Tuesday, 30 October 2012

My very own Salata Aswad be Zabadi

Vangyachey Bharit- Eggplant Bharta with Peanuts and Yoghurt

For a long time the only baingan bharta I knew was the Maharashtrian variety with yoghurt. 

Even when exploring Punjabi cuisine in the 70s and 80s, we wouldn’t order a bharta when eating out, which we thought was just like a bharit. It would be akin to ordering chapatis in an Udupi restaurant for us. Moreover, a rustic bharta didn’t stand a chance against exotic and suave (for us in those days) dishes with paneer and malai to feast on.

So - little did I know the difference between the Marathi bharit and the North Indian bharta, and learnt it the hard way, when I turned up at a ‘bring a plate’ potluck party organised by work colleagues with my yoghurt version. I had been asked to bring this dish by people who were - for some reason -  drooling at the idea of eating bharta. 

However, one look at the pale mash and they were all taken aback - one of them even grimaced. They were expecting a Punjabi version of the bharta with lots of tomatoes, capsicum and spices...

No wonder then that the dish fell flat on its face. This version was unheard of, unsightly, and went unappreciated. 

I was the only one who ate the poor bharit that night, although I was angry with it. 

Yes, with the bharit!

Well, I suppose I had no other choice- being the only vegetarian, this was the only dish I could eat. That says something about being minority.

I was also the only one taking my own dish back home, hardly touched. 

For once, I was very, very embarrassed!

The following weekend (much to everyone’s surprise for I generally don't) I mooted the plan to eat out, not Chinese, but Punjabi...

And there are no prizes for guessing what we ordered!

Over time, as awareness of various cuisines of the world spread, I got to know so many more varieties of eggplant salads and dips. 

Nemat, a Sudanese colleague introduced me to a very familiar salad, but from her land. Funnily again at a potluck party, this time at the Technical College in Musannah in Oman where I taught English, I tasted a salad that Nemat had brought.  

The salad had a grand name - Salata Aswad be Zabadi!

Guess what it was made of ? Roasted eggplant, yoghurt, onion, peanuts and spices AND tomatoes AND capsicum!

This salad went out of the way to make me feel vindicated for those few hours of embarrassment.

Back to the bharit - the Marathi Vangyachey Bharit is usually eaten with bajra or jowar rotis (bhakris). Many make it with sautéed onions, but this version with raw onions is more rustic, tastier and richer in texture as the raw onions introduce a crunchy bite and some heat.


2 large bharta (Italian) eggplants, flame roasted, peeled, cut across lengthwise and mashed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
½ teaspoon crushed fresh garlic 

1/2 teaspoon crushed green chillies (or more)
1 cup yoghurt (not too sour)
2-3 tablespoons coarsely powdered roasted and peeled peanuts
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt to taste
Sugar or sweetener to taste (optional)

For the tempering
1 tablespoon oil
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
A few curry leaves (optional)
1 or 2 whole dry red chillies (or more)

For the garnish
2 tablespoons chopped coriander 
½ teaspoon red chilly powder (or more)

Mix all the ingredients in a suitable bowl. Adjust the taste. Heat oil in a small pan. Add the mustard seeds and red chillies to crackle. Add the curry leaves (optional). Take the pan off the heat and pour it over the bharit. Garnish with chilly powder and Chopped coriander. Serve at room temperature or chilled with bhakris, rotis, phulkas or rice.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Double promotion

Gavhachi Kheer (broken wheat or wheat pearl porridge)

Satyamma the multi-purpose maid walks up to the teacher at her desk. Having finished all her work, the little observant girl has been looking around her and absorbing the goings on. She wills the two grown-ups to look at her – are they talking about her? Well, they are and they do!  Viju Bai, the teacher calls out to little Shruti. Her tiny heart thudding, Shruti walks to the front of the class.

“Well done, beta! You have got doubble promotion! You will now study in First standard! Go and collect your things, you need to go to your new class!” She says fondly.

“Chalo!” says Satyamma, slurping up the paan juices and leading me by gently pushing and poking me in the middle of the back.

The first grade classroom is but a few feet away, in another open huddle of little colorful wooden chairs and desks arranged like many others in the large hall of the Bhagini Mandal’s Shishu Vihar. I am taken there and pointed to a pink chair in the first row. A kindly Shobhana Bai smiles in welcome.

