Thursday, 28 February 2013

Sweet puris, sweeter memories

Sugar Cane Juice Puris (ऊसाच्या रसातल्या पुऱ्या /गन्ने के रस की पूरियां )

I get teased for not being able to resist popping into a desi or Indian/Sri Lankan/ Fijian grocery when I see one. Even when we don’t expressly need any stuff.  

That is one time when the girls roll their eyes, and the husband tailgates me in a trick to make me acutely conscious of “wasting” time.

In my defence, this is my opportunity to serendipitously chance upon some unusual ingredient, condiment, vegetable or gadget from across the seven seas and several past lives ago.

This is how I have fortuitously acquired my jhadoo (broom made with reeds), those amber gems of gond(edible gum) and that tearjerker Kissan mango jam.

My excitement heightens even as we approach the store.  Posters of Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi films or Indian goss magazines, godmen and godwomen of various descriptions offering hugging sessions, familiar faces, fresh mithai in take-away containers, a lone withering samosa in a bain-marie (they are grabbed as soon as they are supplied) or impromptu paani puri stalls...

I am teleported.

The potpourri of fragrances of hing mingling with naga champa agarbatti, and curry leaf under notes of glucose biscuits…the bright mithai pink and fluorescent yellow packaging, innovative and improved presentation of the blue coloured coconut oil in a wide-mouthed jar…  although I might not buy most of these things, I like to spend a little while handling, inhaling and eyeballing the memory triggers.

Standing in the checkout line, with the husband literally shadowing me and escorting me with an invisible straightjacket, I spot a hastily scribbled notice on the overcrowded noticeboard, trying to peep from under other advertisements for “shared accommodation for single ladies”, “cheap finance” and “threading and waxing and henna”.

I am riveted. “Fresh Sugar Cane Juice available” - my leaping heart reads.

Even the husband has to relent and let me step out of the queue to rush to the interior of the store and grab some bottles of sugar cane juice, undeterred by the unmarked bottles of unknown origin - and the cash register ringing them out at $5 a 200 ml bottle.

This manna is put to good use, drinking it straight out of the bottle to the very last drop, making a clear saar, and after conferring with Mother on an international call, preparing these lovely puris.

Mother used to make this dough with sugar cane juice and roll out sweet chapatis called “dashmis”. They would be very handy as a lunch on the go on picnics and travels, and very tasty and satisfying with some ghee and pickle.

I was feeling rich, so I made these puris instead of dashmis, but you can go ahead and griddle fry them, if you don’t wish to deep fry.

Sugarcane Juice Puris


Sugarcane juice as required (approx. 180 -200 ml- will depend on the flour)
1 cup whole-wheat flour (atta)
1 cup plain flour (maida) – my atta was a little coarse, so I added some maida.
1 tbsp white poppy seeds
A generous pinch of salt      
¼ tsp nutmeg powder
¼ tsp ginger powder/paste
1 tbsp shortening (oil/ghee)
Oil for deep-frying


Mix together wheat flour and plain flour, salt, poppy seeds, nutmeg powder and ginger powder or paste in a mixing bowl. Add a tbsp. of oil/ghee and rub it into the mixture.  Slowly pour enough sugarcane juice into the flour mixture and knead into a stiff dough.

Using some oil to grease your hands, knead the dough for about two minutes and set aside to rest for about 20 minutes.

Heat sufficient oil in a kadai or wok. Divide dough into equal portions and roll into balls. Roll out each ball into a puri. I must confess that I took a shortcut by rolling out large balls into large thin rounds and cutting the puris out with a cookie cutter!

I also had some fun cutting the dough into rings and small buttons and sprinkling poppy seeds on the top as well!

Gently slide the puris or shapes one by one into hot oil.  Swish hot oil on to the top of the puri in the kadhai or let a slotted or wire spoon rest on it till it rises in rebellion! Flip the puri over and fry the other side. Drain on absorbent paper. 

