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.

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