Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dhansak with Bulgur Wheat

In spite of being situated in Satara district, Puneites claim the hill stations of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani as if it were their own back yard. My first trip to Mahabaleshwar (or Mabby as the wannabe cool kids called it) was in 1980 at a ripe old age of 10. It was fascinating to see streets full of pretty much every kind of berry, honey and jam stores, swarms of monkeys, and vagabonds from Bombay and Pune trying to act extra cool. Equally fascinating were guys pretending to be expert horseback riders in the area around Venna lake, trying to impress women that were more interested in gnawing at their ‘bhutta’ (roasted corn on the cob) than any dude on a horse that can drop at any minute. Note to the ladies: Bhutta teeth is not a great look. There are a couple of cool places in Mahabaleshwar though. The shopping street, the horse rides everywhere. And what is the deal with those burnt Mahabaleshwar walking sticks? We were living at a Parsi hotel called Race View. (I have been to ‘Mabby’ numerous times after that, but have failed to locate it.) It was a really beautiful hotel with cute cottages, natural gardens, great views and berry wallahs that came straight to your doorstep. The greatest Parsi gift to India (besides incredibly hot girls, lessons in auto care, and a holiday for Parsi New Year) is Dhansak. And the ‘Pestonji’ at Race View delivered on his promise of really great Dhansak every night. I have tried in vain to find Dhansak like that. Even the otherwise great Dorabjee fails to deliver on great Dhansak. (It’s not bad, but it’s not great.) And this recipe doesn’t even come close.


For Dhansak
2 cups Red Lentils
½ cup Carrots chopped
½ cup French Beans chopped
½ cup Green Peas
½ cup Cauliflower chopped
3 tsp Tomato Paste
1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste
1 cup Onion finely chopped
1 tsp Garam Masala
¾ tsp Turmeric
4 tbsp Olive Oil
4 cups water
Salt to taste

For Bulgur Wheat
1 Cup Bulgur Wheat
½ cup onions chopped
1 tbsp Tomato paste
½ tsp Hungarian Paprika
1 tbsp whipped butter

Heat oil in a pot and add onions after oil is hot
Stir till onions are translucent and brown on the edges
Add tomato paste and allow it to cook
Add ginger, garlic, turmeric, masala, salt and cook for a minute or two
Add red lentils and the vegetables and stir
Add water and allow it to simmer on medium heat for 20-30 min
Turn heat off when the dal is completely cooked

Bulgur Wheat
Heat oil in a pot and add onions after oil is hot
Stir till onions are translucent and brown on the edges
Add tomato paste and allow it to cook
Add bulgur wheat and 3 cups water
Add water as needed.
When bulgur wheat is cooked stir in whipped butter.

Garnish Dhansak with coriander and lemon juice and serve with a side of Bulgur wheat

Monday, February 18, 2008

Matki chi Usal (Moth Bean Curry)

It’s President’s day today here in the U.S. and I am among the very few losers who has to work on this day. Nothing is more depressing than being the only one going to work while your significant other gives you the “sucks to be you” look while cozily snuggled up in a blanket. It reminds me of my school days when only some of the kids would have the day off on 'Rang Panchami' (A Maharashtrian version of Holi, 2nd day). It was pure torture to hear the kids in the school neighbourhood playing with their colours, splashing each other with coloured water on each other and throwing water balloons, while you sat in the 1:40 p.m. history class pretending to be interested in the renaissance in Europe. Today is a lot like that except that it is 25 years later and the urge to not be here is just as strong. Instead, I’d much rather be at home with Scanlynn and my cats enjoying some simple comfort food like Matki Usal and Chapati instead of what passes for lunch time fare here in midtown Manhattan.

2 cups Matki sprouts (Moth Beans)
1 Onion chopped
½ tsp Chili powder
½ tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Maharashtrian Goda Masala
3 tsp Cilantro chopped
3 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a wok
Reduce to medium heat once hot and add onion.
Fry onions till translucent, tender and brown on edges
Add chili, turmeric and goda masala and allow it to cook for a minute or two
Add matki, cilantro and salt and allow it to cook for a few minutes
If you desire some sauce, add a cup of water
Allow it to boil for a few minutes with a lid on till matki is cooked
Serve with hot chapati or rice and yogurt

