Sunday, 28 April 2013


Shortcut Bajra Bhakri and Vaal Usal

Shortcuts have a negative connotation for me. I remember trying to take shortcuts on the way to school. But these truant tricks and transgressions would be corrected quickly, for the shortcuts were invariably the always-difficult paths, dark, dirty paan-pichkari stained or graffiti ridden unsafe alleys.

To come to think of it, I have never come across a bright, cheerful scenic tree lined avenue as a shortcut. Have you?

Yet we seek shortsighted shortcuts all the time. An Australian student welfare and learning support officer in my training organisation would always be at a loss to understand why our South Asian students always sought shortcuts. It was just beyond her, and me as their guardian in this foreign land, why they so gullibly believed unscrupulous agents who promised them shortcuts to jobs and residency in this land of opportunities for huge sums of money.

Ironically, all this while these students incredulously discarded our teachings that hard work and perseverance in studies (for which they were paying thousands of dollars) were a sure shot way to reach their goals.

Even in our dealings with the almighty we seek shortcuts.  A friend of mine in Oman used to break her Sankashti Chaturthi fast (and the purpose of her penance?) according to moonrise Indian Standard Time, for it was an hour and a half sooner than Oman time!

And we now have apps for poojas -“You can offer your prayers to Lord Saturn through the Saturn Pooja android application, which will help you to gain the blessings of Lord Saturn.” assures an Internet advert to pious souls fearful of the wrath of Shani Dev! A far cry from the pious and the timorous surreptitiously offering little vials of oil and a coconut to the fiery God in little alcove altars in street corners every Saturday - while chanting the “Shanimahatmya” under their breath.

At work as an auditor, I tell my clients there are no crosscuts to compliance with regulatory standards and quality assurance – only innovative interpretations of what is compliant! The only shortcuts that are useful are keyboard shortcuts, which, unfortunately, I never seem to remember.

But there are some shortcuts I wholeheartedly endorse and follow – such as going in for skinned and split “vaal dal” or bitter field beans. The flip side of this is that I trade off some nutrition to time. But the wretch-vetch requires too much time and trouble - soaking, sprouting AND peeling the vaal seeds or “dalimbis”.

Puneri purists, please don’t frown.

And the other shortcut will delight even die-hard deshasth traditionalists. Adding whole-wheat flour to jowar(sorghum) or bajra (pearl millet) introduces gluten to the stale and flat flours, so one is not only able to make good bhakris, but also roll them out with a pin! Unheard of? Read on!

Bajra Bhakri

Bajra bhakri is made for breakfast and lunch in winter during the “dhanurmas” which is when the ending in the harvest festival of Sankranti. Seasme seeds that get toasted add flavour and a bit of fat to this most delectable bread. Bajra Bhakri is usually accompanied by spicy bharli vaangi or the seasonal “lekurvali bhaji” and is also served with a pebble of jaggery and some ghee.

Like its cousin jowar, bajra is also gluten free, hence this shortcut solution. Don't be scared by the seemingly complicated method- the roti is made just like a phulka. Read on….


2 cup Bajra flour
1 cup atta (whole-wheat flour)
½ tsp salt (optional)
1 cup hot water (or more depending on the quality of the flours)
2-3 tbsp sesame seeds


Mix the flours and keep some aside for dusting. Add salt and add hot water to the rest of the flour mixture and mix with a spoon. Then when slightly cool, knead it for a few minutes with the heel of your hands into a semi-soft smooth dough.

Divide the mixture into large lemon sized balls.  Dust your rolling surface with flour and place some sesame seeds on it. Press one flattened ball of dough on the sesame seeds so they stick. Roll the dough out like a roti with a rolling pin, without flipping the disc of dough. Take care to roll the disc it thin on the sides and slightly thick in the centre. Lift the disc, dust the excess flour and place it face up (sesame side) on to a medium hot tava.

Qucikly brush the top of this roti (sesame side) with some 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 also 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 (same side) moving it to make sure the roti puffs up (like phulkas). Take care not to burn the sesame seeds.

Once this side is done, quickly flip it again to roast the bhakri on the other side. The trick to make it puff up is to roast the roti from the edges first and then pushing it gently to the centre of the flame briefly to complete the puffing up.

