Prettying Up

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Some time ago, I decided to impress Sunanda by cooking for her. So I decided, what better than to lean on my heritage? I dont quite remember why but vegetarian was a requirement so much of my standard repertoire had to be put aside. Not to be deterred, I dug deep and real-Bengali dishes bori dyie kacha posto, kumro bhapa, chhanar dalna and bati chochhori were lined up.

The cooking went well (I’m not telling you how the rest of the evening went) but as a special touch, with a little help from the impressee, I decided to pretty things up before wolfing it down. Square plates, some coriander, a bit of cookie cutter magic (I use it to press the rice into nice shapes) and the deep golden colour of raw mustard oil helped out. Here are the recipes

Bori Diye Kacha Posto

Bori (vadi for all the other Indians) are dried lentil cakes. The most common lentil for vadi is urad, but this recipe uses the moong variety, small hershey-kiss shaped thingies that fry up to a nice crunch. Posto or poppyseed (don’t get excited – the seed doesn’t have any opium) is usually added to gravies or used as a coating on fired food (similar to breadcrumbs) but this uses that raw poppyseed paste. No cooking – kacha is raw in Bengali. Its a starter, usually had with plain rice and has a mild taste that’s addictive for all kinds of legal reasons

Moong bori
Posto (poppyseed)
Raw Mustard oil
Green chillies

This is one of the simple ones – fry the vadis, paste the posto in a wet grinder with a little water to a smooth, flowing paste (this takes a while). Ad a little chopped green chilli, splatter some raw mustard oil and serve it up nice on rice.

Kumro Bhapa

Kumro, or red pumpkin, is a staple vegetable in Bengal. We cook it in many different forms; by far the easiest way is a simple steaming. Combined with green chillies, spiked up with raw mustard oil and generous quantities of fresh-grated coconut, this can be much more of a treat than the healthy-sounding “steaming: suggests. The catch is to get good pumpkin, though – most pumpkin  isn’t very tasty. The ones with dark green skins seem to work best.

Kumro (pumpkin)
Freshly grated coconut
Raw Mustard oil
Green chillies (slit lengthwise)

Steam the pumpkin till just tender, drain of all the water and then mix thoroughly with the coconut and chillies. Thats it, really; just drizzle some raw mustard oil on top. Have plain or with plain rice. This is also a traditional first course.

Bati Chochchori

Bati is bowl, and chochchori is a mixed vegetable dish. This mixed vegetables in a bowl business comes from the traditional-ageold-ancient-timehonoured practice of putting vegetables in a bowl (or wrapped in a banana leaf parcel) and tossed into the pot to be steamed along with the rice. Nowadays, of course, there are things called microwaves and tradition isn’t what it used to be.

Cauliflower florets, small
Green Peas (frozen is good)
Kalo Jeera (Kalonji)
Mustard paste
Freshly grated coconut
Coconut milk (optional)

Raw Mustard oil
Green chillies (slit lengthwise)

Another super-simple dish. Pop the kalonji in a small amount of hot mustard oil, cool it. Mix it with the paste, the florets, the peas, salt, green chillies and some of the grated coconut. Put into a closed microwaveable bowl and zap it for till done (about 3-5 min, though this really depends on your microwave). No water is added, the cauliflower will release enough on its own.

Chhanar Dalna

Dalna is a dryish thick gravy for vegetables, made simple or with gorom moshla for extra special occasions (like this one). Chhana, or paneer, is one of my favourite things in the world, trumping even the odd non-veg. Paneer, when I was growing up, was usually a special treat (since it used to be expensive) and the dalna was my absolute favourite. I used to find it very difficult to make; it took a while to master this seemingly simple dish.

Chhana (paneer) as fresh as you can get it
Ginger, grated fresh into a paste
Jeera (cumin) paste

for the Gorom Moshla
Laung (
clove) whole,
Dalchini (cinnamon) whole,
Elach (green cardamom) whole.

Kishmish (raisins, any kind).
Dried red chillies
Tej Patta (cinnamon leaf)

Cut the paneer into large squares and sear on all sides on a hot pan (or fry, but be careful - it splatters a lot). Put the gorom moshla into hot oil and wait till the aroma is released, then add the ginger and jeera pastes. Saute it till the oil separates, add the paneer and let it simmer till the paneer is cooked through.

Random Bites

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Bits and pieces of food experience have been accumulating, not enough to carve a post out of, but enough to cobble together into a potluck.

The first was my visit to Chennai, where a last minute google search found me a late late lunch at Ponnusamy, just a short deviation off the straight line between two meetings. In the course of my earlier googles about food in Chennai and the biriyani wars, this name had surfaced a few times; some had even appointed it top rank. Curiosity, hunger and the aforementioned shortness of deviation was thus all very propitious, and in due course I was seated at the somewhat seedy interiors of the Adyar Branch of Ponnusamy Hotels (yes, like nearly every eatery in Chennai, this is also a chain). Ponnusamy promises "South Indian and Chettinad" food and is also supposed to be renowned for it's biriyani (so google claimed). Hungry as a dog, I promptly rolled off an order for Chettinad staples rabbit fry, pepper chicken and mutton biriyani.

