Sunday, 27 April 2014

Oxymoron Okra

Oxymoron Okra - Kurkuri Bhindi

The okra is such a perplexing paradox
Popular with some, yet staunchly heterodox
A vege many abhor, more certainly adore
Slimy and glib but can surely jab you sore
Stewed in a panchamrut or in a gumbo sticky
Gets lynched with stone in “bhendi chi chutney”
Hot and spicy and exotic in a masala Punjabi
Dried to last a year in dahi sour and spicy
While milk and mash “Doodh-bhat-bhendichi bhaji”
Makes the ultimate insult for a milksop in Marathi
Battered crisp with cornmeal, Kentucky fries trendy
Or baked, dredged in besan as kurkuri bhindi.

The oxymoron okra, is indeed such a paradox…

I must thank Deepa Sasan-Bagal for this idea...

Kurkuri Bhindi


15-20 okra or bhindi
1 tbsp besan
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp ajwain powder
¾ tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of haldi
A pinch of hing
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp water, or a little more to make a paste
Salt to taste


Wash and dry the bhindi thoroughly. Trim the tips and cut them into thin slivers.
In a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients into a paste. Mix the bhindi into the paste and toss it to coat.

Line a baking tray with parchment and spread the bhindi evenly and thinly.
Preheat the oven to 200 C and bake the bhindis till crisp.

I baked the bhindis for around 30 minutes and then turned the heat down to 180 for another 10 minutes.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Full circle

Baked Karela Bhajji

Pakoras, bhajji, pooris, kurdya, papdya, papad… anything fried had become a tetchy taboo in our home for many years.

A diabetic dad who wouldn’t heed his health savvy wife was not a combination conducive to such indulgences.

In her losing battle to keep him healthy, Aai avoided frying stuff. She even placed a prohibition order on most traditional “kulachar” such as “Navratri” and “Mahalakshmis” or “Gauri” pooja that involved extensive cooking with all white venoms like sugar, flour and fats.

The only exception was Diwali, but this celebration too was not without some healthy trade-offs such as baked karanjis or kheer with saccharine. Yes, we used saccharine.

On those very rare days when this embargo was eased a bit, we would get to enjoy oily bhajis- limited only by our imagination.

Each one of us had our favourites among the fritter fraternity.

Mine were the potato bhajji, though I really don’t like them much these days. Silly me, I should have known better to keep mum about it and just munch on them, than to shoot my mouth off and then get teased mercilessly for being fat and spudsy. 

Dada was partial to “khekda” bhajjis or the sliced onion ones. It was quite characteristic of him… wiry, spicy and crisp.

Aai was all for the hardy, earthy eggplant or ghosala (silk melon). If it happened to be the monsoon season, she would send us out to pluck some “kena” leaves (dayflower, or spiderwort) growing wild as weeds. The small heart shaped fleshy and furry leaf would make an interesting puffy patta pakori.

Hmmm… it’s also medicinal, Aai would agree. And free – my cheeky tag…

Baba on the other hand would push his luck by eating all of the above and then belting out farmaish after farmaish for unusual ones like tomato, karela, kantola, tendli and hot green chilly bhajis – no not the stuffed mirchi bhajji types, but just plain green chillies…

I now realise how Aai would fall for this trick.

There was something very charming about Baba’s way of appealing to her sense of adventure. Some of these bhajji requests challenged her to think out of the box. I have seen her triumphantly producing a tomato bhajji after she deftly dipped the juice-dripping wedge into the batter and managed to fry it without the hot oil protesting too much.

Only Aai’s son-in-law could match this feat of hers.

His friends can never tire of telling tales of his “dahi-bhaat” bondas. It’s believed that after everything in the pantry that could possibly endure the trip from the batter into the hot oil had been used up, he resorted to dipping balls of pre-mixed curd and rice into the batter to use it up. And of course, to use up the oil.

That was Baba’s “bahana” too, for waiting till almost the end – end of all the varieties of bhajjis, his allowed quota and her limited good cheer. He wanted her to fry those risqué bhajjis without risking getting burnt or messing up the oil.

That’s right. Blame it all on oil.

This post was written in my mind much before I got down to typing it up- as I baked these karela bhajjis, in a healthy fit.

Why bake bhajjis?

Why, it’s the oil, the oil…

The well-oiled wheels of time have come a full circle.

Baked Karela Bhajji


1 large bitter gourd (the large variety that we get in Australia, almost like a medium sized lauki)
3 tbsp besan
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin seed powder
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp mango powder/amchur
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp crushed ajwain
A pinch of hing
A large pinch of turmeric
Salt to taste
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp water, or a little more to make a paste
Olive oil spray


Wash and dry the karela thoroughly. Trim the tips and cut the karela into thin slices.

In a bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients into a thick paste. Dip the karela slices into the paste and make sure both the sides are completely coated as much as possible. You have to spread the batter thinly, as too much batter will mean soggy fritters.

Line a baking tray with parchment and spray some oil onto it and spread the battered karela slices evenly and thinly. Spray the topside with some more oil once the slices are placed.

Preheat the oven to 200 C and bake the karela slices till crisp. You may want to flip them half way through, but it’s not really necessary.

I baked the slices for around 30 minutes and then turned the heat down to 180 for another 10 minutes.

Remove the fritters from the oven and serve hot with tomato sauce or a green chutney.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Arrey Wah! Haleem!

Veg Haleem

The route to school in Gunfoundry and back ran along the King Kothi Road that housed the palace of the Nizam. The walk was always interesting and eventful.  Long stretches of tall walls of several palaces and mansions spiked our curiosity. What was behind those unscalable walls? The fortifications were perhaps my first cognisance that reality leaves a lot to the imagination. 

