

Sliced Onions 3 medium
For Paste
Onions 2 small
Ginger 2 tbsp

Garlic 1 pod
Green Chilies 2 no.

Whole Red Chilies 6-7 no.

Cumin Seeds 2 tsp

Coriander Seeds 3 tsp
Turmeric 1 tsp
Green Cardamom 3-4 no.

Curd 3 tbsp
Salt to taste
Garam Masala powder 2 tsp
Ghee 1 tbsp
Green Coriander chopped 2-3 tbsp

Method:

  1. Roast the coriander and cumin seeds.
  2. Grind all the ingredients for the paste and keep aside.
  3. Heat the mustard oil and bring it to a smoking point. Let it cool for a few minutes.
  4. Heat the oil again and add sliced onions and fry until golden brown.
  5. Now add mutton pieces and bhunno for 9-10 minutes.
  6. Add the spice paste and salt and stir to mix well. Bhunno this on medium heat for at least 20 minutes stirring continuously (add very little water at regular intervals as and when required).
  7. Let the liquid evaporate and bhunno till the oil separates from the masala.
  8. Now add ½ cup of water, lower the heat, cover and cook until meat is tender. Keep stirring on regular intervals (add water if necessary so that the masala doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan).
  9. Once the meat is tender and it is coated with masala, adjust the seasoning, add garam masala powder, chopped green coriander and mix well. Serve hot.

Note:

  • Use cuts from the hind leg of goat for this recipe.
  • Since this recipe involves bhunnoing as the main process of cooking, you should use a heavy bottomed pan. It will help in the meat and masala cook well.
  • Use Kashmiri Whole Red chillies as they have lesser spice quotient. However, if you want it to be spicier then you can use the chillies accordingly.

 

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Community Kitchens: Metkut and Pud Chutney

[This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Pune Mirror as part of their Community Kitchens series.]

[The pictures in this post have been clicked by Preeti and were used in the article published for Pune Mirror.]

Pune Mirror Link: https://epaper.timesgroup.com/Olive/ODN/MumbaiMirror/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=PMIR%2F2018%2F07%2F13&entity=Ar02301&sk=82EEF93D&mode=text

Date: Friday, July 13th, 2018

Kamalabai Ogale’s Ruchira is a book most Maharashtrian newlyweds were gifted through the seventies, eighties and the nineties. Women with no prior experience in the kitchen have cooked Marathi Brahmin recipes from the book through the decades, and the book has been printed and reprinted several times over. Word has it that the very first publication (back in 1970) was originally priced at Rs 15 and was brought down to Rs 12 for fear of not being “middle class” enough.

Preeti Deo had owned Ruchira for several years but spending the first few years after her wedding in Pune and Kolhapur meant she always had friends and family close by and enough domestic help at hand to worry too much about cooking. Understanding and developing a palate for Marathi food came significantly later in her life, when she and her family moved to UK. She started cooking herself because she craved good Indian food and Indian restaurants in London seemed for focussed on North Indian fare. And that’s when Ruchira came to her rescue. She found herself cooking her way through the book with a new purpose and blogging about it a la Julie and Julia. In fact, Ruchira taught Preeti to focus more on cooking techniques, on where to source the right kind of pulse or grain used in a recipe and why certain spices work well with others.

“It started out with me cooking because I missed home and then morphed into something much larger,” she says.

Her constant need to improve what she was feeding her family and her interest in the sourcing the freshest ingredients led to her start a small garden in her backyard. She now harvests small quantities of beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs and greens from time to time – enough to use in a salad or a chutney. “There is a very different kind of satisfaction from growing your own vegetables, from knowing that what you’re eating has been grown right and has been cooked well.”

“But the more I cooked, the more I had questions…”

Why does this masala go well with this vegetable?

Why can’t I use this ingredient in here?

How can I make this dish better?

Where does what I put into my food really come from?

Why does my food in India taste different from my taste in the UK?

How can I make my UK kitchen like my mum’s Indian kitchen?