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tandoori Chicken

Tilak Tank is known to most Puneites as the largest ‘natural’ swimming pool in Asia. What it really means is that this is the largest natural body of water where some dude had the brilliant idea of putting pavement around it and a few changing rooms. “Voila, now we can charge people money for this” he said. “Let’s put a statue of Lokmanya Tilak in the front call it Tilak tank.” It is true that Tilak Tank is large by any standards. And for the most part, pretty scary. It sits right off Prabhat Road boasting beautiful moss green water. Mostly on account of the abundant moss, algae and random freshwater flora. It is dotted by large schools of guppies that live in perfect harmony with bullfrogs, freshwater snakes, eels and some uncomfortably giant crabs. To emerge out of this cesspool disease free after a summer is a testament to one’s immune system. (Yours truly spent six summers in Tilak Tank, almost 5-6 hours a day). The tank is divided into different zones by depth. 3ft and 4ft are meant for young ones and beginners and are separate from the rest of the pool. Not surprisingly, they also have a very high ammonia content. The rest of it is divided into 5ft, 7ft, 25ft for diving, the 7 ft water polo area and the 5ft women’s area (where most of the men are). Of course, being a natural body of water, these depths are mere suggestions and not actual numbers. 5ft could mean anything from 4ft to 10 ft. They have one ‘lifeguard’, usually a rookie on the water polo team, hanging out like he owns the place, in Speedos two sizes too small. They have one lifeguard in spite of the fact that there is no point at the pool where you can see more than 50% of it at a single glance. Tilak tank, however, boasts of a fantastic safety record of ‘only’ 3 deaths a year. The diving area which is inhabited by numerous swallow’s nests (that attack you every time you try to dive) is the deepest point in the pool. This is the area that can never be cleaned and has dense moss under a certain depth. A small miscalculation in your dive and chances that you’ll never resurface are pretty high. The slide, which is meant for children, is made of cement. When I had the misfortune of using the slide I remember that used to be a giant crack in the middle of the slide. (The male folk for obvious reasons had to be extra careful over the crack). And the edge of the slide was broken with metal gauze sticking out. Which means if one were to use the slide the way it was meant to be used, you’d either crack a vertebra on the middle or leave a piece of your arse on the metal gauze. Oh, I kid the tank that gave me so many years of joy and needed me to take a cholera shots before I took a dip. In spite of all the bitching, it was a fun place to swim and get few shades darker from all the chlorine in the water. My favourite part of this activity was that it made me really hungry and aai would have the most delicious snacks waiting for my brother and myself when we reached home. One of her best ideas was to have a couple of containers of pre-marinated tandoori chicken legs sitting in the freezer. Coming home hungry to a kitchen lightly filled with tandoori chicken smoke was a pleasant memory I still cherish. Just as much as I cherish my Tilak tank days.

12 Chicken Drumsticks
3/4 cups Butter Milk
4 tsp Tandoori Masala (available at all Indian stores or click here for recipe.)
1 tsp grated Ginger
1 tsp Garlic paste
3/4 tsp Chili
3/4 tsp Turmeric
1 Lemon
1/4 cup Oil
Salt to taste

Make holes in the drumstick and place aside
In a large bowl create marinade using all ingredients except oil and lemon
Add chicken and coat it thoroughly with the marinade
Allow it to marinate for 4-6 hours (preferably overnight)
Char grill using a gas or coal grill or in the oven at 450ºF
Drizzle oil every now and then
Squeeze lemon and serve hot garnished with onions and cilantro

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Brahmni Amti (Spicy Stir-fried Lentils)

During my primary school years my mother used to threaten me with taking me to lunch to a dreadful place by the name of Suvarnarekha Dining Hall on Prabhat Road. And rightfully so. People from the Deccan Area might be well accustomed to this sorry excuse for a restaurant. Owned by the Yenpure family, it was housed in one of those buildings where a permanent heap of construction material lies blocking the footpath. Suvarnarekha is one of the restaurants that serves only the thali. The menu for the day is a mystery till the plate of food is in front of you. So if you don’t like what you see on your plate, you’re S.O.L. The food was acceptable at best when I first visited the place in the 80s, but the quality has gone down as the price of a thali has gone up. I remember the ambience being the canteen-like and was only complimented with the hostile wait-staff that usually served you like they were doing you a favour. I am quite sure that it hasn’t changed and the mediocre food remains quite popular with the senior Brahmni gentry and students in the Deccan area. The one thing Suvarnarekha did serve that was top-notch was the brahmni amti. To this day, it ranks only second to the one my aai makes.

1/2 cup Toor Dal (split Pigeon Peas)
2 teaspoon Maharashtrian goda masala (Kala masala)
2 tsp Oil
1/2 tsp Red Chili Powder
1 tsp Turmeric Powder
1/4 tsp Asafoetida
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 tsp Jaggrey (melted)
1/2 tsp Coconut Flakes
1 tsp chopped Cilantro

Cook dal in a pressure cooker as you would for Varan
Once cooked, churn it to make it into a homogenous liquid
Add jaggery, stir and place aside
In a pot heat the oil
Once hot add the mustard seeds till they splatter
Add chili, turmeric, asafoetida, and cilantro and stir
Add Dal, salt and stir.
Allow it to boil
Top each serving with half spoon of ghee and serve with rice