Thursday, April 8, 2010

Besan Dosa

In Pune you’re never more than a few hundred feet away from a place that serves a hot, crisp dosa. I, like many others I know, grew up getting my daily requirement of dosa from Hotel Vaishali. And for most of us Puneris, Vaishali will always remain the golden standard by which all dosas will be judged. When I returned to India a few years back for a brief visit, a friend of mine wanted to take me to a ‘hip’, new dosa joint, which in itself is an oxymoron. We arrived at a place called Dosa Hut, located on the corner where Bhandarkar Rd meets Jangli Maharaj Rd and housed in what used to be the old CafĂ© Sunrise. It had just opened when I first visited. The abmience was a little overwhelming for a restaurant that made it’s living by selling dosas. I kept an open mind; that was until the menu arrived. Veg Jaipuri Dosa, Paneer Bhurji Dosa and the killer, I kid you not, Chicken Manchurian Dosa. I understand the need to be different in a saturated marked, but this was just insane (not to mention 40% more expensive than the best dosa in Pune). I looked at the menu once again, because it deserved a second look. My first question was, “why?” So did you just take the ‘masala out of the dosa and just replace it with generic Punjabi and desi Chinese dishes? Or was this an ill-conceived plot to overthrow the almighty naan? Was there any point to completely ruining two good dishes to create one disastrous hybrid? All for the sake of being different. I can’t really remember what I ordered there and but I do remember leaving the place rather confused. And I am not sure if the restaurant is still there either. If one wishes to go against the grain using the dosa, then why not change the dosa itself? I have seen so many recipes from food bloggers that have completely redefined the dosa using new ingredients from oatmeal to ladyfingers. Here’s one of my favourites.

  • 2 cups of Besan Flour (Chickpea)
  • ½ tsp Cumin powder
  • ¼ tsp Turmeric
  • ¼ tsp Chili Powder
  • 1 Chili grated
  • ¾ tsp Grated Ginger
  • ½ tsp Cilantro finely chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Water

  • In a bowl, mix the flour, cumin, turmeric, chili powder and salt
  • Add water to the mixture and mix till you achieve a dosa batter like consistency
  • Add the remaining herbs and mix thoroughly
  • Heat a skillet or Tawa and pour a ladel of batter on it
  • Spread the dosa thin using a large spoon. (Watch the video below)
  • Serve with fresh coconut chutney

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Vegan Hot and Sour Soup

Teja main hoon, mark idhar hai. The most memorable dialogue from what was possibly one of the funniest films to come out of Bombay and one that steered clear of the usual Bollywood formula. Never before had a Hindi movie so brilliantly paid homage to the fine art of buffoonery. One rarely sees a movie anymore where each of the characters has a perfectly measured role that lends so well to the movie; right from Tiku Talsania’s jittery inspector to Shakti Kapoor’s “Crime Master Gogo”. I remember the movie had opened at the newly redone West End theatre on Main Street, Camp, in 1994 and a small group of 24 of my closest friends had gone to see it, first day, first show style. I had been robbed before of what little pocket money I had by Bollywood’s lame attempts at being funny and I didn’t expect anything more from this one. But as soon as I saw Amir Khan pedal his bike in the dream sequence, it felt promising. Andaz Apna Apna was an instant classic, and the kind that I watched over and over till the VHS tape was too scratched to play any more. Watching really great Bollywood movie, an extremely rare event, is a thoroughly satisfying event in itself (especially, having watched the other atrocities this public was part of for the better part of their careers). However the trend set by the movie continued into the night. Right after the movie our small group of two-dozen made it to the Chinese Room on East Street, two blocks away. A great evening should always end with great food. And at that point, there was no place in camp, which could beat the place that brought Chinese food to Pune. The movie high was transferred to a foodie high instantly as a long table was populated with various combinations of manchurians, spring rolls, soups, fried rice and chopsueys. As the night ended the victorious got on their scooters and returned to their respective quarters, hearts filled with content and bellies filled with assorted meats.

  • ½ cup Carrots chopped
  • ½ cup Mushrooms sliced
  • ½ cup Green Peas
  • ½ cup Corn
  • ¼ cup Spring Onion
  • ¼ cup Green Beans julienne cut
  • 1 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 2 tsp crushed Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Ginger finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tbsp Sesame Seed Oil
  • 1 tsp Chili Oil
  • 5 Vegan / Vegetarian Bullion Cubes (adjust according to flavour)
  • 8 cups Water
  1. Heat a large pot and add sesame seed oil to it
  2. Add garlic, ginger and chilli flakes while oil is still cool
  3. Once the garlic/ginger begin to splatter, add vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, peas, corn, beans, spring onion) and sauté
  4. Add water and bullion cubes and allow it to cook on high for 15 min and then reduce heat to medium for another 15 minutes
  5. Add Lemon juice and chili oil, stir and turn heat off
  6. Serve hot

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cauliflower Pakora

Following my wedding on my last trip, I decided to take my firang wife to a city that offers a little more of the India that is promised in travel books than what Pune can offer. And after an impromptu flight to Jaipur, we settled in a generic hotel, the name of which escapes me at the moment. It was a quaint little place and by quaint I mean management had absolutely no interest in managing the it. It was the kind that makes your local lodge look like a 5 star hotel. The restaurant part of the hotel consisted of 7 tables haphazardly huddled into a room attached to a kitchen. The food however was spectacular. They had some pretty good pakoras, the likes of which I have never had before. Their cauliflower pakoras were especially memorable. My most memorable moment in said restaurant, however, was when I asked for some sugar to go with my coffee. I discovered some ants in my sugar and summoned the waiter immediately. As I referred him the ants in my sugar he gave me a look that suggested disappointment more than disgust. He picked up the bowl, blew on it as hard as he could and placed it back on the table. Sure enough the ants were gone. That was the moment I realized that the fault was my own, for in the motherland ants in your food is not an issue, just a minor detail. And after living in the US for over a decade I had forgotten the most important lesson growing up in India has taught me—If life hands you lemons, you f-ing deal with it without making an issue and move on with life.