The path to seeking the answers to these numerous questions clouded Preeti’s mind and she embarked on her second food project – Paat Paani, a book that focuses on sitting together as a family and enjoying home-cooked traditional meals. It explores Marathwada cuisine and is a treasure trove of uncomplicated yet delightful recipes commonly made in the region and is due to release in August 2018.

The Marathawada region has extremes of climate – untimely hailstorms that destroy acres of crop and scorching summers that make the area drought-prone. “Food, in a drought, has to be many things to many people,” says Kavitha Iyer in this evocative piece about droughts and food in the region. And from my conversation with Preeti, it is evident that farmers have found ways to sustain over the decades. Their families have learnt to cook with sun-dried vegetables (usrya) and rely heavily on lentils in their various forms – in dals, as nuggets called sandge or then dry roasted for chutneys. 

While fresh coconut is used along coastal Maharashtra, Marathawada recipes make use of peanuts or roasted mixed lentils to thicken their curries. Whether it’s Yessar Pithi or Pud Chutney or the humble Metkut, these spice powders and mixes add a whole new dimension to recipes that use them, even though all you need to add is just a teaspoon full.

“My mother still makes metkut and pud chutney when I visit around July or August every year, for me to bring back to the UK. That stash usually runs out by October.” That’s when Preeti gets ready to make some fresh stock that can last her until the end of the year. “But my mother’s metkut has a charm of its own,” she says. “I also have a “jaate” (grinding mill) which my husband and I are trying to get working on an electrical supply so that we can start making these powders in larger quantities!”

pud chutney
pud chutney

When making pud chutney, you must always roast spices and dals before you roast the tamarind. Tamarind often stains the vessel it is being roasted in, so by roasting it last, you can ensure that the other dals and spices still retain their original fresh colours. “It’s easy to tell when it’s time to take your spices or dal off the flame because they become fragrant and change colour ever so slightly. However, it’s a little more tricky with tamarind, you need to touch it every few seconds to make sure it has dried out. It should start blackening just a little,” explains Preeti. I liken it to caramelizing sugar – the second you turn your eyes away from the pot, you run the risk of burning it beyond redemption – and she seems to agree.

Metkut, too, needs patience and a watchful eye to get the perfect texture.” A good metkut is a very fine powder. A pro-tip is to sieve the metkut with the finest sieve you have, to separate the coarse bits. It is believed that traditionally, women would use a cloth to sieve the metkut to do so. The process was called “vastragaal karane” in Marathi and resulted in a powder that was richer in flavour and far more in volume.

“You know how they say less is more? These chutneys are just that. They’re so simple and nutritious and make anything you eat them with just so much better!” she adds. “And their recipes are timeless. We got them from our mothers and them from theirs.” Though most local stores sell packaged all of these spice powders nowadays, the joy of making them at home in unparalleled. There is a distinct difference between store-bought chutneys and the ones you make at home, the latter taste fresher and stronger. The beauty of these recipes lies in the fact that were passed down as notes scribbled away in little books when daughters were married off into families they barely knew anything about and have seen their way down generations over fluctuating STD call rates, emails across continents and (more recent) whatsapp messages. As Kamalabai says in her book, “samaadhaanaachaa janma swayampaak gharaatun hoto” – true satisfaction is born in the kitchen.

“I grew up in Kolkata and was quite a fussy eater as a child. I think I got by with my fair share of tup-saakhar-poli, varan bhaat and metkut bhaat,” Preeti tells us, as she reminisces about her culinary journey. When she’d visit her grandparents in Aurangabad, “there was a mandatory chaar cha chaha (mid-afternoon tea) with kaalavlele pohe to snack on,” she says.

“What are your top three recipes that use metkut and pud chutney,” I asked her, “apart from the ever obvious metkut tup bhaat?” Kalavlele pohe would have to be my favourite,” she replies, “You can pick whether you want to eat it with metkut or with pud chutney.” They almost feel like little tastemakers to a perfect 2-minute snack, I think.