Serve at teatime with a hot cuppa. These puris taste the best when fresh and hot.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Creative Comeuppance

Vaangi Pohe (Beaten Rice with Eggplant)

You may have gathered from my last few posts that we are under a baingan invasion, almost in a Hitchcockian fashion. 

That brings to mind the phobia of a cousin, a brave sailor in the naval services, for what I thought was the most innocuous of all enemies - eggplants.

Now, that’s nothing out of the ordinary, a lot of people are mortally scared of the aubergines monsters. But the impetus of this cousin’s trepidation was quite unusual.

On board a vessel on a secret strategic mission, they had for some inexplicable reason loaded tonnes of vankayas in Vishakhapatnam in preparation for a sailing around the cape without really stopping at any ports till their operation was completed. Even refueling was done at sea to maintain secrecy.

(Vankayas BTW are eggplant in Telugu- I didn’t want to obliterate my alliteration!)

So it was a baingan bonanza aboard - starting with eggplant sambar, pickle and chutney with idli for breakfast, more eggplant for lunch and some more eggplant for dinner.

And apparently they were the worst type of eggplants – green, thick skinned, seedy, itchy/scratchy, bitter, with plenty of holes bored by frooti-cooties… 

The sailors were green around their gills with eggplant and thanking their stars they weren’t served eggplant halwa for dessert.

Desperate for home food on a day’s shore leave, the lad flew down to Hyderabad, but was in for - eggplant ahoy!

Mr. Sea Legs couldn’t stop quaking in his shoes when served bharli vangi (spicy stuffed eggplant).

Hey, how was I to know! I thought he would enjoy some home cooked Marathi food…

I have narrated this story to the husband several times over the three decades, especially during this latest eggplant episode. He’s still counting…

And so am I – counting - the number of eggplant dishes I have had to creatively come up with to dispose of them.

And what a tasty comeuppance it was!

Vaangi Pohe (Beaten rice with eggplant)

The vaangi pohe is a typically Marathi dish – the eggplant lends a very silky interlude and a lovely dark purple contrast to the grainy, savoury yellow pohe. It also helps keep the pohe moist without having to add too much oil- there is nothing like the Heimlich maneuver to ruin a leisurely Sunday breakfast…


2 cups medium thick pohe (Beaten Rice)
1 large onion, chopped
1 medium potato, boiled and cubed
1 ½ cup cubed eggplant (stored in salted water after cutting)
4 tablespoons green peas
2 finely chopped green chillies (or more)
5-6 curry leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
A pinch of hing
4-5 tbsps oil (I try to use as little as possible)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons grated coconut (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped coriander


Sieve the pohe in a colander to get rid of pohe dust and chaff and pick the paddy bits, if any. Wash the pohe in cold water and drain in the same colander and keep aside for about 8-10 minutes.

Heat the oil in heavy bottomed kadhai. Add mustard seeds and let them crackle. Add hing, chillies, curry leaves and cubed eggplant and sauté for a few minutes. Then add chopped onions and sauté till translucent and then add the cubed boiled potatoes and green peas and cook for a few minutes.

At this stage add the turmeric – if you don’t cook the turmeric too much, it will give a nice light yellow tinge to the pohe. Now quickly add the soaked pohe, salt and sugar to taste and mix well. Cover with a lid and cook for a further 5 minutes till you see white steam escaping the lid.

You will have to test the grain of poha to see if it is cooked. If the pohe are dry, sprinkle some water, cover and cook further for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice and mix.

Serve hot garnished with chopped coriander leaves and grated coconut.

Some people like it with toppings like sev or crushed or whole papads. It is also served with yoghurt or a hot and spicy gravy called ‘tarri’ in Nagpur and surrounding areas.

I use a combination of tomatoes and lemon juice sometimes- tastes great. Also, adding vegies like cauliflower, carrots, capsicum, etc. Or just some peanuts and a lot of chopped onion also make great kanda pohe!

This is my fourth entry for my friend Preeti Deo's Ruchira Videshini giveaway event !