The reason this story is short is that I was sorely disappointed. Neither the rabbit nor the chicken left much of an impression beyond an excess of pepper, while the biriyani can best be described as dull (how one can produce tough mutton in a slow-cook dish is a mystery only the great samy has been able to crack). This is not a patch on Velu Military or either variant of Rawther.

Then there was the little matter of lunch at East. It's a largish space tucked into the crowded and vaguely insalubrious location a hop away from Cumballa Hill Hospital. The restaurant surely deserves more recognition than it gets; the three of us were, at peak lunch hour, the only diners in the room. The five-course Pre-fixe chef's menu was full of very nice dishes, elegantly presented and quite drool worthy. Roti canai, soya chicken, all very nice Asian stuff. Highly recommended, at least for a second try.

Finally, there's the matter of the scallop. For reasons unknown to man, the scallop is not at all common on the menu in India (which is strange, because scallops are found in oceans everywhere). The Chinese do scallops in every possible form (and account for 80% of world production), the West offers it on every seafood menu; India seems quietly aloof to all this. It was with small but audible gasps of pleasure, therefore, that I recently saw it on the menu at two different places - the very handsome Tote and the hitherto undiscovered Canvas. Both places promised medium-sized scallops (about the size of the old 50p coin) prominently labelled as Canadian. Both weren’t the greatest I’ve ever had, but still worth a try – Canvas more so than Tote (which drowned the somewhat delicate taste in a green sauce). Not far from Canvas, Punjab Grill’s tandoori scallops are still the best around.

Upside Down

about Bhuleshwar, Mumbai 8 comments:

Mumbai is full of ghasphoos, especially the kind espoused by our northern neighbour. Even in this sea of veggie wonders, however, some dishes stand out and one of them is the near–mythical undhiyu.

Undhiu

I say near-mythical with reason; there are so many stories around its origins, ingredients and preparation, starting with the name itself – upside down. Apparently the authentic version is prepared on the farms of Surat by burying pots of exotic winter vegetables underground, and then lighting fires above it. Moonlight and morning dew are also rumoured to be involved. Here’s a short list of the ingredients that really go into the dish:

  • Surti papdi (a kind of flat winter bean)
  • Ariya kakdi (a kind of zucchini)
  • Old potatoes
  • Ravaya (small purple brinjal)
  • Kand (purple yam)
  • Sakhariya (sweet potatoes)
  • Unpeeled ripe Rajagiri bananas
  • Methi muthia (fenugreek leaf and besan dumplings)
  • Lilva (green tuvar dal)
  • Green garlic (garlic chives)
  • Lots of oil

Undhiyu is not hard to get in Mumbai (every wedding seems to have it); most of it isn’t very good. The very characteristic taste of undhiyu comes from three things – the green spice mixture , the vegetables in the dish and the slow, slow method of braising in oil. The green spice mixture is easily replicated but the ingredients are much harder to acquire – most grow only in winter and only around Surat. Finally, there’s no way an average restaurant is burying anything underground for hours. What comes to the plate is usually undhiyu-flavoured mix-veg.

Consensus put an obscure 75-yr old shop in CP Tank as the top undhiyu in the city, and for a long time I was unable to get my hands on a sample and decide for myself. This place does not make very much undhiyu daily so it runs out fast; my last four visits had ended in disappointment. This Sunday’s cycle ride, I had already loaded up on a small plate of disappointing undhiyu in the much more prominently advertised Surti Restaurant (where Chinese, Punjabi and Tandoori are also on the menu). Right around the corner was Hiralal Kashidas, and Mr. Shah at the counter finally said yes to my entreaties this time. And so I walked into the dimly lit interior and questionably hygenic interior (this place is no Oberoi) full of mythical expectations.

The Sign

I’m not going to fill this with verbiage – the undhiyu is outstanding. Having never been to Surat, I have no idea about any authenticity claims but this is easily the most droolworthy undhiyu I have ever had, and one of the best dishes of any kind anywhere. There’s a reason why the dish is famous, and why those exact ingredients matter – they combine to provide a taste and texture sensation that is – well – sensational. Squishy brinjals, chewy muthias, yielding bites of kand, starchy old potatoes, the grainy feel of the beans and lilva, its a wonderful explosion of tastes and textures when perfectly done.

Microwaveable Photo Feb 28, 9 55 44 AM

As it turns out, there’s more where the undhiyu came from. Hiralal Kashidas is also makes some fantastic snack foods – including an unusual batatawada (tiny, soft-centred potato balls), some very nice patti samosas, methi bhajiya, kand bhajiya and lots of other stuff. Then there was something I’d never seen before - the very tasty lilva ghugda. Ghugda’s are usually sweet, but this one’s stuffed to great effect with a spicy-sweet lilva (green tuvar dal) filling.

Batata Vada Methi Bhajiya Patti Samosa

Hiralal Kashidas is a real find. It helps that it is also hard to find (you could follow the map) but the final test isn’t about 1936 pedigree or a lack of hygiene that always seems to accompany the best street food. What really matters is - the stuff that Hiralal feeds you (in conveniently microwaveable containers) is great food – some of the best in the city.

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