Monday, April 21, 2008

Onion Uttapa

After my lackluster performance in my SSC exams I thought I had sealed my fate of getting into the prestigious science stream or even get in to a good junior college such as Fergusson. Of course, anyone from India knows that merit has absolutely nothing to do with what college you get into or pretty much anything you do in life. So through "family connections" I was granted a seat at Fergusson College in the science stream. In fact my parents went one up and secured me a seat in division D of the science stream. In Fergusson, divisions C and D were reserved for the smartest students. You know those really annoying, snooty kids whose lives revolve around books, coaching classes and HSC merit lists? All of my friends however, were placed in division F—the class that every teacher feared, the class that is made entirely out of students who have come there by all means except merit. Even the girls were a force to be reckoned with. As the FYJC year progressed, my misery in a class of the snooty kids grew and so did my absence from class. And I found solace in the greatest place on campus, the IMDR canteen. Situated between the Gokhale Institute, IMDR (Institute of Management Development and Research) and the Dept of Geography, this canteen served one of the happiest places on Campus. (Also a little weird was the fact that there was a geography building and it was so big.) This canteen was the place to be for the 'Lukhi Junta' of which I was a major member. The make up of the canteen was so weird that from the outside, it looked like caged hooligans enjoying cigarettes and tea. Tea served in the tiniest of chipped cups was just all you needed to wake up, a 2 ft peripheral wall that also served as part of the seating arrangement, dented and partially washed steel plates, a flimsy roof, creaky chairs and countless flies were all things that added charm to this place. In addition the waiter ability to never write down your order and still not fuck it up were pretty amazing. Not to mention that the hill behind the canteen looked like it would crash into the structure at any minute. The food at IMDR although fair, was not the main attraction of this establishment. It was more like you ate because that’s where you happened to be. Although the bun wada at the IMDR canteen remains legendary, it seems that the bun keeps getting bigger and the wada keeps getting smaller. Let’s just hope that the management allows the wada to catch up. Besides the bun-wada, there was a second item that they did really well. The onion utappa although vastly overshadowed by the bun wada was really good. Also served in a dented steel plate, the onion utappa, sprinkled with generous amounts of onion, coriander, green chili and a generous helping of white butter really held it’s own. I made many friends here and witnessed my teenaged friends inhale their first ‘Goldflake’ here, too. And although I’ll never remember this place for its food, it will always remind me of when I went to college, but didn’t quite get there.

Idli Batter 4 cups (click here for idli batter recipe)
1 onion finely chopped
½ cup Green Peas
2 Green chilies chopped
3 tsp Coriander finely chopped

Mix onion, peas and chili in the idli batter
Heat a skillet and spread ½ cup of the batter on it
Spread it as thin as possible
Drizzle ½ tsp oil on and around the dosa
Tilt the skillet so that oil spreads evenly on the edges
Allow it to cook till the top of the batter appears cooked
Flip dosa if you prefer both sides cooked
Serve with green chutney (Click here for recipe)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kanda Poha

For many Puneites or Maharashtrians, a Poha Program is a running joke and for some a pretty hair- raising experience. For the non-Maharashtrians, a poha program is when a boy of marriageable age goes to a girl's house for the purpose of an arranged marriage with the decision makers of his family. Decision maker in this case may or may not include the two parties actually getting hitched. The meeting usually takes place in the evening hours. Somewhere around tea time, but much before dinner time. The most popular dish that is served at this time is Kanda Pohe. Very quick and easy to make, and really hard to screw up. And no matter who makes the Poha, it is always passed off as a shining example of the bride-to-be's many special talents. As for those of you guys who fell in love without first testing the poha-power of your bride to be, you can still fix a decent plate for yourselves. Here's how:

3 cups Thick Poha
1 large White Onion finely chopped
1 Potato cut into small pieces
3-4 Chillis each cut into 3-4 pieces
6-7 Curry Leaves (Kaddipatta)
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
3/4 tsp Sugar
3/4 tsp Turmeric
1/2 cup Cilantro chopped (Coriander)
1/2 cup oil
Salt to taste
1/2 cup Fresh Coconut shredded
1 Lemon cut into quarters

Soak Poha in a sieve and drench completely
Place it aside
Place oil in a deep pot on medium heat.
Add mustard seeds and curry leaves.
Once mustard seeds splatter add chili, onion and potato in that order
Cover with a lid stirring occasionally
When potatoes are cooked
Add Poha, turmeric, sugar, salt and coriander
Mix well, close lid
Cook for 4-5 min on medium heat stirring occasionally
Serve hot in a flat quarter plate with a slice of Lemon
Garnish with Coconut and Cilantro