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Banarasi, baingans

Banarasi Kalonji Baingan (Eggplant Benares Style)

Coming home from his morning constitutional the other day, the husband bought a cartload of these tiny eggplants (the third time in two weeks) along with a few kilos of Italian eggplant. One look at his face and I knew he had been up to some mischief.

It seems, he said quite timidly, he had bought the big ones before he sighted these glorious small ones in a Vietnamese stall in the Victoria Market. Who knows we might not get these again this season, he thought as he handpicked those succulent little, baingans, each so much better than the one already bagged, that he ended up packing a few kilos!

His timorous explanation is a little farce, for he knows very well how much I love baingans, too! So much so that I made huge amounts of bharli vaangi twice and took some over to my brother’s place, used some in sambar, the girls used some in a pasta, and I still had this last batch of brinjals to bring to justice... er, I mean to do justice to.

Then I remembered having seen this video of a nice eggplant dish called “Kalonji Baingan” by Seema Vaid on Mohit Balachandran’s Food Maestro on YouTube. Kalonji (nigella seeds) and baingan (eggplant) are two of my most favourite ingredients and the dish and the combination captured my imagination. 

Apparently, 'kalonji' in benarsi cuisine refers to the spice blend made of the panch phoron seeds- fennel, feugreek, mustard, nigella and carom seeds and  not just to kalonji which is what nigella seeds are generally called elsewhere in North India.

Simple, easy to make, yet flavourfully spicy – like the city of its origin - Banaras! Anything with a prefix Banarasi has to be exotic, flamboyant, sassy, interesting and special – and so was this dish!

More so, as there were so many unusual elements in this bhaji for us- the mustard oil, the panch foran, the lack of a tinge of sweet, which is so characteristic of Marathi and Gujarati cuisine.

This was also an opportunity to make something out of the square, and shake off the shackles of the seed-and-nut-triumvirate (peanut, sesame and coconut) that rule the Marathi eggplant scene.

But imagine not taking poetic liberties with a dish that belongs to the land of the beautiful thumri and the exquisite banarasi saree!

So my two cents bit was in the hing and sugar to compliment the “khattas” of the amchur!

Banarasi Kalonji Baingan (eggplant with nigella seeds)

For the masala

1 tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

Dry roasted in a pan and ground coarsely in a spice grinder

12 small eggplant, cleaned and cut into quarters held together
2 tbsp mustard oil
1 tsp panch foran (nigella seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds)
A pinch of hing (asafetida)
A pinch of turmeric
¾ tsp red chilli powder
Amchur (dry mango) powder to taste
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander to garnish

Heat oil in a pan to smoking point and then lower the heat and add the panch foran to splutter. Add the prepared brinjals and stir well till the oil coats all the brinjals. Add the turmeric and hing. Cook covered on low heat for 7-8 minutes. Add the chilli powder, the prepared coriander, cumin and fenugreek powder, amchur powder, salt and sugar. Move the brinjals around gingerly (so as not to break them) to coat them with the spices. Cover if required.

I added a few tablespoons of water to braise the brinjals and prevent the masala from burning.

Remove from heat when done - the brinjals should’t get too soft.

Serve garnished with coriander, with hot chaptis.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

(W)hole foods


Clearing out the cupboards the other day, we discovered at least 8 empty shoeboxes occupying precious real estate. Did we throw them away?  Well, only the one without a hole. 

You see, Shadow our cat loves cardboard boxes and if they have those little portholes, he goes berserk with the suspense and thrill, attacking the hole, ambushing it or pushing his paw gingerly into it – as his mood dictates. Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat –au contraire, it’s the key to a happy and healthy mog!

That makes me think - what is it about negative space that attracts all living creatures to voids ranging from peepholes to black holes ! From cats to guerilla marketers to artists to media people, everyone is exploiting negative spaces and gaps, for they arouse curiosity for the invisible by placing more attention on the obvious.  The absence of content doesn’t mean the absence of interest.

