Saturday, 31 May 2014

Dosa, the demure damsel

Dosa and peanut coriander chutney

The other day, I posted this dosa and peanut chutney in a fun cook-off organised by Sikandalous Cuisine, my first and favourite food group.

The theme was breakfast.

I wanted to participate, sportingly of course. Too busy to write a story and with none brewing in my head, I made that rare departure from the norm and posted the recipe without further ado.

Although the dosa and the chutney were appreciated by dozens of friends and didn't lack colour or lustre, the post seemed hollow and devoid of personality. 

Then came along my Facebook friend and fellow blogger Suranga Date who often writes poems inspired by things that capture her imagination in her blog Strewn Ashes

She filled this void and personified the dosa, in yet another of her apposite verses.

Here is Suranga’s poem about the delicate and demure damsel that the dosa really is!

लहानपणापासून डोळ्यासमोर डाळ तांदुळाचे आदर्श, काहींचे उकडे पारदर्शक व्यक्तिमत्व, रात्र रात्र जागून , तरी पण फ्रेश राहून कमावलेले हलके फुलके चेहरे, मेथी आजींचा मान राखून थोडेसे आठवणींचे दाणे ; सर्व एकत्र करून ती आपल्याच स्वप्नांच्या उबेत गुरफटून बसते .
दुसर्या दिवशी सकाळी सकाळी विस्तवाला स्मरून, देवाचे नाव घेउन ती डावाला सामोरी जाते, आणि चटके बसले तरी "अरे संसार संसार " म्हणात तव्यावर ऐसपैस पसरते . सोनेरी छटा यायच्या आधी थोडी झाकणाखालि लपते, आणि चटणीशी दोन बोटे करण्याची मनाची तयारी कर्ते.
अचानक एक मोठी खोली, स्वच्च प्लेट मध्ये ती उतरते , आणि भोवताली इतक्या टाळ्या वाजवणार्या सिकनदलीय महिलां बघून लाजते , आपलाच सोनेरी पदर स्वतः भोवती गोल गुंडाळून घेते, आणि चटणी कडे पाठ फिरवून म्हणते, "इश्श्य ! आम्ही नाही जा …।"

I am sure now Suranga will translate this for you all! 

Over to you, Suranga Tai!

Dosa and peanut coriander chutney



2 cups ponni (idly) rice
2 cups raw rice
1 cup split/whole white urad dal
2 tablespoons chana dal
1 teaspoon methi seeds (it adds not only to the taste but also adds a shine to the dosa)
Salt to taste


Wash and soak the rice in plenty of water. Wash and soak the urad dal, chana dal and methi seeds together. Methi seeds give a great flavour and also a lovely sheen to the dosa.

After 5-6 hours, grind the soaked ingredients in a mixer with water into a fine batter of pouring consistency. It’s best to use the water in which the dal and rice have been soaked. Keep the batter slightly thick as you can adjust the consistency later. Remove it in a steel container large enough to allow for the rising of the batter. Add salt to taste.

Cover and place in a warm spot in the kitchen for at least 8-10 hours, or overnight. In winters I keep the batter in the oven after heating it for a few minutes. The batter will ferment and rise. If you are using a mixture of raw and boiled rice, the batter will ferment faster as boiled rice ferments faster. Some people add some cooked rice or poha to expedite the fermenting.

When you are ready to make the dosas, heat a non-stick dosa tava and brush it with oil. Some people use a half cut onion to smear the oil. It’s important to cure the tava so your dosas don’t stick to the tava. Bring it almost to the smoking point and then remove from the heat. When it cools down, rinse it with water and wipe it fry. Then brush it very lightly with oil and remove excess oil with a tissue paper. 

Then heat the tava again till a few drops of water sprinkled on it make a hissing sound.

Portion out some batter from the master batter in a smaller bow so you can hold it in one hand as you pour out dosas with the other.

You might want to adjust the consistency of the dosa according to the type of dosa you want to pour out. For thickset dosas, keep the batter thick. For thin and crispy dosas, add a little water to make the batter easy to spread.

Take a soup ladle with a long handle and a flat bottom. Pour a ladle full of batter in the centre of the tava and start making increasingly larger circles in the batter with the ladle. Remember to move from the centre outwards. This makes the batter stick to the tava and roast well.

If you want a paper-thin dosa, pour less batter and spread it thinly. Scrape off any excess batter from the top. Pour a teaspoon full of oil or ghee (or more- restaurants pour quite a lot!) all over the dosa and cover it with a domed lid with a handle.