metkut
metkut

Even today, metkut-tup-poli or even metkut-tup-bhaat makes for a great last-minute dinner for me when I am in a hurry, or when we are on the road and finding food may be slightly tricky. I often also make raitas with some metkut in them, along with chopped onions and tomatoes. Buttermilk spiked with metkut is absolutely delicious.” Several Kolhapuri families also make an extremely spicy chiwda that they call bhadang, with a good measure of metkut added. Preeti recommends mixing some pud chutney with kachcha tel (oil) and dunking appe or bhakris in this instant chutney, much like you’d eat idlis with molgapudi and coconut oil/ghee. Another interesting use for pud chutney, she says, is to add some while making patodyacha rassa – one of those several Indian recipes that involves dough being rolled into pasta-like shapes and being cooked in a gravy. YouTube is filled with videos of how several varieties of pasta can be rolled, and closer home, we have numerous dishes that are made by fashioning dough (wheat flour or otherwise) into various shapes and letting it cook in a stew. I’m not the biggest fan of the comparison, but I’m always amused when people do bring it up – comparing dal dhokli and chakolya to pappardelle or dubuk wade and shak dhokli to gnocchi.

Preeti and I spoke at length about how cultures all over the world use similar techniques to produce dishes that look and taste completely different – roux which is the base of three of the five mother sauces of French cooking is made by mixing equal parts of flour and fat to form a cohesive mixture – thin it with milk to make a bechamel or then combine it with a light stock for a veloute or a dark veal stock for an espagnole. Likewise, Maharashtrian cuisine has pithla, which is made by cooking gram flour with oil and spices and then thinning it with buttermilk.

Talking to Preeti was inspiring in several ways. While the depth of her culinary knowledge amazed me, I was even more inspired by her work outside of the kitchen. Preeti works closely with children and young adults with special needs in UK and believes that her day job, though challenging at times, is rewarding in the fact that she is able to make a positive impact on people’s lives. She and her family host an annual dinner every December that friends and extended family look forward to. They get together over home-cooked traditional food and raise money for a local charity. Seldom does a conversation with a complete stranger inspire you. Talking to Preeti left me with a sense of fulfilment – much like the kind she gets from her kitchen garden and by doing the several good deeds she does, without any returns. Someday, I hope I can follow suit because if a conversation can leave me this pleased and content, I can only begin to imagine the joy the real thing brings.

Recipes

Metkut

Ingredients:

2 cups chana daal

1 cup split urad daal

½ cup white rice (any local strain should do)

¼ cup wheat kernels

¼ cup mustard seeds (rai)

1 ½ tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp black pepper

2-3 dried red chillies

 

1 tsp asafoetida (hing)

2 tsp turmeric powder

Method:

  1. Dry roast all the ingredients (except hing and turmeric) individually.
  2. When they have cooled down to room temperature, grind them together to a fine powder.
  3. Sieve if need be.
  4. Add in the hing and turmeric and mix well.
  5. Store in an airtight container for upto a few months.

 

Pud Chutney

Ingredients:

1 cup urad daal
1 cup chana daal
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 a dry coconut (or 1/4 cup desiccated coconut)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup dried red chillies
1 tbsp jaggery, grated
1/4 cup curry leaves
Tamarind (lemon-sized ball)
Salt to taste
For tempering:
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
Asafoetida, a generous pinch
Red chilli powder, to taste

Method:

  1. Dry roast the urad daal, chana daal, sesame seeds, coriander seeds and cumin seeds individually.
  2. Place coconut half on an open flame and roast till it changes colour. Chop into small pieces and grind. If you are using desiccated coconut, dry roast it.
  3. Heat a pan with 1 tbsp oil. Add curry leaves and fry till crisp. Drain on a kitchen towel.
  4. Into the same oil, add dry red chillies and fry. Drain on a kitchen towel.
  5. Dry roast tamarind in a pan and crush finely. Sieve the powder.
  6. Mix all the ingredients after grinding coarsely, including the curry leaves.
  7. Prepare the tempering with mustard seeds and asafoetida. Add red chilli powder to this chutney in the tempering, if required. Let it cool.
  8. Add the tempering to the chutney mix. Mix well and adjust salt, jaggery and tamarind powder to taste.
  9. Store this dry Pud Chutney in an air-tight jar. It lasts for about a month.
Tip:

You could use amsul instead of tamarind. However, amsul makes the chutney somewhat blacker, so it is best to add as little as possible.

