Sunday, August 30, 2009

Watermelon Salad

As April approaches, temperatures in Pune begin flirting the 40ยบ C mark. But the sweltering heat also brings with it some very familiar sights. There are mango stalls on every corner, as are the “barf gola” people. Naral Pani walas are everywhere. And my favourite of them all, foothpaths and roadsides lined with mountains of watermelon. When I was in art school in Pune, college used to let out at 1:15 p.m. A sweet spot during the day in the summer months when the tar on the roads has just begun to melt, but it’s nowhere are hot as it’ll be at 4:00 p.m. As I traveled from my college on Tilak Rd to my residence on Law College Rd, I passed MES college on Karve Rd. Outside MES college was a watermelon vendor with atl east a 25 metre long wall of melons lined up against the college walls all the way up to the main gate. And just next to the main gate stood his watermelon slice cart. A small cart with blocks of ice that was stacked in steps which were in turn lined with red rexine cloth. The top of the steps was reserved for a photo of Balkrishna that had clearly seen better days. 3 remaining tiers were lined with wedges of juicy red watermelon in ascending order. Rs 1.50 would fetch you the biggest wedge, which at times was as big as the wheel of a scooter. It was just what was needed on a summer day as a buffer between college and a nice home cooked lunch. Sliced into pieces and served on a weathered plastic plate it really hit the spot. And as if that wasn’t enough, it was dusted lightly with pepper and salt. And of course, you could always take home a whole melon if you so desired. Simple pleasures, good times!

2 cups Seedless Watermelon cubed, preferably cold
1 Tsp Feta Cheese
6 Black Olives sliced
10 Mint leaves crushed
1 tsp Orange Zest
1 tsp extra virgin Olive oil

Place all ingredients except cheese and oil in a bowl
Sprinkle the cheese and drizzle the oil over it
Toss the salad gently and serve.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sev Batata Dahi Puri (SBDP)

I can admit without any resentment that I have spent the better part of the mornings of growing years at Hotel Vaishali. There’s no other place that embodies the slow paced, there’s-always-tomorrow sprit of Pune city more than Hotel Vaishali. Any regular visitor can tell you with their eyes closed what the scene at Vaishali is like in the mornings. Sadly, they can also name the people who will be there at any given time and the area in which they might be sitting. I first started visiting Vaishali for the food. I have yet to find a single thing or item on the menu to complain about. However, years went by, and although the food never took a back seat, mornings at Vaishali became more of a social event than a strictly culinary visit. Although, as fun as the mornings at Vaishali were, evenings at Vaishali just as awesome. And the one thing that made that possible was that the Chaat bar would open at 4:30 p.m. And the crowning jewel of the Chaat bar was the hero of the evenings, the Sev Batata Dahi Puri known simply as “The SBDP”. I have eaten this dish pretty much all over the country, but none even comes close to the SBDP at Vaishali.

2 boiled Potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 finely chopped Onion
2 finely chopped Tomatoes
1/4 cup Cilantro finely chopped
1/4 cup Mint finely chopped
1 pack Chaat Puris
1 cup Yoghurt, slightly sweetened and whipped
1/2 cup Tamarind Pulp
1/2 cup Date pulp
2 tsp Jaggrey
1 cup Sev

In a pot boil 2 cups of water and add the jaggrey, date pulp and tamarind pulp stirring it to make sure it is a homogenous mixture
Reduce the mixture to half or till it is a thick liquid
Place aside and allow it to cool
On a plate place a few puris (if the puris are puffy, make a hole on one side and place with the hole facing up)
Place potato on the puris (or in)
Place the tomato and onion on the puris (in that order)
Using a teaspoon drizzle the Tamarind chutney over the puris so that each puri gets at least a spoonful
Drizzle some yoghurt over each of the puri (1/2 tsp per puri)
Top generously with Sev
Garnish with cilantro and mint
Serve immediately before puris get soggy