Reduce heat and after a few minutes remove cover and check if the dosa is done. Usually, there is no need to flip the dosa. Also, the edges of a well cooked dosa on a properly cured pan will rise easily, making it easy to lift.

Serve hot with peanut coriander chutney.

Peanut coriander chutney


1 cup roasted and skinned peanuts
1 tbsp roasted chana dal
2 tbsp dry or fresh grated coconut
¾ cup coriander leaves, loosely packed
2-3 green chilies
¾ tsp cumin seeds
1 clove of garlic
¾ teaspoon lemon juice
A pinch of sugar/sweetener
Salt to taste


Wash and chop the coriander. Grind all the ingredients together using a little water. Check and adjust the flavours.

Add a little mustard tadka if you really want it.

Friday, 23 May 2014

A bhakri in the hand

Vangyachi Bhaji -Eggplant stir-fry bhaji

The balloon of a bhakri is delivered straight from the stove and into her waiting plate before it loses its steam. The ‘toop’ or ghee on top melts instantly as my dear little niece, who is visiting us during her school holidays exclaims “Yummy!” for the umpteenth time.

While she tucks into the bhakri and vangyachi bhaji (eggplant stir-fry) with gusto, I remember my childhood summer vacation visits to my grandparents’ home.

As kids, we would be served first in what was called ‘lahan mulanchi pangat’, sitting cross-legged in a row on little mats, waiting eagerly to be served in steel ‘thalis’ and ‘vatis’ on the open veranda next to the kitchen.

Older aunts and Aai would lounge around very indolently, obviously relieved of their daughter-in-law statuses of their marital homes. We kids would be rightfully offloaded onto younger aunts, mavshis and mamis who would be our temporary caregivers, while their older sisters or sisters-in-law enjoyed their “maherpun”.

Maherpun in Marathi is the pampering a much-harried married woman receives when she visits her maiden home.

Can we find an equivalent word in any western language?

If we could have ‘petrichor’ for the scent of rain on dry earth, then perhaps there is one for maherpun?

Back to our exciting childhood, the exhilaration of being free from school, with cousins, the non-stop nonsense and our grandmother Mai’s delicious cooking whetted our appetites so. Anything and everything that landed on our plates tasted heavenly.

Silky rotis, crusty bhakris, comforting fragrant ambey mohor rice, a very tasty amti daal and different types of dry chutneys such as peanut, sesame, copra and flaxseeds were our main meal. Vegetables in this arid hinterland town on the Deccan plateau were usually the small eggplants, various hardy gourds, cucumbers and the abundant colocasia from Mai’s kitchen garden that thrived on wastewater diverted in little canals from the bathrooms and the kitchen.

A holiday special on the menu was amras made with the little ‘raival’ mongrel mangoes.

Mothe Baba, our grandfather, used to buy these little local mangoes by the basket every other day. There was great pleasure in slurping up vati-fuls of the fruit of our labour, for we had a huge role to play in washing the mangoes in the old dilapidated zinc tub, softening them by hand carefully squeezing out the juice for Mai.

There is no great guesswork to how the remnants were disposed of. We sucked the sap out of the seeds and skins and with audacious confidence born out of official sanction, lobbed them onto the tin roof of the garden shed to dry. Within days, the seeds and skins would be ready to be used as kindling for the huge copper “bumb” of a samovar.

To us city kids, this was the ultimate bucolic adventure, which only the reminiscences of Aai and her sisters could overshadow.

We listened enviously to stories that we were not a part of; greedily wishing we were there rather than here.

Aai often likened her childhood to that of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, spent on the Kansas prairies. So many of those memories and experiences were almost identical to those of the Ingalls family.

Aai’s family had to move homes in the face of adversities such as the shoot at sight order on my freedom-fighter grandfather, dealing with the plague, the great Influenza, the post-war grain shortages and the Razaakars of the Nizam.

Undeterred by the calamities, the legendary ghosts on the shores of the little ‘tala’ lake beyond the Signal Camp, the snakes and scorpions, those kids had an enviable childhood. They played in the wild making mud-pies and had impromptu barbecues roasting stray baingans and hariboot foraged out of the fields. They spent hours playing make-believe, fashioning ornaments out of wild flowers for their re-enactments of black and white mythological films, while the adults built tin sheds in the quarantine plague camps on the outskirts of the town.

My hands mechanically reach out for the last of the dough and my wayward thoughts come home.

Now that I am on my last bhakri, I tell my daughter to photo-shoot the brinjal bhaaji to add to my recent baingan binge on my blog.

