Friday, 8 July 2016

Fruits of labour

Fruits of labour

You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. (Psalm 128:2)

I can never make a potful of varanphal without remembering this psalm. Not only does the idea of “fruit” echo with this Marathi dish with such a quaint name (varan as in a daal lentil soup and phal as in fruit), but it also resounds with the same feeling of blessedness.

The psalm describes the blessedness of the virtuous, who enjoy the fruit of their past labours in the present, and are also assured of their future welfare.

In the same vein, varanphal is made in my family usually when we are back after a long, hard day at work when we need a hearty and wholesome meal quickly.

The blessedness comes from the righteous feeling of having put in an honest day’s work. It comes from the pleasure of tucking into a bowlful of hot varanphal topped with some ghee toop or phodni when you are cold, hungry and tired.

The height of bliss is when you feel the warm, silky phals sliding effortlessly down your throat and into your gut and lasts their whole evening, fortifying you for the morrow when another hard day awaits you.

Varanphal (Dal Dhokli or Chakoli) 

This dish is comforting in more ways than one! It saves you the hassle of making a full meal by incorporating dal, roti and subzi -all in one.

You can even make this using pasta, as I have, with lasagne sheets or even short cut pastas like macaroni.

1 cup well cooked toor dal (or masoor)
A ball of firm dough, made with atta salt and a little ajwain/oregano – enough to make 7-8 rotis
1½ cups mixed vegetables evenly cut- carrots, beans, potatoes, pumpkin, eggplant, peas
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup raw peanuts
¾ cup chopped tomatoes
1 tsp lemon juice or tamarind extract as per taste
1 tbsp sugar or gur or suitable amounts of sweetener
1 tsp Garam Masala, Goda Masala or Sambar masala
Red Chilly powder to taste
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of hing
7-8 curry leaves
2 tablespoons chopped coriander to garnish
1 tbsp grated coconut (fresh or desiccated)
Topping - extra oil for tadka or ghee


In a large thick bottomed pot, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Add the onions and curry leaves and cook for a minute or so, then add the vegetables and the tomatoes a minute later.

Let the vegetables sauté for a few minutes and add the garam masala/sambar masala/goda masala, hing, chilly powder. Mash the cooked dal and add it to this mixture and add about 4 cups water. Let the dal boil for some time and add the salt, lemon/tamarind juice and sugar/gur and let the dal simmer.

Roll out a large chapati and cut it into 2 inch squares (or any bite size shapes) with a knife or a fluted pastry cutter.

Drop these pieces into the boiling dal, making sure they don’t stick to each other. This daal needs to be fairly thin and watery, as the dough pieces are going to thicken it. The varanphal also thickens on keeping.

Mix once, making sure the pieces do not stick to the bottom, and let the dal simmer while you make the other chapattis in a similar manner and add the squares to the boiling dal. Make sure each time you add the pieces of a chapati, you stir the mixture to loosen any pieces sticking to the bottom.

Once all the dough is in, adjust the taste and water again. Let it simmer, covered if the pot is large enough, till all the dough pieces are cooked well and float onto the top.

Garnish with coriander and grated coconut.

Serve hot with ghee or some extra phodni, pickles and papad.

This also tastes great the day after.

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Magic of Seven

Seven-cup Burfi or Vadi

For long I have resisted the seven-cup vadis or burfis vadis for varying reasons. I have been put-off by the sheer quantities –imagine using up a whole cup of ghee and three whole cups of sugar.

Or I have thought them to be too commonplace - a food bloggers’ fad like the Tangzhong water roux that every blogger worth their salt seems to have mastered. 

Sometimes the vadis seemed gimmicky and less onerous - didn’t a classicist have to do it the right way, the hard way? 

So despite having had occasional debacles with vadis / burfis over the years, I have not succumbed to the seven-cup magic.  

Speaking of debacles - these have ranged from episodes when a prematurely poured vadi mixture has resolutely refused set, to occasions when a zealously stirred aggregate has overstayed in the pan and crossed the crystal boundaries into a state of crumbly no return. 

Not that the family ever complains, for irrespective of whether the vadi mixture cloys to the tray, crumbles hopelessly or cubes correctly, it is sure to be polished off – scraped off the tray by a spatula, popped into the mouth as a perfect plaque or eaten out of a bowl with a spoon.

For a while now, I have tried to rationalise my resistance – the vadi or burfi may not be extraordinarily rich – the cup measure is indicative. I can always use a very small cup. It’s also the usual ratio of 1: ¾ measure for a sweet to set.  

It’s not a gimmick – ultimately there is some skill involved in knowing just when to remove the mixture from the heat – and in the same token, if skill was involved then surely every blogger worth their salt must have been tempted to demonstrate their prowess. 

So convinced was I by my own reasoning, that I was just waiting for an opportunity to make these vadis, and this morning, an hour before we started for the airport to see off a “barat” or a groom’s party, I had this urge to make something sweet to mark the momentous occasion! 

The seven-cup magic made the joyous occasion even sweeter – and I have been charmed for life by the vadi. 

Seven-cup Vadi/Burfi 

This is a vegan version. The refined coconut oil I use works exactly like ghee, and is absolutely aroma or flavour free.


1 measure besan (chickpea flour)
1 measure loosely packed grated fresh or frozen coconut mixed with 2 tablespoons almond meal
1 measure coconut milk (you can use dairy milk)
1 measure refined coconut oil melted (you can use ghee) 
3 measures sugar
1 tsp crushed cardamom


Grease a thali or tray with some coconut oil.

Heat a heavy bottomed pan and add the besan and a tablespoon of coconut oil and roast for a few minutes. Once the raw smell disappears, add half of the coconut oil and roast a little more, but don’t let the besan brown. 
Next add the coconut milk, sugar and the grated coconut and almond meal. Keep the pan on low heat and mix well and stir well.

After a few minutes, the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Add the remaining coconut oil and the crushed cardamom to the mixture. Mix well and continue to stir until the mixture starts to leave the sides of the pan. Switch off the heat and continue to stir for a minute and then gather everything into the centre of the pan and tip it into the greased thali or tray. 

This process should take about 25 minutes.

Spread the mixture in the thali or tray using a spatula. When cooled down sufficiently, score cuts into the mixture with a sharp knife. You can do squares or diamonds. When the mixture cools down completely, cut out the vadis or burfis. 

Store the vadis/ burfis in an airtight box.