Saturday, 8 December 2012

The cart and the horse

Taakatli Palakachi Bhaaji (Spinach in a buttermilk sauce)

Some dishes are destined to be made only to save something from going bad or to finish their surplus supply. The banana cake/bread is a classic example of how the imminent demise of a bunch of bananas can actually give birth to a splendid cake. The excesses committed by large quantities of home churned buttermilk contribute numerous dishes to the second category.

Buttermilk from Mother’s kitchen had the good fortune to be served as a fresh drink only on day one of its life cycle. Going by the name ‘taza -taak’ it would be served with rice in the last course, or seasoned up with herbs and spices into a ‘mattha’.

But the taak would pass its prime on day two. Family felines would occasionally sip on some, but how much can a cat consume? And you can never really bank on cats. Moreover, it had to be the right degree of temperature and sourness and creaminess for the cat to condescend to partake this poor substitute for milk.

Between being served as a drink and the last resort of being laid to rest at the base of the curry leaf tree to aid its growth, was this prolific stage when buttermilk, or the no longer taza ‘taak’ would be used in cooking.

Mother would come up with ways to use up the buttermilk in cooking, making  delicious stuff like kadhis, suralichya vadya ( khandavi), pithla, dhapatis (theplas), dhirdas (pancakes), dhoklas, aambil (sweet and sour savoury porridge), upma and a range of taakatli bhaajis (greens cooked in a buttermilk sauce) to name just a few.

“Why waste good buttermilk? She would rhetorically ask.

Now that’s like putting the cart before the horse, or spending more to save a little? And all this to save a free resource like ‘taak’?

Your wise economy and cynicism stops short when you pay dollars to buy a carton of buttermilk. And - when you tuck into a heartwarming meal of takaatli palakachi bhaaji and hot rice.

Taakatli Paalkachi Bhaji (Spinach in a buttermilk sauce)

2 cups slightly sour buttermilk (or you can use diluted yoghurt)
2 cups washed and chopped loose leaf spinach (I used baby spinach)
3 tbsp peanuts, boiled soft with a some salt and a little water (pressure cooking works the best)
1-2 finely chopped green chillies
Salt to taste
A pinch of sugar

Make a paste of:
1 tbsp besan
1 tsp atta
½ cup water

For the Tempering

2 tbsp oil
1 tsp urad dal
½ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
A pinch of turmeric
A pinch of hing
A generous pinch of powdered methi seeds
1 tbsp chopped garlic (or more)
1 or 2 dry red chillis (you can use dried masala chillies too)
A few curry leaf leaves

Mix the butter milk or diluted yoghurt, chopped spinach, boiled peanuts, chopped chillies in a pot or pan and heat. As it starts simmering, add the besan and atta paste and stir continuously. This amount of cooking is enough for the spinach. The mixture will start to thicken. Add the salt and sugar and adjust the taste and also the consistency. Add water if necessary and according to taste. Let it come to a rolling boil and then remove from heat.

In a small pan heat the oil and add the urad dal. Just as it starts to become pink, add the mustard seeds and then the cumin seeds. When the seeds start to splutter add the chopped garlic and curry leaves, then the hing, methi powder, pinch of turmeric. Take care not to burn the tadka.

Switch off the heat and pour the tadka on the takatli bhaji. It will sizzle, but settle down. Cover the takatli bhaji for a while to allow the flavours to infuse.

Serve hot with soft rice and a drop of ghee and some pickle.


  1. Tandula
    of the Kokan fields,
    sometimes young
    sticky with mirth,
    old, mature, and dry.

    And as much as
    she goes out with
    a variety
    of Rassaas, Pithlas, and
    even mirthless dry types
    like Sir Methkoot,
    she often pines
    for Takatli Bhaji....

    just debuttered a day ago,
    winking in sourness,
    the chopped spinach leaves
    jump in
    jostling with the chilles
    and boiled peanuts,
    as everything comes to a slow boil.

    Some besan types
    insist on being there
    in case the buttermilk misbehaves,
    and Sir Salt and Lady Sugar follow.

    a slow boil
    and they bubble together
    in harmony,
    as they sit
    covered and quiet
    away from the fire.

    Then the arrival
    of a long handled
    cast iron Pali,
    hot oil,
    and eyelash flutterings of
    mustard, cumin, fenugreek,
    garlic, udad dal,
    and haldi,
    all poured and mixed
    into the
    buttermil-spinach union.

    shining in anticipation,
    about the haldi ceremony,
    cant believe
    she is finally
    going to meet her hearts desire,
    as Papad Rao,
    standing discretely
    to the side,
    tries to calm her down.....

  2. Sometimes it is a season
    for coalitions.

    soured due to infighting
    lacto MPs,
    their positions
    much diluted due to
    a watering down,
    and a regional
    Green party,
    on its last legs
    after several
    presumed stirring victories
    in fried constituencies,
    as the leaders
    simply sautéd for position.

    Besanic Wheaty feelers,
    looking at the responses,
    and sometimes
    recommending arhar folks
    in place of curds.

    An eventual coming together
    of some
    excited Trinamool Jeera,
    slightly subdued CPM(Rai),
    a pinch of Lalu-vian Hing,
    Pow(e)ar mirchis of NCP,
    Amma Haldi ,
    Masaledaar TDP,
    a bit salty but agreeable JD,
    all of them wondering
    if the tadka
    will be
    refined raga oil
    ghani ka namo oil.

    It really doesn't matter.

    Like the Rice Speaker said,
    There is nothing
    like a good boiling session
    with crushed peanut security folks
    to make them all work together....


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