  • Florets from 1 Cauliflower
  • 1 cup besan (chick pea flour)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 tsp Cumin powder
  • 1 tsp Chilli powder
  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • Salt to taste.
  • Oil for frying


  • Mix besan, cumin, chilli. turmeric, soda and salt in a bowl
  • Add water slowly and stir the mixture as you do.
  • Add water till water turns to a runny paste.
  • Heat the oil in a wok. Turn flame to medium heat once oil is hot.
  • Dip a cauliflower floret in the besan mixture till it is completely coated and fry the potato.
  • Be careful not to over crowd the wok. You can put 5-6 pakoras in at a time.
  • Serve with tamarind & date or mint chutney

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Vada Pav

To a Puneite living abroad, especially the US, the worst part of the journey home isn’t the eighteen-plus hour plane ride home, it’s the miserable three and a half hour car ride to Pune after landing in Bombay. It goes something like this. After careful calculation of vacation days the momentous decision to visit home is reached a couple of months before the actual journey and thus begins the saga of finding the perfect (cheapest) ticket. Browsing through many sites, with multiple windows open at one time, carefully considering the layovers, and chat consultations with fellow desis, all done in office time, a purchase is made. No sooner does the itinerary hit the inbox, it is forwarded to at least 4 family members and 8 friends. And if you’re lucky, they won’t all show up to pick you up at the airport in one car. The day of the journey arrives and the sojourner leaves for the airport with maximum allowable baggage and a list of explanations for Indian customs about how it is all within the allowance.

After an 18-hour journey and up to 6 award-winning airline meals (I don’t know of a single airline that doesn’t claim that their food isn’t award-winning) the jumbo jet touches the motherland. After the gastro-intestinal assault, it’s time for olfactory annihilation, and the Mumbai air is only happy to oblige. Thus arrives the prodigal son (or daughter) to the motherland weary, chaffed and slightly constipated. No matter what fly-by-night operator you use, a trip originating from the US somehow ends up reaching Bombay around midnight. Once out of the plane your first greeting is the indifference of the immigration officer at CST, the delay in anything appearing on the luggage conveyor and the harassment by customs. These are all just mere hurdles between you and the warm hug that you’ll receive from your posse waiting for you outside the airport if you know where the exit is. Life would be so much simpler if CST airport didn’t change so damn much every 12 months. The last leg of the journey to Punyanagri thus starts.

This time around, I had the pleasure of taking the Bombay-Pune midnight express twice as my wife and I arrived in Pune a week apart and I had to go back to bring her to Pune. Her flight arrived at 2:30 a.m. and after one Akshay Kumar brought the airport to a standstill for an hour, she emerged out of the door at around 4:00 a.m. We started for Pune with one of my dearest friends. Over the bridges and through poorly designed signage, unnecessary construction and everything Bombay can throw at you we finally made it to the express highway. This journey is truly awful, but there are some bright spots along the way like the Khandala Ghat and the new truck stops that are for some reason called malls. We stopped at one such mall, the one before Khandala Ghat starts. I would say that I can’t remember the name, but the truth is that at 5:45 a.m., I really didn’t care what the name of that place was. It wasn’t as busy as it would be during the day, but at a quarter to six, what place really is. My firang wife pointed to the glass case filled with the “orange potato dumplings”. And against my better judgment, we all had the orange potato dumplings. Two sandwiched in buns with green chilies and one without. My wife didn’t think deep-fried potato sandwiched in white bread was a healthy option. That was until she saw the culinary delight known as the bread pakora. It wasn’t the greatest Vada-Pav I have had, but it was definitely the first one I had just before sunrise, and after a night of no sleep and 250 km, it tasted pretty darn good with a cup of chai in a flimsy plastic cup.


For stuffing

  • 4 Potatoes boiled and peeled
  • 1 Onion finely chopped (optional)
  • 6 Chillis finely chopped
  • 6 Garlic cloves crushed
  • 2 tbsp Ginger grated or paste
  • 1 Lemon juiced
  • 1/2 cup Cilantro / Coriander finely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt

For batter

  • 2 cups Besan (Chickpea flour)
  • 1 tsp Chili powder
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 tsp Salt


  • In a pan mash potatoes, onion, chilis, garlic, ginger, lemon, coriander and salt into a solid mixture making sure that the potatoes don't have any large lumps.
  • Make small balls the size of a golf ball
  • Place aside
  • Mix besan, chilli powder, turmeric, cumin, baking soda and salt in a bowl
  • Add water and mix till it turns into a thick batter
  • Heat oil in a wok
  • Dip the potato balls in the batter and deep fry till golden
  • Take a Pav and tear it open keeping them together at one edge
  • Place one hot Vada in the Pav and serve with deep fried green chilies on the side