Sunday, 29 June 2014

Feel good chutney: Peel pood chutney

Peel Pood Chutney 

“Something’s wrong with my head”, I say to my daughter.

I’m actually telling this to myself.

I have come home after a hard day’s work on this cold and blustery Melbourne winter day. As I am preparing to settle down into my favourite chair with a hot cup of tea and my laptop, I find myself feeling relieved and actually looking forward to an entire evening – of answering emails, preparing tasks to delegate so my virtual assistants are kept gainfully employed…

I stop in my tracks, realising the ridiculousness of the situation – coming home from a hard days work and thinking, “Oh good, I have got the evening ahead to finish more work!”

That’s when I realise something’s wrong with my head.

My daughter’s simple question, “Who says you have to be doing something, or anything at all?”

Yes, who says so? Nobody, except myself.

That’s why I say something’s wrong with my head.

I need to feel good. I need to create, innovate, invent...

I turn to the kitchen, my other favourite place in the house and compound this “feel good chutney” with whatever I can lay my hands on.

This chutney combines the idea of using lauki peel for fresh chutneys with elements of the traditional Marathi/Kannada long-life  ‘pood chutney’ (powdered chutney).

The stir-fried peel and the roasted Bengal gram give this chutney a moist and softer touch than the original pood chutney, which is kept dry to ensure a long shelf life.

You can serve this with a spot of raw oil with dosas, pesarratus, idlis or hot rice and a drop of ghee.

You could even use this as seasoning for dry pohe, or add some yoghurt to make it a wet chutney. If stuck for any ideas for spicing up your work lunch, sprinkle this on some salad in a roll or baguette to make a hearty sandwich. If you want to jazz up a curry, just add a spoonful of this.

Peel Pood Chutney


1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp urad dal
2 tbsp raw peanuts
1 tsp coriander seeds
A small piece of tamarind (remove all stones, hard bark and fibre strings)
1 cup loosely packed bottle gourd peels, roughly chopped
12-15 fresh curry leaves
2-3 dry red chillies (or more)
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
2 tbsp roasted Bengal gram
½ tsp cumin seeds 
1 tsp grated jaggery (or more)
A large pinch of hing
Salt to taste


Heat the oil in a kadhai and add urad dal and the peanuts and the piece of tamarind. Allow the dal and nuts to start to brown then add the coriander seeds. Take care not to burn any of these ingredients. The tamarind should turn crispy. Then add the bottle gourd peels and fresh curry leaves and stir for a while to coat the peels and leaves with the oil.  Let the peels cook on low heat for a few minutes. You may cover the kadhai for just a few minutes. Remove the lid and roast on low heat till the peel and the curry leaves are almost crisp. Then add the dry red chillies sesame seeds and the desiccated coconut. Stir till you smell the toasted sesame seeds and coconut. Then add the roasted Bengal gram, cumin seeds, hing. Take care not to burn the already roasted Bengal gram.
Remove from heat and spread in a plate to cool.

When cool, transfer the mixture into a spice grinder cup. Add the grated jaggery (keep it a little sweet – tastes nice), salt to taste and coarsely grind the mixture. Check the salt and sweetness levels and adjust accordingly.

Store in an airtight jar in the fridge for a few days.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Uppar sey biryani...

 Kathal Ki Biryani 

My Baba, who was a true Hyderabadi, had grown up studying Urdu as a language at school. So like most speakers or lovers of this beautiful and rich language, he was voluble in expressing his sentiments.

One of things we distinctly remember more than three decades after he passed away is his treasure trove of pithy witticisms and very Hyderabadi sayings for every occasion. For those who don’t know, Hyderabadi (Hindi/Urdu) is a dialect spoken by the original denizens of city. Some Farsi, mostly Urdu and Hyderabadi Hindi and a smattering of Telugu, Marathi and Kannada - regional languages of the erstwhile Nizam state –have enriched this delightfully refreshing dialect with its unique intonation and wordplay. 

Baba was also a true blue Hyderabadi in that he wouldn’t or couldn’t utter a string of sentences without including a couple gaalis or swear words. I am not sure if I dare mention, let alone describe his repertoire of ‘gaalis’, which used every figure of speech possible. Suffice to say, even the vilest of his swear words had underlying notes of humour, affection and caring and take a prize for creativity. 

Such is the generosity of a Hyderabadi that even the abusee would totally agree with the underpinning wisdom of the ‘gaali’ and be left wanting more, as one would want this biryani.