That’s it.

No fuss, no written rationale for considering double promotion on the basis of maturity level/age, high achievement or attendance, no parent interview, no counselors involved, no gifted students assessment, no grievance handling procedures…

But then I forget - this was when school was "Shishu Vihar" and teachers were fondly called Viju Bai and Shobhana Bai!

That afternoon, mother comes to know of this double promotion from an excited me romping in with the news. She smiles, pats me on the back, “Shabbassh!” and the matter rests there.

No concern whatsoever; no worries ever.

The only fuss ever made was at the time of every board exam, when I had to submit a certificate from the doctor that I was physically and mentally fit to appear for the board exam.

OK, I will admit I got teased invariably as “physically I was fit, but mentally… ?”

Years later I became a teacher and later a parent myself and re-entered the system.

All I can say is that things were much easier in those days. 

As easy as it is to make a kheer out of dalia or broken wheat, in place of the tediously de-husked wheat pearls. 

The other day, on a visit to Atul Sikand's famous Sikandalous Kitchen, I was given a choice at breakfast...

Avatar Singh : Pohe, upma?
Atul Sikand : Nah- she’s from the land of upma and pohe.
Avatar Singh: Sprouts?
Me: No, I can’t chew!
Avatar Singh: Dalia porridge?
Me: Oh yes! Have you got khus khus and jaggery? And some saunf and coconut? I will make gavhachi kheer!
Avatar Singh: Yes, memsaab…
(Goes out to fetch these things)
Atul Sikand:  Or home grown organic eggs
Me: Yes! I would love to eat the wholesome non-smelling eggs, please!
Avatar Singh comes back with some khus khus and gur, but is told we have abandoned the porridge and settled on the eggs.

Avatar gets busy preparing the eggs.

In that instant I realise I had given a double promotion to a Dalia porridge by euphemistically calling it “Gavhachi Kheer”! No fuss! How simple is that!

Gavhachi Kheer (wheat pearl kheer) or Dalia porridge

This dish is a delicacy in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where it is called “godama payasam” and “huggi”.

The process of de-husking the wheat to make pearls is very cumbersome. Wheat has to be soaked, drained and semi- dried. This process loosens the husk, which contains cellulose that can’t be digested. The wheat is then pounded and the husk loosened even more. Then it is dried thoroughly and the husk rubbed and chaff winnowed. The de-husked pearls are then stored and cooked soft to make the kheer.

I substitute, errr, give double promotion to broken wheat or dalia to go into this exotic dish. The addition of dates is also my take- a very delicious alternative to cane sugar!


1 cup broken wheat
A pinch of salt
1 cup deseeded and chopped dates
¾ cup fresh grated coconut
1 tbsp lightly roasted and powdered poppy seeds
½ cup or more grated gur or sweetener
2 tbsp ghee
½ tsp crushed cardamom
¾ tsp lightly roasted and crushed saunf (fennel seeds)
¼ tsp grated nutmeg 
2-3 tbsps slivered almonds, sliced cashews – fried in ghee
2 cups hot milk
1 cup hot/cold milk to serve
Ghee as required to top the kheer


Roast the dalia in the ghee till it is golden brown and lets out the aroma. Add two-three cups boiling water, pinch of salt, and cook the dalia till almost done. You can pressure cook it as well and then mix it in the pressure cooker itself. Keep stirring the mixture and add the powdered poppy seeds, coconut, dates, gur or sweetener, saunf, cardamom, nutmeg and adjust the taste. Keep stirring occasionally and switch off the heat when you have a perfectly cooked homogeneous porridge or kheer.

Add two cups of hot milk to finish it.

To serve, add milk to loosen the mixture and serve warm topped with the fried nuts and dollops of hot ghee!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Phantom’s mesa: flipping through yellowed pages and evergreen memories

Black-eyed beans and rice in Harissa sauce

I am helping mum clean up - long forgotten insides of the cupboards and caverns of old tin trunks in the attic.

Or is it the recesses of our minds and hearts?

