It is still I, Anita, holding the reins here! I had meant to get here sooner...but I needed to squeeze in a couple of trips outside Delhi so that all of you could get a(nother) glimpse into rural India. On both trips I was traveling on Indian Rail, and a great way to travel it is. On many express trains today meals are included into your ticket price. The food can be barely edible to fairly good depending on which train you are on and which part of the country you are traveling through.
On the first of the two trips, to Bharuch (Gujarat), my colleague and I had an older Punjabi woman as our companion. A veteran traveler on the Indian Rail, she shared advice freely with us. Chatting up fellow travelers is getting rarer and rarer as we (Indians) become more western in our attitudes and redefine our concept of private space. There was a time when it was common courtesy to share your food with fellow travelers; how impolite it seemed if you opened your tiffins and ate all by yourself. Those days are almost gone; we had better enjoy the conversations while it's there.
I am sure you want me to share the Punjabi Aunty's gems... My much-younger colleague was telling us how she finds herself cooking the same-old same-old all the time. Well, what do you know? Have you tried adding sambar powder to your bhindi subzi? I interjected that I had tried it with potatoes...Well, had I tried it in curried potatoes with poori? And, did you know that one of the best ways to cook the uninspiring bottle-gourd is with wadi? [Cook it just as you would wadi aloo, replacing the potatoes with the squash.] Guess what was for lunch the day I returned? Finger-licking good; you have my word.
Another very intriguing tip she gave, which I haven't tried yet, was about the addition of salt. Most of us add salt to our subzi after we have added the vegetables; well, if we add it to the tadka it will be quite another story it seems!
Our client in Bharuch served us quite the breakfast after we declined the hotel buffet. Let me try and see if I can recall it all. There was dhokla, sev khamani, pattis (fried dumplings filled with savoury-sweet spicy potato mix), bakarwadi, bhajjia (with methi - yum)... washed down with masala chai. Everything other than dhokla, was deep fried, and most had besan as the main ingredient. The variety of besan preparations in vegetarian Gujarati and Maharashtrian cooking is truly astounding.
I learnt to make Khandvi, also called surali chya vadya in Marathi, from my mother-in-law, a popular Gujarati snack which is quick, easy, and also low-fat. It hits the spot when you are looking for some healthy instant gratification.
equal parts besan (gram flour), water, and yoghurt
(1 cup besan will yield 4 servings)
pinch of turmeric
1-2 tsp peanut oil
hing, a pinch
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp fresh or frozen grated coconut
2-4 tbsp chopped cilantro
Whisk all ingredients together to form a smooth slurry. Cook in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick pot till it has thickened and the besan is cooked (5-7 min). Use a few drops of oil to grease inverted thalis or baking sheets. Spread a ladleful of the cooked paste quickly on to the prepared surface, as thin as possible. You have to be quick as the paste will keep thickening as it cools. I use a wooden spoon to do this which allows me to handle a very hot paste. Repeat till you have used up all the paste.
While this cools, prepare the tempering. Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add hing followed by the mustard seeds. Cover the pan to catch all the spluttering seeds. Turn heat off.
After the paste has cooled (a few minutes), score at 1.5" intervals and roll from one end. Alternately, you can make one big roll and then cut into 1.5" sections. Spread the tempering evenly over the khandvi. Sprinkle generously with grated coconut and cilantro.
Will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to three days.
With a recipe that is very much at home in Manisha's kitchen, I hand her blog back. I hope her loyal readers enjoyed this brief interlude (the recipe is a bonus!) and have not changed their feeds already.
The other trip, it was to Wagah (near Amritsar)... another time perhaps (another place?).