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.