Community Kitchens: Shengole

[This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Pune Mirror as part of their Community Kitchens series.]

Pune Mirror Link: https://punemirror.indiatimes.com/entertainment/unwind/community-kitchens-shengole-sundays/articleshow/64499274.cms

Date: Friday, June 8th, 2018

From someone who relied on her mum’s cooking until she got married to having amassed several lakhs of followers across three wildly successful recipe channels on YouTube, Madhura Bachal surely has come a long way. Cooking a great meal and inspiring hundreds of budding homemakers and young professionals may come easily to Madhura, but she reminisces the few years she spent in USA when shopping at an Indian store for the week’s groceries almost seemed like a chore. She’d often take back spice mixes and masalas from her visits to India “But now that we’re back to Pune, I don’t think I buy masalas from stores at all. We have enough family all across Maharashtra, so we’re always exchanging masalas. My mother gives me my goda masala and I get my Kolhapuri masala from my mother-in-law.” Using homemade spice mixes made her curious about the origins of Maharashtrian recipes and has driven her to write a book which she hopes to publish towards the end of the monsoons.

“I grew up eating a lot of food my aji cooked and now, I feed my daughter a lot of my aji’s recipes – whether it’s something as simple as kande pohe or the time consuming, but super delicious shengole. Not only is it a one pot meal, but it is also a very versatile dish, which is why it’s my absolute favourite!” says Madhura.

Shengole are often likened to hand-rolled pasta, that are then stewed in a spicy gravy. Shengole, sometimes spelt shengulya, are a speciality of the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra and are eaten during the cold and dry winters of Eastern Maharashtra when good vegetables are hard to come by. They’re made with a variety of flours – bajra, jowar, horsegram flour (kulith or hulga), ragi (nachni) added in varying proportions to a base of wheat flour and besan. Just like Gujaratis have dal dhokli, shengulya are made by shaping dough into rings and then dropping them in a boiling ‘tarri.’ Some other variations of shengulya also involve steaming the rings or tubes of dough before cooking them in gravy.

“Some recipes are so close to your heart that you don’t want to alter them, so I use my aji’s recipe. My daughter is a foodie and has come to appreciate traditional recipes, so I end up making shengole at least once a month, for her, if nothing else.” The thickness to which the shengule are rolled out is purely a personal choice, she says, because some communities cook the shengole quite thick, while others roll them out much thinner and twist them into a ring. Madhura says that while the recipe, in essence, is fairly simple, rolling the shengole into the right shape can be a little cumbersome and needs practice. She suggests rolling the dough into long sticks, much like churros, or flattening it out into a chapati and cut small diamonds, like one would for dal dhokli.

Shengolya-Bhaji
Shengolya-Bhaji

Recipe

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Jawar flour

1/2 cup Wheat flour

1 tbsp Besan

1/4 tsp Ajwain / Carom seeds

1/4 tsp Turmeric powder

1 tbsp Garlic green chili paste (7~8 garlic cloves and 1-2 green chillies)

Salt to taste

Finely chopped Coriander leaves

1 tbsp Oil

Mustard seeds

Cumin seeds

Asafoetida (hing)

1 tsp Garlic paste

1 tbsp Goda masala

1 tbsp Red chili powder

1 big glass Water

Method:

  1. In a vessel, mix jawar flour, wheat flour and besan. Add ajwain, turmeric powder, garlic chili paste and salt. Mix everything well together. Add lots of coriander. Then, add a little water at a time and knead a thick dough.

  2. Transfer the dough into a bowl, cover and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

  3. Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds and let them pop. Add cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle. Add in the asafoetida and reduce the heat to low.

  4. Add garlic paste, goda masala and red chili powder. Stir this and fry for about a minute. Add water and salt and bring the gravy to a boil

  5. To make the shengoli, pinch out a small ball of dough, about the size of a coin. Roll it into a cylindrical shape. Bend it over and pinch the ends close. This gives the shengoli its characteristic tube like shape.

  6. Drop shengoli/shengolya in boiling hot gravy one at a time.

  7. Stir the gravy with the shengolya gently, cover and cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes.

  8. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve the shengolya as is or with a dash of lemon juice and a dollop of ghee.