A report card from school, a hand written term paper from my post - grad days. Remnants of old photos, books- leather bound and gold embossed classics that Baba had bought so indulgently for me. I now realise how he must have scraped and scrounged his tight salaried budget to buy me those jewels.

Cheaper, but equally dear Enid Blyton and abridged Dickens, Bronte sisters, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anna Sewell pop up to say hello. The bound selections of Reader’s Digest features that were our project one summer when Mother had got us to tear out sections of “It pays to enrich your word power” “Book Choice” and “ Drama in real life”, collate them and get them bound in marble grey marble print covers and maroon cloth stems remind me of the reluctance with which Dada and I did this task. But once we took these sorted collection of pages to the bookbinders near the Hanuman Vyamashala , we were fascinated by the craft and the process. We sat in the book binding shop watching the workers skillfully stitch the pages together and glue it all together with home made “lay” or glue made by cooking flour in water! Most of the workers seemed semi- illiterate or educationally underprivileged for book binding was considered a vocational trade taught to those who did not have the aptitude for “higher skills and education”.

Little did those binders from socially or economically disadvantaged strata realise their contribution to education, reading, inculcating a love for reading and to a rich literary culture!

It’s sad to see those bound volumes gone to seed- such a fall from glory…

And equally saddening is the plight of the colouring books and comics Mother has carefully preserved, in remembrance of our childhood…

I brush aside the cobwebs and impatiently swipe at the silver fish scampering across the pages. Flipping the dog-eared and yellowing stacks of the comics, I spy our favourite Phantom comics. I finally realise (and a quick Google search helped!) that the comic strip creator’s name is certainly Lee Falk- for the life of me I couldn’t figure out as a child if it was Talk or Falk- due to the stylized lettering!

The ghost –who-walks, Kit Walker, Diana Palmer, Uncle Dave, Devil the Dog and Hero the white stallion, the wise pygmy Guran … I laugh suddenly when I see Mrs. Palmer- Phantom’s MIL saying “Tsk, tsk…” that’s how we learnt to spell this onomatopoeic expression!

The clock is ticking away, Mother is asking me when I am going to finish and come for lunch… yes, yes, coming soon… I know now why my kids dawdle over books when they have to finish their chores…

Oh look! This one is with the mesa- the tableland surrounded by the tall cacti in the arid desert. How did the Mexican desert end up in Africa?!

But a more serious question used to torment me. In my little mind I used to be at a loss – how does Phantom end up atop the mesa?!

The mesa reminds me of a dish waiting to see the light of the day in my I-photo library… a mesa of rice with black-eyed beans in harissa sauce!

Black-eyed beans and rice in harissa sauce

For the harissa sauce

1-2 (or more) dry red chillies, seeds removed and soaked for 30 minutes
1 small red capsicum, roasted and skins and seeds removed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground caraway
¼ teaspoon black pepper


Blitz all the ingredients together into a paste.

For the rice

2 cups basmati or short grained rice, soaked for 30 minutes
½ to 1 cup soaked black-eyed beans - sprouted is better (I don’t normally use tinned beans/ legumes)
1 small onion chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt to taste
A pinch of sugar
2-3 tablespoon olive oil 
4-5 tablespoons crisp fried onions
Chopped coriander/ parsley to garnish

In a thick bottomed sauce pan heat the olive oil and fry the chopped onion. Add the soaked black-eyed beans and sauté for a few minutes. Add the prepared harissa sauce and cook a little more. Add the soaked rice and mix well. Pour 2 cups of boiling water into the mixture, salt and sugar and lemon juice and cook the rice as you would a pulao.  You could cook it in a slow cooker as well.

Allow the rice to rest for a while and then serve in moulded tabletops garnished with chopped coriander or parsley and fried onions.

P.S – use any legumes- red lentils, mung beans or chickpeas. Add some pasta to the rice and serve it koshari style!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Heart cooled in homecoming...

Jowar Roti (Jwarichi Bhakri)

Just returned from a trip to Osmanabad in the Marathwada region with mother. The 6-hour road trip each way was a delight, but only after we made our torturous way in and out of insidiously ever expanding outskirts of greater Hyderabad.

