In the not so distant past, most families had farms which gave them a lot of produce for household consumption. Family elders tell us that they hardly ever used to buy cereal grains, pulses, jaggery, spices and condiments. Side crops like onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, chillies, etc. took care of the spice factor. Some cash crops like mustard, flax seed, sesame and peanuts stocked the pantry as well as yielded the much needed cash. The tall coconut trees in the yard and the pumpkin vines sprawled waywardly on the ground supplied long life annual stocks. What was not grown on the family farm would be available for barter with neighbours. The only items to be bought would be things like salt, oil, matchsticks, etc. In these largely self sufficient and self reliant families, the farm produce used to be tended by the mistress of the house - supported by a host of ladies in the family, sisters- in- law, unmarried daughters, daughters-in-law, widowed women sent back home by their insensitive in-laws, cooks and maids.
Never was there a dull moment; never was there a lull in the movement!
Flour for the day used to ground early in the morning using the mill stone. Women used to sing devotional songs called ‘ovi’ (plural ovya) and the Godly hours of dawn would resonate with the mellifluous songs set to the rhythmic sounds of the mill stones grating one on top of the other! Afternoons would be spent by these industrious ladies in making pickles and papads, sun drying chillies or grains, winnowing and sieving cereals and storing them with neem leaves to keep them free of pests. Nothing was wasted- the crumbs from rice were called ‘churi’ and churi was washed and dried to make flour for modaks, the churi or crumbs from lentils and chick peas was used to make ‘bharada’ or grainy besan to be made into pakoras, badis, and added to stir fry subjis.
I remember the mill stone at home, which was used to grind sugar for besan laddus, rice flour for modaks and chickpea flour- granular as well as fine, before the mixer-grinder made a spectacular appearance and took the hard work out of all these chores! No wonder that when I spotted a bag of laddu besan in the local Indian grocery, my heart leapt at the possibilities! Imagine getting all this stuff readymade! Even down to the grade of fineness to which stuff was ground!
We have come a long way from the punishing and backbreaking mill stone to the time and effort saving technological marvel of the Sumeet Mixer and Grinder to the utter convenience of walking into the shops and buying different grades of food stuff! The plethora of brands, specifications, packaging, sizes, the multitude of process levels of heat and eat readymade to ready to make to raw! We are so spoilt for choice today!
Yet, we eat out all the time- for pleasure, for convenience, for the heck of it!
What's the mill stone round our neck?
The grainy chana dal bharada didn’t make me think about the laddus, but had me designing and plotting possibilities of adding that extra dimension to many of the dishes that use besan. I have used this grainy flour in the Brussels sprouts recently. This afternoon, after a few days of eating really heavy stuff and especially after last night’s dining out, I wanted to make a simple meal.
And I also had to clean the fridge. A bag full of cauliflower leaves from three cauli heads ago was sitting sullenly in the corner of the crisper. I felt a surge of excitement, remembering the wonderful warm meals of hot rice, ghee and bharada bhaji- a vegetable dish made of a number of vegetables like methi, palak, spring onions, cucumbers, gudmakais, capsicum... a dollop of homemade ghee and oh the joy of mixing the hot rice with the dry bhaji by hand and walloping the meal!
The cauliflower leaves got the company of some equally lonely spring onions and some left out cauliflower stems from under the florets marinating in a tandoori sauce for tonight’s dinner, and our lunch was made memorable by the ensuing bharada bhaji!
Cauliflower leaves/Green onion Bharada bhaji
To make the chana bharada ( chana dal rava) at home, simply blitz ¾ cup of chana dal in a spice grinder for a few seconds, sift it in a ‘not so fine sieve’. Blitz the larger bits again and sieve again – repeat till you get uniformly grainy semolina like dal crumbs. This sounds complicated, but takes only a few minutes!
4 cups washed and chopped greens and tender cauliflower stems- use any proportion of cauliflower and spring onions
1 cup of ladu besan flour/chana bharada
2 tbsp oil
3/4 tsp mustard seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder (or more)
A pinch of sugar/sweetener to taste (optional)
Salt to taste
In a heavy bottomed flat pan or kadhai, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds followed by the cumin seeds. When the seeds start spluttering add the chopped greens and stems. Add the turmeric, chilli powder and sauté for a few minutes. Add the bharada bit by bit and mix it well into the sautéed greens. Add salt and sweetener to taste. Reduce the heat and place a shallow container or deep dish half filled with water on top of the pan. This allows the bharada to cook without burning and without the need to add too much oil or any water. Let it cook until the water in the container starts to show some signs of heating. Remove the container carefully, taking care not to burn yourself! Check the bharada bhaji- if it is letting out white steam, looks translucent and tastes cooked, it’s done!
Serve with hot soft rice and ghee, or with rasam and rice. Goes well with rotis, phulkas and jowar rotis too!