Note: Make sure the dough for the shengole is stiff so that when you make the rings and drop them into the gravy, they don’t disintegrate.

Community Kitchens: Moriche Mutton

[This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Pune Mirror as part of their Community Kitchens series.]

Pune Mirror Link: https://punemirror.indiatimes.com/entertainment/unwind/give-me-mori-food-blogger/articleshow/64782977.cms

Date: Friday, June 29th, 2018

Every community along the coastal stretch from Karnataka through Goa and into Maharashtra has its distinct style of cooking and Malvani cuisine relies on uses coconut in its various forms – coconut milk in sol kadhi, fresh grated coconut sprinkled over aamtis and bhajis, and coconut ground to a paste used in making the spice mix (watan) around which most of their recipes revolve. “Watan is the lifeline of Malvani cooking,” says Shalini Poyarekar, who grew up in Devgarh before she and her family moved to Mumbai. She remembers how she and her siblings were ever ready to help their mother with chores around the house, rolling chapatis for dinner on some days, buying groceries on some and grinding the watan for curries on others. “The key is to grind it to just the right consistency – for bhajis, a coarse watan is good, while for aamti or a curry, it should be smoother,” she adds.

“I married into a Malvani family as well, so we end up cooking Malvani food several times a week.” 64 year old Poyarekar used to conduct cooking classes and take baking orders when she was in Bombay and eventually moved to a full time role in the recruitment industry over the years. She retired and moved to Pune a few years ago on the insistence of her son and still continues to take baking orders every once in a while, but says it’s more of a hobby now. She also started a food blog on her daughter-in-law’s insistence. Shalini’s daughter-in-law is of the opinion that food that is passed off as Malvani when you eat out is nowhere close to the real deal and that sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between cuisines as distinct as Kolhapuri and Malvani when you eat out.

“We’d go down to the Konkan coast when my children were younger, right after Ganesh Chaturthi, around Narali Poornima, that’s when the fishermen head out to the seas again,” she reminisces. “Besides, our ancestral home is just along the creek that leads up to the sea, so there’s always fresh fish available. My favourite, and also my daughter and daughter-in-law’s favourite is a recipe that uses shark fish. It is called moriche mutton and it’s one of those recipes you will have a hard time finding online or at restaurants!” The curry is called so because the fish that is used in this recipe is cooked in a way that it ends up looking and tasting like mutton. Mori, in Marathi, is the umbrella word for several varieties of shark. Typically, milk shark (called so because of the apparent notion that it aids lactation) and Indian dog shark are the varieties that are more easily available in the market. Shark that are smaller in size should be picked for this recipe. “I make it every time I see good mori at the fish market – I ask the fishmonger to cut round slices from the middle to fry, and I use the smaller pieces from the sides and the ends to make moriche mutton,” says Shalini.

As with several communities across Maharashtra, Malvani recipes too have three components – the masala, a watan (the base of the gravy) and the gravy itself. The consistency to which ingredients for both the watan and the masala often vary across regions and communities, but most home cooks insist that nailing the right consistency is the key to the perfect curry. “I usually make 3 or 4 kilos of Malvani masala which lasts me through the year, but I’ve scaled this recipe down for ease of cooking,” says Poyarekar, who cooks Malvani fare at home several times through the week – whether it’s something as simple as aamti or then a chicken or fish preparation. Shalini’s Malvani masala consists of as many as 21 dry spices and a mix of Sankeshwari chillies and Ghaati mirchi to give the right balance of colour and heat. “At my in-law’s place, chillies were ground separately and the onion and coconut mix was always ground separately. In fact, my mother in law always liked the red chillies to be ground to a paste that was as smooth as butter. My fingers would sting form the heat, but the essence of a good Malvani curry lies in finely grinding pastes, and there’s really no shortcut to that!”

While going back to using grinding stones or mortars and pestles might seem counterintuitive, making spice mixes from scratch always results in more flavourful curries. The blades of modern-day mixer-grinders merely chop spices up really fine, whereas using a mortar and pestle or better still a grinding stone, ensures that spices are crushed uniformly, releasing their essential oils and imparting a richer and fuller flavour to curries. Shalini also suggests making the watan ahead and freezing it for upto 10 days, “it saves a considerable amount of cooking time, you thaw as much as you need and add it to your curry.”