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Khaman Dhokla

While the streets of London are paved with gold, the streets of Pune are lined with numerous non-descript halwais. Pretty much anything that is not a Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, Karachi Sweet Mart or Kaka Halwai is a non-descript halwai. The one thing I like about these halwais is the layout of their stores. Barring the odd one that goes against the grain, pretty much all stores are rectangular with the shorter side serving as the storefront. All goods are behind a counter to one side of the store and the other half serving as ‘browsing area for the patrons. As you enter the store a mildly enthusiastic man imitating one of Henry Moore’s reclining sculptures greets you. He is usually the owner or at least the one in charge of the cash. Chances are, you’ll also be greeted with an insincere offer for some tea or coffee. You’re best advised not to accept, as it is quite an inconvenience for all parties concerned. Nod gracefully and move on. As you make your way into the store through the omnipresent swarm of flies you pass numerous brightly coloured sweets placed in perfect pyramids. Jarring yellow sev’s, saturated jalebis and many such delicacies. At about 3/4th of the length of the curved glass showcase you will come across a youth hanging out in a baniyan that once used to be white and way too enthusiastic for the job he is doing. These stores usually sell 3 kinds of foods—sweets made from milk and milk derivatives. Papdi, sev and fresh potato wafers (which are actually really good) and some hot snacks like Kachoris, Samosas and Khaman Dhokla. If you live in Pune and choose to buy your sweets from places other than Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale, Karachi Sweet Mart or Kaka Halwai there is something seriously wrong with you and you need to seek counsel soon. Budhani makes the best fresh wafers in Pune, but at the core they all taste pretty much the same. They key to a non-descript halwai’s success however is the hot foods like the samosa, kachoris and such. The khamang dhokla remains my favourite among the hot foods at these shops as you can never find it in a restaurant. For some reason it’s only available at these small in-between shops. In my Pune days, my high-school days actually, there was a small shop called Ummed at Dynaneshwar Paduka — a seedy looking joint by all standards, the kind girls think twice about stopping at; mostly because it is frequented by vagabonds such as myself. This Formica decorated store had enough mirrors to give you vertigo and had a thin layer of oil on pretty much every surface. But the man made a mean dhokla. Besides its proximity to my school and being on the way home there was nothing much worth mentioning about this store. As a 16 year old, my immune system was at its peak and could tackle any ‘extras’ this store threw at me. Especially, when they poked a hole with their thumbs in my kachori to make way for some chutney. I was addicted to the Ummed Dhokla drenched in tamarind chutney for many, many years. I’m not sure if Ummed has survived the latest spate of ‘development’ that Pune has gone through. Maybe a new building came up in its place and Ummed moved to new location; perhaps one with less mirrors, moderate Formica surfaces and store help with better laundry ethics.

2 cups Chickpea Flour (Besan)
1/2 cup Water
1 tsp Sugar
1 tsp Oil
Pinch of Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Turmeric
Juice from 1/2 Lemon
Salt as per taste

For Tadka (Tampering)
1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
1/2 tsp Asafoetida
1/4 tsp Cumin Seeds

For Garnish
2 tsp grated Fresh Coconut
2 tsp Cilantro

Mix all ingredients for Dhokla in a bowl and beat it with a whisk till the Besan is completely dissolved and doesn’t have any lumps.
Allow the mixture to sit for 10 min.
Pour the mixture in a lightly greased Dhokla tray.
Steam the tray for 15 min.
Mixture will rise and the surface will have a smooth skin.
Remove from heat after 15 min and allow the tray to cool.

In a small pan take 1 1/2 tbsp oil and place it on medium-high heat.
Add all Tadka spices and heat till mustard seeds start to crackle.
Pour the hot oil mixture over the Dhokla and spread it evenly with a spoon
Garnish with fresh coconut and cilantro.
Cut the Dhokla into 2” squares with a knife.
Serve with tamarind chutney.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pani Puri

Saras Baug is quite possibly the biggest garden in Pune City. Together with the temple, the sad excuse for a zoo that is Peshwe Park and the open ground that is used for firework sales as well as India’s biggest classical music festival Savai Gandharva, Saras Baug could have it’s own pin code. My favourite part of Saras Baug is the Ganesh temple part. Situated on a small hillock and surrounded by an artificial moat it houses the beautiful Saras Baug temple at the summit. The moat is surrounded by hundreds of acres of lush green lawns and unimpressive yet charming topiary. When I used to go to Saras Baug for Chaturthi with my mother, I would notice many young couples taking care of business behind the trees. I guess it’s hard to ‘get a room’ when you’re living as a joint family in a tiny one bedroom flat. It was pretty amazing how everyone pretty much ignored the cuddling and fondling couples. The couples returned the favour by pretending no one else existed. Especially giggling, unsupervised brats. Children could waste hours feeding the guppies in the moats or trying to get extra Prasad from the priest. My other favourite part of Saras Baug were the chat vendors and no visit could be complete without begging your parents to take you for some good old pani puri or bhel. A pro knows to casually mention about it while entering the park. Nothing can be achieved if you ignore this little fact and start on the way out. You’ll be dragged straight to the car. The chat area is a long quarter mile stretch filled with chat, pav bhaji and milkshake vendors. It also included such breakthrough entertainment as shooting balloons with pellet guns. Actually, that was pretty much it. Everyone has a chat vendor they’re loyal to and ours was a stall by the name of Poonam Bhel. Complete with chipped plates, aluminium spoons, outdated movie calendars and turbid water that came through a tulshibaug style bucket with a tap, best used only for washing hands. I have never really had Pani Puri that stood above the rest, but eating it on that street brought it’s own flavour. As a returning emigrant, I probably will never dare to eat there on my short, infrequent visits. The memories however will serve me for the rest of my life.

1 pack Puris (available at any Indian store)
1 can Chickpeas
1/2 tsp Turmeric

For Pani Puri Water
2 tsp Tamarind paste
2 tsp Date paste
1” piece of Jaggery (1 tsp sugar if you can’t find Jaggery)
4 cups Water
4 tbsp finely chopped Cilantro
4 tbsp finely chopped Mint
1 tsp Cumin powder
1/2 tsp finely chopped Green Chili
Salt to taste (you can use Shendelon-Pandelon if you have it instead)

Heat a pot and cook the Chickpeas in 1/2 cup water with turmeric till all the water is gone.
Place aside
For the Pani Puri Water, heat the water and when it is warm add all the ingredients.
Turn off heat immediately. Do not cook.
Churn the Pani in a blender when it is cool.

To make the Pani Puri, take 5 Puris in a dish and poke a large hole on one side
Fill the Puri with a couple of chickpeas
And fill it with a little bit of Pani Puri Water.
Eat the whole puri.
When serving, serve Puris filled with chickpeas and Pani in a bowl.