When something was better than nothing, Baba would concede, “Nai mamu sey nakta mamu sahi hai”. The term mamu here is not the shortened form mama or maternal uncle, but perhaps of “maahanmuuttaja” (immigrant/servant). The idiom literally meant it’s better to have a servant with a snub-nose, than not have one at all!

When rolling his eyes knowingly at the shrewdness of anyone who happened to have a short stature, he would say, “Giddatan chitnatan”! Gidda, as you guessed, refers to a short man.

“Ghar mein nahi jawari, amma puriyan pakari!” was a brutally honest assessment of a situation wherein one was reaching beyond their means.  

As kids we learnt lessons on time and task management with Baba mildly chided us with “Ein shikar ke waqt kutta sone ku gaya!” Well, one could replace (and surely you can imagine Baba did) whatever the dog was doing during the hunting expedition just when the prey was in sight, without detracting from the meaning or the caustic nature of the comment!

So where does this biryani fit in here?

Of course, I have some metaphors for biryani, but more about them some other day. 

This biryani brought to my mind another of Baba’s favourite sayings for deceptive appearances or ostentatious facades, “Upper sey sherwani, under sey pareshani”!

Ever since I read all that hoo-ha about jackfruit or kathal biryani in the foodie groups on FB, I have been wanting to make it. I did find some in a Vietnamese market some time ago and bought it excitedly. But no, I didn’t make it then and threw out that piece of jackfruit wrapped in Clingfilm, discoloured beyond recognition as it languished in the fridge for weeks, waiting to see the light of the day.

So when I spotted jackfruit again the other day, I decided to finally make this biryani, expressly for some hard-core meat-eating guests.

I looked around for recipes high and low. Finally, zeroed in on three sources – three chefs - Sanjeev Kapoor, Sanjay Thumma, the Vah Chef and Rashmi Madan, my soul sister from Hervey Bay.

The biryani was a super success in terms of the flavours, the grain, the texture of the kathal, the appearance replete with the perfect birista or fried onions, the pure Spanish kesar, the aroma that wafted down the stairwell and the lift shaft, almost perfect – except – the kathal has a distinct bitterness to it that couldn’t be masked by any of the zillion ingredients I had put in.

You can imagine how disappointed and “dismood”(another Hyderabadism?!) I was. I had labored for over 2 hours over this biryani, which looked so good and tasted so super – but for the bitter kathal. 

Worse still, my guests had either not noticed it, or were too polite to mention it.

This was a situation that Baba would have described, albeit kindly, as “Upper sey biryani, under sey pareshani”!

Relentless in his teasing, he would have responded to my lament, “I should have checked the jackfruit for bitterness” with a, “Aisa hota hai, ein shikar ke waqt…!”

But then, Baba would also have encouraged me saying, “Nai biryani sey…”

Thus heartened, I present my Kathal ki (kadvi) biryani.

Kathal ki biryani      


1 kg chunk of raw jackfruit
3 cups basmati rice, washed and soaked cold water for at least 30-40 minutes.
3-4 potatoes cut into large cubes
1 cup frozen green peas
6-7 large white onions, finely sliced with a mandolin slicer
1½ cups yoghurt
2 tbsp fresh ginger and garlic paste
3 – 4 bay leaves
A handful of cashews
1-2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1 tbsp garam masala powder
Whole garam masala roughly crushed in a mortar and pestle (3-4 cloves, 2 black cardamoms, 5-6 green cardamoms,1 tsp black pepper, 4-5 petals mace)
1 tsp shahi jeera
1 star anise
2 inch piece cinnamon
2 cloves and 2 green cardamoms (for the rice)
2-3 green chillies, or more
1 cup chopped coriander
1 cup chopped mint
Salt to taste
1 cup milk
A generous pinch of saffron
A few drops kewra water
2-3 tbsp ghee
Oil for frying


Warm half a cup of milk and add a large pinch of saffron and the kewra water and keep aside.

Boil a large pot of water and add the soaked and drained rice. Add the cloves and cardamom and some salt. When the rice is about 80% done, drain out the water. (Keep the water – tastes nice as a conjee). Separate the grain by fluffing with a fork and spread it out in a tray to let it cool.

With well-oiled hands and an oiled sharp knife, cut the thick and thorny skin off the jackfruit, well past the spiked skin and marked skin under the spines. Taste the flesh to ensure it’s not bitter. Cut the jackfruit into square biggish chunks. Keep the seeds if they are tender. Wash the chunks in cold water and drain in a colander.

Heat oil in a pan and fry the cashews and set aside. Fry the onions golden brown and set aside.