Why did Lennon have to say it first! tsk…tsk…

Occasionally, a gate would be open just enough for a glimpse of shocking pink bougainvillea on whitewashed walls arising out of well-manicured lawns. Flower beds and colourful crotons were contained by tilted terracotta bricks. Some days, a vintage car would roll out. If we saw a distinguished looking gentleman in sherwani and fez hat, we would claim that we had seen the Nizam! 

We could have stared forever, but would walk on, too scared of the livery to linger. The peeps were ammo enough to break the rolling monotony of motorcar spare part shops that looked like a continuum of hubcaps. It almost distracted us past the scary graveyard.  

The other interesting sights were the umpteen little restaurants that punctuated our path each way. The uniform glass jars with Osmania biskoots, bright coloured coconut barfi, Afghan crim rolls and the likes were tantalising enough, but what really got us from afar and stayed with us for long was the savoury scent of the crisp onion and dill samosas frying fresh.

Come Ramazan, the jungle gym of bicycles in front of the Irani Cafés in Hyderabad would clear up magically during the day. Restaurant shop fronts retreated behind drawn curtains and dropped awnings. 

The only visible sign of activity would be the huge gleaming copper cauldrons on large iron sigris outside on the streets simmering for hours at end. Their committed bubbling would only be disturbed occasionally by men in skullcaps and checked ‘lungis’ diligently paddling around a wooden ‘ghotni’ in whatever was cooking inside. 

Trudging home tired and ravenous after school, how could we escape the thrall of these aromatic potion pots!

As we passed, those men that looked like Mohammad Ghori or Ghazhani out of Amar Chitra Katha comic books would rake and break the scummy surface of the concoction, letting out delicious aromas that stirred up our hunger, too! 

Nearby, a red linoleum lined stand hosted a pyramid of inverted white china bowls, obsequiously waiting to pressed into service. 

We didn’t know what was cooking in those crocks. The signs on the awnings and screens were in Urdu. The picture of a headless goat standing with the steadfast resolve of Casabianca, or that magnificent looking curly horned ram so cheerfully accepting his fate told us enough to avert our eyes in horror. 

However, we couldn’t help but sniff out that whatever was cooking, was certainly seemed very delicious. 

Years later, I learnt these handis held haleem and paya and that the two were different. 

I must confess I was disappointed to hear the description of the dishes from Dada, who would lie in wait for Eid to visit his friends in the old city to hog haleem and paya. 

"Kaisa rehta?"

" Masta rehta!"

Our cryptic Hyderabadi exchange was hardly helpful! And of course, he was a real brat, er boy.

Is the word 'brat' a contraction of 'bhratru', Sanskrit for brother ? 

I had to patiently tease information out of him.

“Paya was a broth made of trotters or hooves of a cow, goat or lamb.

“Haleem was like a bajra khichada that Aai made or a savoury version of the “gavhachi kheer”, except it had meat in it."


AKA - dhat teri ki! 

Big let down. 

As if it mattered; I was never going to eat either.

But I was so wrong.

A chance sighting on YouTube, a fortuitously saved portion of cooked barley pearls and daliya mixture and a vague memory of some unidentified spice that had been inadvertently introduced to my spice rack several seasons ago helped me discover the joys of haleem. 

I stumbled upon the ‘ Vah’ Chef Sanjay Thumma making a vegetarian haleem in his inimitable style. A little clove look-alike spice that he called kabab cheeni reminded me that I had some of these at home but  had never used out of a prejudice about naagkeshar that I had inherited from Aai. I had also saved a portion of cooked barley pearls and daliya from when I had made a kheer last week. A half large eggplant and a portion of lauki offered to add some body and a cup of soy milk agreed to pitch in place of the regular one that had expired. The pudina in the planter in the balcony nodded reassuringly.

The result was this magic potion called haleem.

It was now time to say, Arrey wah! Haleem!

Vegetarian Haleem


Salt to taste
1 cup milk (I used soy milk)
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1-2 green chilly (or more)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup cooked dalia (broken wheat)
½ cup cooked barley pearls
2 tbsp chopped almonds
20 whole cashew nuts
A handful each of chana daal, masoor daal, urad daal, moong daal
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp pepper corns
2 inch piece cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom, crushed
1 black cardamom, crushed
½ tsp shahi jeera
½ tsp kabab chini (cinnamon buds)
1 cup cubed eggplant (the bharta variety)
1 cup peeled and cubed lauki (bottle gourd)
½ cup coriander, chopped
½ cup fresh mint, chopped
Lemon juice to taste
½ cup fried onions
1-2 tbsp ghee


Heat olive oil in a pressure cooker and add kabab chini, shahi jeera, green cardamom, cinnamon sticks, pepper corns, cumin seeds and let the spices splutter. Add cashew nuts, chopped almonds, sesame seeds, green chilly and sauté for a minute and then add fried onions, ginger garlic paste and sauté for a few minutes more. Next add the lauki and eggplant and allow it to sauté further. Then add the milk, chopped coriander, chopped mint, salt to taste and mix thoroughly.  Then add the daals, cooked daliya and barely and mix it well.  Once the mixture comes to boil, place the lid on the cooker and pressure cook for 15 minutes (2 to 3 whistles) on a slow flame. 

When the pressure cooker cools enough to remove the lid, you may want to mash the mixture well and adjust the consistency by adding some more water and cooking it further without the lid. I retained some texture and bite amidst the stickiness. 

Add 1-2 tbsp of ghee, lemon juice as per taste and adjust the salt. 

Serve hot, garnished with more fried onions chopped coriander and mint leaves.

Haleem tastes even better the next day as the flavours develop and deepen.