 

(image source: https://www.cambaytiger.com/index.php/sea-water/shark-fish)

Recipe

Ingredients:

600 gms Mori (Shark meat) – with bones.

½ tsp ginger garlic paste

1 tsp malvani masala

Juice of ½ lemon

Vatan:

1/4 cup freshly grated coconut

2 tbsp dry coconut

1 big onion – sliced

7 to 8 flakes of garlic

1 1/2 inch ginger

1 green chilli

1/2 cup coriander leaves

1/4 cup mint leaves

4 black peppercorn

2-3 cloves

1” cinnamon

1 black cardamom

1 tsp saunf (fennel seeds)

1 tsp khus khus (poppy seeds)

Malvani Masala:

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

⅛ tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds

10 peppercorns

5-6 cloves

1 black cardamom

2” cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp saunf (fennel seeds)

1 1/2 tsp khus khus (poppy seeds)

2 nagkeshar

2 maratha mogga

4 kebab chini

3 strands of mace

¼ tsp mustard seeds

½ star anise

1 bay leaf

8 bedgi mirchi (or more, to taste)

2 ghati (pandi) mirchi

1 dagad phool

Pinch of nutmeg

Curry:

1/2 onion – finely chopped

1½ tsp malvani masala

1/2 tsp haldi

Pinch of hing

1 bay leaf

4-5 kokum

Salt to taste

Oil for cooking

Method:

  1. Make small (approx. 1 inch) pieces of shark meat along with the bones.
  2. Wash thoroughly till the water runs clear. Squeeze the meat tightly to remove excess water.
  3. Apply juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp malvani masala, ½  tsp ginger garlic paste and a pinch of salt. Keep aside for 1/2 hour.
  4. To make the Malvani masala, roast all the ingredients separately with few drops of oil. When they have cooled, grind them to a fine powder and store in an airtight bottle.
  5. To make the watan, heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan. Add dry whole masalas, except khus khus and fry for a minute. Add in the garlic, ginger and sliced onion. Fry till the onions turn brown, add then add the coriander leaves and mint leaves. Finally, add the khus khus, fry for 1 minute and set aside.
  6. Now, in the same pan add fresh coconut. Add 1/2 tsp oil and fry till the coconut turns light brown.
  7. Mix the coconut into the onion mixture. Add dry coconut to the same pan and roast slightly for a minute. Mix with the onion and fresh coconut. Grind to a coarse paste with little water.
  8. Finally, to make the moriche mutton, heat two tbsp oil in a pan. Add a bayleaf and then finely chopped onion. Fry till light brown. Add hing, haldi, the Malvani masala and the shark meat and saute for a minute.
  9. Cover and cook on slow heat for 2 minutes. Add the watan and salt to taste, cook on low heat for 15 minutes.
  10. Dont add water. Add kokum and cook for another 10 minutes or till the gravy becomes a little dry and oil is separated.
  11. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve with onion and lemon

Community Kitchens: Taam ka Dhokla (with Pancham Dal) and Haldi ki Sabzi

[This is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Pune Mirror as part of their Community Kitchens series.]

Pune Mirror Link: https://punemirror.indiatimes.com/entertainment/unwind/currying-favour-with-turmeric/articleshow/64686339.cms

Date: Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Ginger and garlic pastes and powdered cumin, coriander seeds and turmeric are ubiquitous to Indian cooking. There are very few curries and sabzis that don’t use “adrak-lasoon paste” or “haldi-mirchi-dhaniya-jeera-powder,” so much so that they’re very often all said in the same breath. There are, however, recipes from around the world that hero these ingredients because of their medicinal properties – adrak wali chai uses ginger for its anti-inflammatory properties and Sri Lankan Sudu Lunu Curry is made with cloves of garlic by the handful – garlic being beneficial to regulate blood pressure. Likewise, Rajasthani Marwaris make a curry with fresh turmeric root.