She brings me back to reality saying the bhaji I have plated in the plain ceramic bowl looks like road kill.

I am nonplussed.

She seeks a better plate/bowl.

I remember Aai telling me that in those days, in the fields and the great outdoors, the best crockery they had was the bhakri itself.

Nothing can beat the joy of eating bhakri held in the hand, topped with a bit of freshly roasted baingan, a drizzle of raw oil, some thecha and an onion pulled out of the fields.

A bhakri in the hand is worth a banquet on the table.

My last bhakri acquiesces and bows into a bowl.

Vangyachi Bhaji -Eggplant stir-fry bhaji

I have given a North Indian twist to this plain Marathwadi, deshawarli bhaji with the kalonji and the fennel. No peanuts, sesame or coconut!


1 tbsp oil
¼ tsp each of mustard seeds, kalonji, fennel seeds and cumin seeds
A large pinch of powdered methi
A large pinch of hing
A pinch of powdered coriander
A large pinch of haldi
1-2 dried red chillies
2 cups long eggplant roundels, placed in water
Salt to taste


Heat a pan and add the oil. Add the seeds to splutter and then the red chillies and the powders. Add the eggplant roundels and mix them in the oil and spices. Sauté for a few minutes and then cover and cook till done. Add salt to taste.

Serve with hot bhakri. This will go with rice and daal as well.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Cumin + Coconut = Kootu

Snake Gourd Kootu

This dish reminds me of Savitha Rani, my best friend in junior high school. I owe her the experience of the most macabre ghost stories; an introduction to the idea that dark (and fat) can be beautiful; knowledge of the difference between Iyers and Iyengars and a taster to the world of South Indian cuisine.

S’s home was a veritable “Gokul”. Their cold larder, bursting with large porcelain “bharnis” full of ghee, buttermilk, creamy yoghurt and khoya made with the bucket full of milk that Gauri their Holstein/Jersey cow used to give, was reminiscent of little Krishna’s home.

It was incredible in the first place that a city dwelling family had a cow. But it was even more remarkable that the family didn’t sell the milk, just gave some away to kids in a neighbouring juggi-zhopri. Gauri’s calf got to drink her fill. The family of four and their dog used up the rest.

I will write more about the dairy delights later.

It was in this generous home that I had the most delightful introduction to her mother’s delicious TamBram food, like sambaar, kootu, rasam, moru kozhambu, appalams, the hand made murukus, banana chips…

Something about a snake gourd kootu S’s amma used to make was very familiar, hence more endearing. It was the coconut and cumin combination – jeera-khobra in Marathi parlance, which reminded me of the padwal with moong dal bhaji Aai makes. 

The jeera-khobra was the soul of this bhaji, as it is of the snake gourd kootu.

Recently, when I had access to fresh snake gourds after a hiatus, my list of things to cook would have been incomplete without notching a snake gourd kootu.

The photo is disappointing though - I was too overcome with the kootu to take a proper picture!

Snake Gourd Kootu


½ cup moong dal
¼ cup chana dal
2 tbsp chopped shallots (optional)
A large pinch of turmeric
1-2 slit green chillies
2 cups (thickly sliced) snake gourd (retain fibre and seeds, if tender)
Salt to taste

For the masala

1 tsp cumin seeds
½ cup fresh grated coconut

For the tempering

1 tsp oil
1 tsp coconut oil (optional)
1 tbsp ghee
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp washed urad daal
2-3 dried red chillies
A large pinch of hing
10-12 curry leaves
1 tsp ghee (you can make it two, if you’re not using coconut oil)


Cook the moong and chana dal in the pressure cooker.

Boil about 2 cups water in a pan and add the snake gourd pieces, shallots, green chillies, salt, turmeric and cook till the snake gourd is almost cooked – shouldn’t take more than 5-7 minutes.

In the mean time, heat a saucepan and add the cumin seeds, pepper corns and toast lightly. Then add the grated coconut and toast lightly. Allow the mixture to cool and then add a little water and grind it into a coarse paste in a mixer/blender. 

Add the cooked daals and the coconut mixture to the boiled snake gourd, onion and chillies and mix it well.  Cook it on low heat for a few minutes, till it all comes together. Adjust the consistency, according to your taste.

Heat oil in a pan and add the urad dal. When it begins to change colour, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds. By the time the seeds crackle, the dal should have turned golden brown.  Then add the coconut oil (if using) the red chillies, hing and curry leaves and ghee and pour the tempering onto the kootu and mix well.

Serve hot with chapati, pooris or rice with a side of appalams or poppadoms.