High-rise futuristic buildings, multi-lane, dual carriage expressways and fly-overs of the High-Tech city of Cyberabad give way to a single road winding its way through black or red soil bordering fields - a rich patchwork tapestry in verdant, russet and golden colours. My grandmother used to liken it to irkal fabrics; the rich sienna or rusty red soil bordering the geometrically patterned green and yellow body of woven silk!

The weather couldn’t have been more clement. It was cloudy just like I like it. Not overcast and ominous, but gentle – as if playfully and affectionately shielding the sun-baked fields from the glare of the sun. The alternating wet stretches of the grey graded road, the fragrance of the wet soil, and a rainbow rim on the horizon are the signs of the sun conceding to the clouds. Red roadside rainwater puddles and streams remind me of what we kids used to call “chaha chi nadi” or rivulets or ponds of boiled chai latte!

The lush, tall feathery sheaves of the kharif crop of jowar swing gently in the moist breeze, gossiping lazily with the tuvar dal in the neighbouring rows. Were they gossiping about the foreigners in their midst-the snooty sunflower and soya bean plants that show off their upmarket cash crop status?

Our eyes are soothed by the emerald swathes. Our hearts are cooled in homecoming.

It’s lunchtime and Mother and I hark back to the foods that we ate in such environs. Of course, it has to be jowar roti brought to the fields by the farmer’s wife in a basket wrapped in a soft muslin cloth. Accompaniments are not fancy, but most exotic - raw onions smashed with the fist (mukka onion) or tender spring onion, green chillies plucked from the plants growing within the ranks of the crops and a clump or rock of salt! In winter, when the farmers light a bonfire of the dried hay from harvested crops, they just chuck in some brinjals, sweet potatoes and potatoes to roast in the skin, peel and enjoy them with bhakri.

And that reminds me of the hurda parties we used to have in the fields in early January, when sheaves of tender jowar are thrown into a bonfire of cow dung cakes, roasted and then de-husked while rubbing the sheaves vigorously between the palms. The roasted milky grain is relished with hot garlicky peanut, sesame or copra chutney!

Reminiscing about our rustic roots, I tell mother how I recreate this romance in Melbourne.

Here goes…

Jowar Roti (Jwarichi Bhakri)

Jowar or sorgum is a staple grain for millions of Indians and Jowar rotis go by various names such as bhakri (Marathi/Gujarati), Jollad Rotti (Kannada) Jonna Rotti (Telugu)…

It’s unique quality is that it can be as light as or as filling as you want it to be. And it tastes equally good cold as it does when it falls straight from the tava into your plate!

Jowar is gluten free, so it’s a good option for those with celiac disease or gluten allergy. But that makes it tricky to make bhakri because it can’t be rolled with a belan and needs to be patted with hands. Moreover, the bhakri is very hard to make if the flour is very old and then needs hot water to mix the dough.

But I have come up with a good solution to get around this problem! Don't be scared by the seemingly complicated method- the roti is made just like a phulka. Read on….


• 2 cups jowar flour
• 1 cup wheat flour (atta)
• ½ spoon salt
• Warm water to knead
• Cool water in a bowl to coat the bhakri


Mix the flours and keep some aside for dusting. Add salt and add warm water to the rest of the flour mixture and knead it for a few minutes into a semi-soft smooth dough.

Divide the mixture into large lemon sized balls. Roll out one roti at a time with a rolling pin, dusting the roti and the board generously with the flour. Take care to roll it thin on the sides and slightly thick in the centre. Lift the roti, dust the excess flour and flip it face down on to a medium hot tava. Brush the top of this roti with the cool water using a pastry brush (I use my hands) taking care not to make it too wet, but ensuring that the entire face of the roti is moistened.

As the lower side gets cooked, the roti will leave the sides of the tava and it’s time to gently prise it free and lift it with a spatula and flip it over. After this side is cooked for a minute or so (or until light brown spots can be seen when you lift the roti), remove the tava from the heat and place the roti on the flame moving it to make sure the roti puffs up (like phulkas). Once this side is done, quickly flip it again to roast the bhakri on the other side. The puffed up bhakri is like a pita bread or phulka – a good bhakri will have pocket formed within the two layers, the bottom layer slightly thicker than the top one.

Serve with white butter or ghee with greens, bharwan baingan, usal or pithla (jhunka).