In the same oil, deep fry the jackfruit chunks and potato cubes. Drain on kitchen paper.

Heat a pan and add about ½ cup of oil and add the bay leaves, the crushed garam masalas, shahi jeera, cinnamon, bay leaves, green chillies and ginger garlic paste and sauté for a couple of minutes. Now add the beaten yoghurt and cook for a while. Then add the Kashmiri chilli powder, the powdered garam masala and sauté for a while. Add the frozen green peas, half of the mint and coriander leaves, fried cashews and the fried jack fruit chunks and the fried potatoes. Add salt to taste.

In a deep micro-wave proof casserole spread a layer of rice sprinkle some fired onions and coriander and mint and top with a layer of the jackfruit mixture. Repeat until the rice and jackfruit mixture is used up. Top it with some fried onions and the coriander and mint leaves. Sprinkle the saffron and milk mixture on the top.  Finish the topping with some melted ghee. Cover the casserole with a lid and cook in a microwave on medium power for at least 10 min.  You can pop the casserole into the oven too, but nuking it in the MW works better for me in terms of the texture.

Serve hot with a dahi ki chutney.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Glutton for punishment

Methi Dhapatas

If you are reading this post of your own volition, you will wholeheartedly agree that eating is such a pleasurable activity.

Why then do our Indian languages use the verb/infinitive “khana” for negative and painful activities like thappad khana, maar khana, dhoka khana, gaali khana, etc.?

Why don't we ever say khushi peena or pyaar khana?

As if not content with that, my native tongue has a veritable arsenal of vocab for beating techniques laced with onomatopoeic adjectives.

Doesn’t gaal guccha sound like some exotic sweet – some form of fried dough dipped in syrup? Au contraire, it refers to a cheek-pinch. 

Chaapat poli is nothing like a puran poli, but a slap in the face.

A dhammak laadu doesn’t refer to a sensational besan or churma laddu, but to punching and pummeling.

Sadly, these phrases do not refer to food.

The only concession these euphemisms offer is that they are used mostly in juvenile contexts. But let’s not forget the grim reality that these phrases belong to the dark Dickensian world of corporal punishment and refer to instruments of physical torture.

Dhapata, however is an exception. Although literally it means a whack, usually on an errant child’s back, dhapata also refers to this tasty cousin of the paratha and thepla.

Never a candidate for self- punishment, this is one dhapata I have always been happy to eat!

Methi Dhapata

Dhapatas must have got their name from the action of patting or whacking – traditionally, dhapatas were not rolled, but patted into shape.


1½ cups chopped fresh methi leaves
2 cups whole-wheat flour (atta)
¼ cup besan
¼ cup jowar/bajra/ raagi flour
¼ cup rice flour
½ cup sour yoghurt
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1-2 tsp red chilli powder
½  tsp ajwain powder
½ tsp hing
½ tsp turmeric
1 tablespoon oil + more for cooking
Salt to taste
Water to knead the dough (as required)


In a large bowl, mix the chopped methi and the spices and the flours. Add salt to taste and then add the oil and yoghurt and mix it all together. Now gradually add some water to make a pliable dough out of the mixture.

Divide the dough into balls the size of a large lemon. Flour a surface and roll out a ball into a small thick disc. Brush a little oil (I dot oil with my fingers) on one half of the circle and fold it into half. Repeat the brushing and fold again making it a quarter.

Though not very common to the rolling process of such dhapatas/parathas, this action ensures that the methi does not stick to the top and bottom of the dhapata together making it hard like papad or leathery. When the oil and remnants of the flour from the dusting get heated, they make the layers of the dhapata rise with the steam. This makes them flakey and crisp yet soft.

Place a rolled out dhapata on a medium hot tava. When the top starts puffing up, dot it with oil and then flip the dhapata. Reduce the heat now. Oil the side that's up and flip again after the bottom gets golden spots. This side does not need too much cooking.

Remove from the tava as soon as you are happy both sides have cooked well (and the paratha has puffed up at least in parts). Leaving it for too long on the tava will make the paratha hard as it dries out more moisture from the paratha.

Serve the paratha hot (from the tava to the plate is the best) with yoghurt, sour cream or butter and some pickle.

These dhapatas stay for 2-3 days at cooler room temperature. Store them in the fridge on hot days.