Turmeric helps fight infections, aids digestion, is used to cure arthritis and other chronic illnesses and has antiseptic properties, among other benefits. In Ayurveda, turmeric is a warming herb and fresh turmeric root is harvested towards the end of the year. That explains why Rajasthani Marwaris started cooking with it during the cold winters, in the absence of fresh greens.

“Our cuisine is very interesting because it makes use of seasonal ingredients and lots of lentils and grains because fresh vegetables are so hard to come by,” says Varsha Gugale, who runs cooking classes in the city. While the recipes Varsha teaches range from salads to desserts, it is traditional recipes that she loves cooking best. “As a child, I’d never imagined I’d be so interested in cooking when I grew up.” In fact, she says she never bothered learning how to roll the perfect chapati because she assumed it would be something she’d end up having to learn one way or another eventually. Turns out, her bhabhi helped her get them right after she got married. In fact, her bhabhi makes 50-60 fulkas for a langar at a meditation camp that she volunteers with every Thursday!

“The turning point for me was when an American who I’d taught a dal baati recipe pro bono when we were in New Jersey visited us in Pune. My family was so proud of me and it almost felt like my cooking and teaching journey has come a full circle.”

Varsha grew up with her grandmother in Pune, while her parents lived in Shirur and she has very fond memories of spending summers with her parents eating typical Marwadi food cooked on a coal-fired shigdi. “The smokey flavour it imparts to the baati is just something else!”

Varsha grew up with her grandmother in Pune and remembers her grandmother using the slightest excuse to cook her favourite haldi ki sabzi –

“Don’t you want your hair to grow nice and long? Eat haldi ki sabzi!”

“If you eat haldi ki sabzi, you’ll get fairer!”

While the recipe for the haldi ki sabzi is fairly basic, a handful of things vital to cooking it right include ensuring you slow cook the turmeric to release all of its moisture and using thick set curd and absolutely no water while doing so. The recipe calls for equal parts of ghee and turmeric while cooking, but the advantage of doing so is two-fold – one, if you plan on eating the sabzi right away, you can separate the ghee and store it to spread over parathas later, for an extra kick. Two, the sabzi can be relished as a pickle if you intend on refrigerating it for a few days because the ghee and yoghurt used in the recipe act as preservatives.

“I would advise against using a pressure cooker for the haldi ki sabzi,” Varsha suggests. “While pressure cooking speeds up the process in a lot of cases, in this case, the haldo ends up cooking in steam and some moisture remains trapped in the haldi. This could make it go bad quicker, if you wish to store this as a pickle.” She unfailingly makes it every winter because her family loves eating it as much as she does. “Sometimes, store-bought dahi that has high water content can cause the gravy to split, so one must take care of using good ingredients while cooking this sabzi. My parents live in Shirur and every time I visit, I bring back thick set curd which is so vital to making this dish,” she says. “I also make sure I take enough ingredients to make pizzas and pastas for my brother, so the barter system is quite a lot of fun!”

If you don’t have thick set curd (chakka dahi) at hand, Varsha suggests you cook the turmeric down in ghee and add only a tablespoon or two of curd at the very end to bring the curry together.

The recipe has been handed down over generations – “I got it from my Nani, who in turn probably got it from her mother or her mother-in-law. So there’s really no reason to change the recipe. However, I’ve read and seen some variations where people add peas or paneer into the gravy at the very end.”

Since the curry keeps well in the refrigerator, a teaspoon or two can also be added to some wheat flour and kneaded into a dough for turmeric theplas.

“Using fresh haldi and fiber-rich husk is a great way to improve digestion, especially since our food contains a lot of ingredients like besan that cause gas and constipation,” she laughs. Taam ka dhokala is a the perfect way to use ;wheat bran or bhussa, as the Marwadis call it. “Back in the day, people would soak the wheat for a few hours and when the bhussa rose to the top, they’d pass it through mills that they had at home, to grind to a paste. Now, of course, we just use our regular mixer grinders. But if you go to Ahmadnagar and ask for gehu ka bhussa or taam, you’ll definitely get what you need to make taam ka dhokala.”