So is the case with voids in other areas- I have always found holes in certain foodstuff very interesting. The holes in the cheddar cheese wedges that Jerry mouse nibbled on was a mouthwatering sight, a far cry from the dense tinned block of Amul cheese we used to get in those days. The doughnuts that Jughead hogged looked more interesting when he jestingly skewered them on his nose – (I would say eww if I saw it now) and Polo- the mint with the hole was not only to be relished for the flavour, but for that experience and anticipation when the tip of the tongue widened the hole in the fast dissolving candy and the thinning circle gave way to its fate. 

Wadas with holes have continued to fascinate me, with the thrill and challenge of the unattainable – when will I ever be able to make a perfectly shaped round wada with a perfectly bored hole, like those we got in Venus restaurant in Muscat or Sagar Ratna in Delhi?

Holes in thalipeeth are quite another story, for as kids Mother used to make individual thalipeeths and we felt privileged to be served with a thalipeeth with the most number of holes. Her culinary theory may have been that the more the holes in the thalipeeth, the more oil they will be able to bund, making the cake crisper.

But like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn showing off their bruises, we kids believed the more holes our thalipeeths had, the more dangerous and macho they looked.  We would pester Mother, jealously asking her to punch more holes in our respective thalipeeths, until Mother shooed us away exasperatedly, “If I punch any more holes, there will be no thalipeeth left!”

The thalipeeth, however, is a lasting and wholesome dish with a lot of staying power. That makes it a very popular Maharashtrian breakfast dish, a pancake or roti of sorts- a very filling snack or a complete meal in itself!

The most popular version is made of ‘bhajani’- a mixed flour made with mixed dry roasted cereals, dals, legumes and spices like coriander and cumin. Bhajane means bhunoing or roasting. Mother used to make the bhajani mix and send it to the local flourmill to be milled into this very fragrant, spicy flour.

In the absence of such facilities, I have come up with a trick to mix different flour and roast them in the microwave. It gets almost the same results! Alternately, mix all the flours, place it on a tea towel or muslin cloth, tie it up in a bundle and steam it for 10-15 minutes. When cooled, break the lumps and add water and other ingredients to make a soft dough.

You can add vegetables like palak or methi, grated mooli or yellow cucumber, cabbage and carrot, making it a complete meal comprising wheat, jowar/bajra, rice, dal, vegetables, spices and oil/butter and yoghurt!


½ cup wheat flour
½ cup jowar/bajra flour
½ cup rice flour
½ cup besan
1 cup chopped onions/green onions
1 tablespoon chopped coriander (optional)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
½ teaspoon ajwain powder (optional)
½ teaspoon hing
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or more)
1 tablespoon oil
Salt to taste
Oil to shallow fry the thalipeeth


Mix all the flours in a microwave proof bowl and cover and roast it for one minute. Remove, mix the flour and roast again for another minute, taking care not to burn the flours.

If you don’t want to microwave the flours, you can dry roast them in a pan.

Alternately, mix all the flours, place it on a tea towel or muslin cloth, tie it up in a bundle and steam it for 10-15 minutes.

When cooled, break the lumps and add water and other ingredients to make a soft dough.

Add all the spices, salt to taste and the chopped onions and dhaniya and a tablespoon of oil and knead it with water or whey into a soft dough.

With oiled hands make tennis ball sized balls and press them onto a generously oiled tava, shaping into a circle as in the photo and making a few holes in the thalipeeth. Pour a few drops of oil into the wholes. Place the tava on high heat and cover it with a lid with a handle.

When the steam from the cooked thalipeeth rises and condenses on the lid and falls back on the tava it makes a hissing sound. This is an indication to reduce the heat. Cook it for a few more minutes and remove cover to check if the bottom is done and flip it to cook the other side with or without cover till it is nicely browned on the flipped side as well.

Serve hot with dollops of sour cream, yoghurt or white butter.

A simple salad of onions, tomato, finely chopped green chillies and salt and sugar tastes the best with this, but I served the featured thalipeeth with some coleslaw without mayonnaise. 

Did I tell you I am linking this as my fourth entry to my friend Preeti Deo's Ruchira Giveaway Event.