They make a nice roll to have with hot chai. We often took dhapatas on long journeys and picnics, for that matter, still do.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Neighbours' Korma

Neighbours’ Korma (Vegetable Korma)

Hyderabad today has restaurants and eateries of every size and description. But in the 70s and early 80s, there were only a few iconic places where most people we knew went. Udupi, Punjabi restaurants like Havmor and Apollo, restaurants with a la carte menus such as Mohini, Peacock and the restaurant in Hotel Siddarth.

That is what I saw from my perspective as a young person suitably limited by exposure, budget and recalcitrance.

The first time we ate at Hotel Siddarth is distinctly etched in my memory. We had ordered puri bhaji, expecting huge puris and potato masala of the masala dosa variety. Instead, the puris came out with this korma.

After our initial disappointment at this wasting of perfect puris on this spicy dish, we began to explore the plethora of flavours and textures.

Here was a dish that had the known flavours of khus khus and coconut of Aai’s domesticated rassa made exotic by the addition of cream. The familiar spectrum of spices had a mystery element. We later identified it as fennel. This notched the korma's to our hitherto largely Brahminical palate.

The cherry on the top, literally and figuratively, was the surprise collocation of the chickpeas, the pineapple and glacé cherries. Another first for us, as it balanced the base and the bizarre, the sweet and the sour.

This was like something come from a neighbour’s home.

At this juncture, I must tell you about this family meme of “neighbours’ food”. Food varies in flavours and techniques from home to home. That’s why one likes those surprise offerings from neighbours' homes. Arriving in little bowls and plates covered with paper napkins or doilies they used to brighten up a Sunday.

In my home, whatever my husband cooks always tastes like neighbours’ food, tasty, spicy.  Mind you, his dishes always have more oil and spice and chillies than I would ever dare use, and more onions in one dish than I would use in a whole week.

But it’s most welcome because I haven’t had to make it.

I often make this korma. Skipping the cherries, and whilst keeping the distinctive features of the korma viz the poppy seeds, coconut, fennel, chickpeas and pineapple, I do what comes to my mind and hand and don’t have a set recipe for it.

That’s the reason why it always tastes like neighbours’ korma.

Here’s what I did this time.

Neighbours’ Korma (Vegetable Korma)


¾ cup chickpeas, soaked for 5-6 hours
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I don’t peel them as we get washed potatoes here)           
1 medium carrot, cubed
10-12 fresh green beans, ends trimmed and cut
2 cups cauliflower florets
½ cup frozen peas
1 cup paneer cubes
½ cup fresh pineapple chunks (tinned will also do)                   
¾ can chopped tomatoes (or 1 cup blanched tomatoes, chopped)
½ cup creamy yoghurt, beaten
1 tbsp ginger/garlic paste  
½ tsp turmeric         
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder          
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp coriander powder    
2 tbsp coriander, chopped for garnish
Salt to taste
Sugar/sweetener (optional)
2-3 tbsp fresh cream

 For the tadka

2-3 green cardamoms
1 black cardamom
2-3 cloves      
1inch cinnamon       
1-2 Bay leaves          
½ tsp shahi jeera
1-2 petals mace
10-12 curry leaves
1-2 green chillies, slit
2 tblsp oil
1 tsp ghee

For the paste

2 large onions, sliced and fried (reserve some for garnishing)
¼ cup fresh grated coconut
¾ tsp jeera
¾ tsp saunf   
1 tsp khus khus, lightly toasted      
8- 10 cashew nuts or almonds
2 tbsp melon seeds

Grind the ingredients into a smooth paste with some water.

Place the chickpeas in a saucepan and add 3-4 cups of water and a little salt and bring it to a boil. Remove any scum that arises and when the chickpeas are half done, add the cubed potatoes, carrots, beans and the cauliflower and frozen peas in the order of their cooking time. Keep the chickpeas and vegetables al dente.

Heat a heavy bottomed pan and heat oil and ghee. Add all the whole garam masalas and allow them to crackle. Add the ginger, garlic paste, curry leaves and the green chilies and sauté for a minute. Then add the turmeric and red chili powder and the powdered garam masala. Add the beaten curd and cook for a minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and cook till the colour changes. Then add the coconut, cashew, onion and melon seed paste and cook till the oil starts leaving the sides.

Add the cooked vegetables and chickpeas along with the stock. Add the paneer cubes and pineapple pieces. Check and adjust the salt. Add the sugar/sweetener if using. Avoid if you are using canned pineapple.

Add water if required, based on how thick you want it.  Cover and simmer for a few minutes till everything comes together. Add the cream and gently mix it in.

Garnish with chopped coriander and browned onions.

Serve with pooris, parathas or jeera rice.