Taam ka dhokala is eaten with Pancham dal, a dal made with five lentils, along with a generous serving of ghee. Marwadi cooking makes use of lots of besan, lots of curd and lots of ghee – it’s almost as if the Marwadi community shuns cooking in oil and regards the usage of ghee in cooking as a measure of one’s wealth. As Nadine Levy Redzepi says in her book Downtime, “Another thing that working so close to a restaurant kitchen has taught me is that fat can really bring out the flavour in a vegetable or piece of protein.” If chefs all over the world don’t scrimp on butter when basting, why must we shy from using good old desi ghee in our dals?

 

fresh turmeric for haldi ki sabzi
fresh turmeric for haldi ki sabzi

HALDI KI SABZI

Ingredients:

3 cup grated raw/fresh haldi (250gm)

1½ cup thick curd, beaten

1½ cup ghee

2 bay leaves

2 cloves

1 stick cinnamon

½ tsp fenugreek seeds

¼ tsp mustard seeds

¼ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp asafoetida

1 tbsp red chili powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

Salt to taste

Method:

  1. Wash and dry fresh turmeric root. Scrape the roots clean to remove the outer skin. Grate the roots and set them aside. Oil your hands or wear gloves when working with fresh turmeric because it leaves yellow stains.
  2. In a heavy bottomed pan heat ghee and add in the whole spices (cumin, mustard, bay leaves, clove, fenugreek and cinnamon. When the cumin and mustard seeds begin to crackle, add the curd and cook on low flame for about 10 min till the ghee separates from the mixture.
  3. Now add the remaining spices, salt and grated raw turmeric and stir well. Keep stirring every few minutes, until turmeric softens and the ghee floats to the top. This will take about 30-40 minutes.
  4. Serve on fulka or with rice.

 

taam ka dhokla (with pancham dal)
taam ka dhokla (with pancham dal)

TAAM KA DHOKLA WITH PANCHAM DAL

Ingredients:

2 cup taam (bhussa or husk/bran from wheat)

½ cup wheat flour

¼ cup chana dal

1 tbsp oil

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp coriander seed powder

¼ tsp asafoetida

½ tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/8 tsp papad khar (papad khar is a seasoning that is used in the making of papads and traditionally used in khichyu)

Salt to taste (may not be required, since papad khar is salty)

Water

 

Method:

  1. Wash and soak chana dal for 30 minutes.
  2. Mix all the ingredients to make medium soft dough. Divide the dough into 13-15 equal portions. Shape each portion into flat discs, and punch ahole in the centre using your finger to make a dhokala/tikki, quite similar to a medu wada.
  3. Get a steamer ready or use a vessel in which you can bring some water to a boil. Brush a steamer plate with ghee and transfer the dhokalas onto the plate. Cover the vessel and let the dhokals cook on steam for 15-20 minutes. (You can also use an idli steamer and do a regular idli shape instead of a ringed shape).
  4. Serve hot with ghee and puncham dal.

 

Puncham Dal

 

Ingredients:

½ cup split moong dal

¼ cup toor dal

1 tbsp chana dal

1 tbsp mogar

1 tbsp masoor dal

½ tsp fenugreek seeds

1 chopped tomato

1 tsp grated ginger

1 green chilly

 

Spices:

1½ tsp red chili powder

1 tsp coriander powder

¼ tsp turmeric powder

¼ tsp kasoori methi

Salt

1 tsp jaggery (gud)

 

For tadaka:

2 tbsp ghee

5-7 curry leaves

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

¼ tsp asafoetida

2 bay leaves

4-5 dry red chilies

 

Other ingredients:

Lemon

Coriander

 

Method:

  1. Wash all dals, mix in the chopped tomato, ginger, green chili, fenugreek seeds and water and pressure cook for 3 whistles (or until cooked).  One the pressure releases, add all the spices, salt and jaggery in cooked dal. Add more water if the dal is too thick. If the dal is too thin, let it cook for a little longer, until it is the right consistency.
  2. For the tadka, heat ghee in a pan and add in all the ingredients for the tadka when it is hot. When the spices begin to crackle, pour the tadka over the dal, squeeze in some lemon, sprinkle chopped coriander, stir and serve hot.