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 with ghee and a piece of jaggery.

Vaaliachi Usal

Vaalachi usal is another coastal Maharashtrian recipe. Vetches (legumes) like Kadwe Val (bitter field beans) and Kuleeth (horse gram) are an important source of protein in this tough and hardy windward terrain that faces soil erosion from the wind and monsoon in the Western Ghats. No wonder tart kokum and sweet coconut are used in abundance – to balance the bitterness of the kadwe vaal !  


1 cup val dal (skinned and split field beans)
2-3 tbsp chopped onions (optional)
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp goda/ kala/garam masala
2-3 tbsp fresh/frozen coconut (reserve some for garnishing)
A few curry leaves
1-2 green chillies (or more)
1 tsp amchur powder (another shortcut to extracting kokum!)
1 tsp grated jaggery (or use brown sugar as shortcut)
1-2 tbsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp turmeric powder
A pinch of hing (asafoetida)
Salt to taste
Chopped coriander for garnishing


Wash and soak vaal dal in water for a few hours or overnight and drain the water before cooking.

Heat oil in pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds to splutter.  Add the green chillies and the curry leaves and the chopped onions in that order and mix and sauté. Add the masala powders, chilli powder, turmeric and hing. Now add soaked vaal dal and sauté. Add some water and cover the pan. Cook for 7-8 minutes and then remove the lid add jaggery and salt and half the coconut. Check the water and add if necessary. Cover and cook some more till done. 

Check and adjust the taste and garnish with the rest of the coconut and chopped coriander.  

Serve hot with bhakri or rice.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Lest we forget

ANZAC Biscuits

The full implication of our adventure hit us at the airport in Hong Kong, when we first exchanged our money for the colourful currency notes of our destination country, Australia.  Yes, never before had we seen such “frivolous and fanciful” yellow, green, blue, red and purple plastic notes like the Australian currency, except in Monopoly.

Apprehensive and exhausted from the day’s tour of Hong Kong, my husband and I looked at each other seeking reassurance. A month-long holiday in India, honeymooning with family and friends had planted the seeds of doubt. Were we embarking on a quixotic escapade, flying off halfway across the world, to a country we had never been to, with two young girls in tow…

A battery of questions assailed us-

Are we doing the right thing?
Did we have to do this?
Are we chasing a mirage?
Is this self-banishment? Self-exile?
Couldn’t we have eked out a living in the land of our forefathers?
Our grandparents had been freedom fighters, and we…!

It didn’t help that on the day we first landed in Melbourne, it rained like it did on the night they killed Duncan. I was so inadequately dressed – in sandals and a cotton jumper- try as I might, I couldn’t find off-season woolens in the desert land that had been our home for more than a decade. Well, I did attempt to keep warm with a pair of socks inside the sandals – after all  according to the girls, we were fresh off the boat!

We made our way to the shops during a lull in the rain, to buy groceries and essentials, mindful for the first time in years of a budget, still trying to get our heads around converting dollars to Omani rials!

We had no jobs, no credit cards, no mobile phones and no car.

Could we be more lost?

Shopping to stock our temporary pantry all over was like starting a home from the scratch –we bought salt, oil, mustard seeds and were surprised to find rice, red lentils and masalas and “poppadums” on the aisles.

Already, I had begun to feel better.

When we emerged from the store, it had already turned dark with the torrential rain and sleet. We had to literally plead a ride from a surprised (and scared) fellow shopper. The two of us stuffed our grocery bags in our unenthusiastic benefactor’s car- sullen and vulnerable - conscious that after so many years of climbing ladders we had slid down the snake, back to square one.

Back in the apartment, the cold and the wet chilling us to the bone, we were drawn to the fireplace like moths. Only when our brains had thawed a little, we warmed to the fact that this was the first time we were enjoying the much- romanticised sitting by the fire.

What really warmed us was the sweet surprise from inside the complimentary biscuit packs from the hotel that we had opened so unsuspectingly to have with a cup of hot tea. 

The ANZAC biscuits – as we learnt they were called- had a lovely familiar flavour of coconut, brown sugar that tasted like jaggery and butter that reminded us of the roasted aroma of homemade ghee!

We would find out that ANZAC biscuits are tough, hardy and nutritious biscuits that the wives and mothers of soldiers in the ANZAC corps baked to send to their sons and husbands. These biscuits had a long shelf life and gave the much-required sustenance to troops in the tough Turkish battlefront. The biscuits also fed the brave men serving their nations in an inclement land with sweet memories of home and hearth.

“These biscuits taste like your “policha laadu” Mum,” said the girls, as we opened pack after two-biscuit handy pack and discarded the buttery choc chip ones for this delightfully brittle bikkie.

“Yes, the “policha laadu” that Aaji used to make for my tiffin dabba!”, said I,  remembering the delicious, nutritious and convenient sweet laddus made with fresh or stale chapatis, home made ghee, gur, poppy seeds, cardamom and coconut.

Brave soldier-settlers on their first day in this new world, we clutched to this relic of the past we had left behind, and instantly felt at home.    

I made these biscuits to commemorate ANZAC Day this year- in memory of all those who laid their lives for the country and continue to do so.

And to relive and remember all the battles we fought and lost and won in making a place for ourselves in this country- our home.

The recipe is classic ANZAC, except for the almond meal, cardamom, nutmeg and poppy seeds!

ANZAC Biscuits


2 cups plain flour
2 cups rolled oats
1½ cups brown sugar
½ cup caster sugar
½ cup desiccated coconut (or more)
½ cup almond meal
1 tbsp white poppy seeds
1 tsp crushed cardamom
½ tsp powdered nutmeg
1 tsp salt

250 gms unsalted butter
4 tbsp golden syrup
4 tbsp boiling water
1 ½ tsp and a pinch baking soda


Sift flour into a bowl and stir in oats, coconut and sugar. Melt butter and golden syrup in a deep saucepan. Mix the boiling water and baking soda in a cup and add  to the melted butter and golden syrup mixture while it is still hot. The minute you add this, the butter mixture will froth up. Mix through the froth gently with a spoon. Pour this wet mixture into the flour mixture and when slightly cool, mix it with hand.

Place rounded teaspoons of the mixture 5cm apart on greased baking trays lined with baking sheets. Alternately, roll a ball of the crumbly dough between two baking sheets till you get a sheet 1 cm thick.  Cut out heart shaped or star shaped cookies and place them on the paper-lined tray.  

Bake the biscuits at 150°C for about 20 minutes or until the biscuits feel almost firm. Remove from trays with spatula and leave to cool on wire racks.

Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Full of beans

full of beans =  a. (idiomatic) Energetic and enthusiastic
                        b. (idiomatic) Incorrect; uninformed; exaggerating or 
                            expressing falsehood

How we hated and feared the stern-toned, foreboding voice all mothers of our generation (and their predecessors) used to warn us girls of the disproval of our prospective “in-laws”. 

Pure conjecture this, but somehow our mothers "knew" that our future in-laws would string us up for any or all of our failures and shortcomings.

This sinister tone and proviso would creep in to the matrons’ teachings at the most unexpected times and junctures.

They would go “…and you must always string all types of beans before cutting them, open their pods to check for worms, as you would check okra … and of course, brinjals – OR your in-laws will blame me for not teaching you even this much!”

Or it would be any of the following: (pardon the literal translations)

 “…what will your in-laws say!”

 “…don’t lower my head in your husband’s home!”

“ …this will cut my nose!”

Sometimes the subject of this rhetoric would also be that nameless/faceless adversary and decrier called “people”. At such times their tone would become even more severe.

Now don’t get me wrong, we weren’t rebel kids by any standards. Only, a little reluctant and resentful that we had to learn dud domestic tricks like

  • rolling mustard seeds down a large steel plate tilted by one hand while    with the other hand stopping non-round foreign materials
  • sieving, winnowing and picking grain before cooking or sending it for milling
  • panning sand, stones and grit from soaked rice or pulses
  • setting immaculate curd with fresh milk
  • kneading dough with one hand
  • hand-pounding chutneys and seeds and nuts without spilling
  • sorting and stringing greens and yes - the famous beans – (I’ll come back to the beans soon) 

It took us a while - and the wisdom of our growing years - to call their bluff.
Well, how could we? We were only mortal kitchenminions for these demigoddesses!

But, by then it was too late – we had learnt to do all these things.  And also learnt to “want” to speak to our girls in the same ominous tone…

I hope you haven’t missed the “want” bit…

So going back to the beans – I was most happy when I saw this bean salad on a friend’s table that didn’t need to be stringed, trimmed or chopped. So simple and quick and crunchy!

Green Bean salad


200 gms tender green beans, washed
8-10 cherry or grape tomatoes, washed
A handful of slivered almonds
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp white or balsamic vinegar
A pinch of any herb of your choice – I used some dried rosemary
A pinch of sugar/sweetener (if required)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Add the oil to a hot pan and toss the beans and chopped garlic around until lightly roasted and tender but still a little crunchy. Halfway through this, add the almonds and the whole tomatoes.

Season with vinegar, herbs, sweetener/sugar (if required) and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm or cold.  

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Pretentious Parfait

Almond Mango Parfait

There was a time when we ate mangoes straight out of the large old zinc bathtub they had been soaking in to cool – for they came out quite warm from under the bales of rice straw of the adhi (आंब्याची अढी) where they had been gestating.

We would wait for days, taking a sneak peak at the mangoes when any adult would go in to check on them.  The wait would be quite agonising, but then we were such drama queens…

There were so many summer goodies to eat – the succulent munjals (palmyra fruit) the cooling phalsa (grewia fruit), the glossy purple jambuls (java plums) and a mélange of melons of all sizes, colours and descriptions.

Yet, the mango loomed large in our prospects. The longer it took for the mangoes to ripen, the more they would be coveted.

Like flies to wanton boys, we were drawn to the fragrance of the rice straw and the sweet, sticky distinctive smell of mangoes emanating from garden shed.  

Spot after gilded spot, we impatiently charted their seasoning.

And one day these golden gods would be declared ripe and ready.  

They would be picked gently out of their hotbeds, carefully brushed with blades of straw and plunged into the old zinc tub filled with cool water drawn from the depths of the dredged well. 

We kids would then be unceremoniously stripped of most of our clothes – our mothers knew too well how hard it was to scrub off mango stains from clothes.

Dressed in singlet and shorts – No! – baniyans and bodyfrocks- we would sit on the stone steps of the back yard with the gang of cousins. We would select a mango, hold the fruit between our pincers at the stem-scab and the sharp paisley-point, and squeeze and rotate the mango in one continuous motion till it was a soft and pliant.

The skin would often burst, sending amber juice squirting into our eyes or the fleshy stone plopping onto our clothes - mishaps that would send us into giggling fits and more mischief. If all went well, the mango was now at our disposal to be sucked-tucked into.

The juice fully relished, the skin would be peeled off and gnawed clean. Our teeth would rake the juice out of the fleshy drupe, combing patterns into the fast desiccating fibres.

This would go on, mango after mango. 

We would then surface for breath, as exhausted as the mango.

But not for long, for our eyes would rove the rows of submerged mangoes and we would reach out for yet another- with slithering hands dripping at the elbows…

In another faraway land, in another hemisphere with topsy-turvey seasons where these old favourites are banned, we bring home corpulent cultured local mangoes, but in twos and threes.

We cut two of these between the four of us, and sometimes even put away a few slices we may not be able to finish. At times we incarnate the fleshy fruit into dishes quite flashy.

There is none of the gut-busting-gorging of our bucolic frolic, only some polite polishing off…….. of an almond adulterated pretentious parfait…

Mango Almond Parfait


2 large ripe mangoes – skinned and chopped finely into a puree (reserve some larger chunks for garnishing)
Sugar/sweetener- as required
1 cup plain Greek yoghurt or any thick creamy yoghurt (not very sour)
½ cup almond meal
Some granola clusters, the reserve chunked mango and a handful of pomegranate arils for garnishing


Adjust the sweetness of the mango puree by adding the sugar/sweetener. You may not need it at all if the mango is sweet.  Since the parfait is going to be chilled well, it might need to be a little sweeter than you would have it at room temperature.

Combine the yogurt and almond meal and whisk until fluffy and light.

In a tall glass layer the yogurt mixture and mango puree going ¾ of the way up. Cover with cling film and chill for a few hours. 

Serve garnished with chopped mango, some granola clusters and pomegranate arils.