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Archive for the ‘Maharashtrian Cuisine’ Category

Puranpoli ThaliPerfection is a myth according to many and many more like me believe that it’s a dream, something that you can’t really touch but there’s an image set in your mind that you strive to achieve. I have an image set in my mind about what a perfect Maharashtrian Thali on festive occasions should be like. Perfect little piles of different dry vegetables, Raitas, salads, rice varieties, pickles, chutneys and the centre of it all, the sweet lentil stuffed bread, Puranpoli! When I was younger, the all important Puranpoli was the main item of interest and everything else seemed like a distraction. I used to even complain to my mother for her obsession of cooking too many side dishes in order to make it look all perfect. Now when I do the exact same thing and fuss over fifteen different elements on the plate, I smile to myself! Yes, no matter how much I deny it, slowly but surely, I’m turning into my mother. I’m also keeping the tradition alive that came from my mother, my grandmother and all those previous generations of women in my family who were obsessed with this idea of how things should be.

This time around for Holi celebrations, I decided not to fight off my instinct and instead decided to embrace my obsession. Fortunately I had time and energy to tackle so many different recipes and the all important order of how to plate them perfectly.

Puranpoli Thali Sketch

This is a rough sketch of the plate that I had prepared before plating the food so that I don’t miss the order & I don’t forget to plate something. This is the manner in which Maharashtrians would prepare the plate but I’m told that in Karnataka, the order is exactly reverse, instead of anticlockwise direction of lime, chutney, pickle, salads etc. they go clockwise.

Cooking took six long hours in total but it was at a nice leisurely pace and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I was even conversing (in my mind) with my mom & other women in my family while cooking. I can hear them when I cook, “This is not how we do this”, “This needs to be little more runny”, “Don’t put asafetida in that”, “Don’t put too much on the plate”…Constant reminders, corrections, advise & encouragement, all at the same time. After I plated everything and looked at the picture with satisfaction, I so strongly felt that they should have been here to taste it and to enjoy the feast. I remember being someone’s daughter, someone’s granddaughter, someone’s niece, someone’s daughter-in-law and someone’s grand-daughter-in-law. I remember being pampered by all those women, I remember tasting their fantastic food, I remember picking up all these skills from them and most of all I remember them enjoying the process. At times like these, I realise, how at the very core I’m so much like all of them, even though my modern life is so different from theirs, how I’m still a simple woman trying to preserve my culinary heritage!

puranpoli Thali

A little description of the dishes:

Puranpoli: This is a bread stuffed with sweet filling made with yellow lentils (chana dal). An absolute delicacy of Maharashtra & it is a must for quite a few festive meals.

Coconut chutney: Fresh coconut, chilies, coriander, raw mango (for sourness or one use lime juice), salt & sugar ground together.

Pickle: I used homemade lime pickle, a special recipe called ‘Upvasache lonche’ which has only four ingredients limes, salt, sugar and chili powder all mixed together & kept in sterilized jars until the lime are soft & have absorbed all the flavours. It took about two months for my pickle to be completely ready and although it can last for a long time, mine will be consumed very quickly as its really delicious.

Cucumber Raita (Koshimbir): It’s finely chopped cucumber & coriander leaves mixed with some plain yogurt, salt, sugar & a little peanut powder. Use of peanut powder is very typical to Maharashtrian recipes and it gives the salads a nice nutty flavour. A tempering of cumin seeds, chopped green chilies and curry leaves fried in little ghee was poured on top of the raita to give it more flavour.

Carrot Salad (Koshimbir): Same as cucumber raita except there is no yogurt in this salad instead a little lime juice is added for sourness.

Potato Bhaji: Boiled and cubed potatoes are sautéed in spicy tempering using curry leaves, chilies & urad dal. Fresh grated coconut and coriander leaves are sprinkled on top.

French Beans Bhaji: Sliced French beans are sautéed in tempering and then covered and steamed in its on juices until tender but not overcooked. Peanut powder, salt, sugar, lime juice, grated coconut and coriander leaves are added for flavour.

Courgette Fritter: This is similar to a Pakora made with gram flour batter. A local vegetable called Ghosale is used for this bhaji. Ghosale is very similar to courgette (Zucchini) & I used courgette myself. Any other vegetables like potato or cauliflower etc. can be used for a fritter.

Kothimbir Vadi: This spicy coriander cutlet is a typical Maharashtrian dish. Yellow lentils (chana dal) are soaked until soft, drained completely and them ground with chilies, ginger, salt, sugar and lime juice. A bunch of coriander is finely chopped and mixed with the ground paste and a the mixture is formed into a rolled, steamed, when cold cut into thick circles and then shallow fried in some oil. Gram flour is sometimes used instead of soaked chana dal to make the paste.

Kadhi: This is a spiced yogurt soup (very broad and crude description indeed!) that is made in many different ways, all overIndia. My version used curry leaves, ginger, green chilies, asafetida, cinnamon and cloves for flavouring.

Katachi Aamti : When the yellow dal is being cooked for  the Puranpoli, the excess water in which the dal is cooked is collected and used to make ‘Aamti’ which is a clever use of a protein-rich byproduct & is absolutely delicious. I also added some drumsticks in mine.

Kheer: This sweet is also called ‘Payasam’ inSouth India. This is similar to rice pudding but can be made with thin wheat noodles called Seveyein instead of rice. I made Seveyein kheer with cashew nuts and raisin.

Masalebhat: This is essentially a variation of Vegetable Pulao prepared using Maharashtrian spice mix powder called ‘Goda Masala’. A range of vegetables can be used but I used Tendli / Tindora, carrots & green peas.

Panchamrut: This is a tangy tamarind chutney which uses dried coconut flakes, sesame seed powder, peanut powder, chilies and jaggery (or sugar) Yummy!!

Typically a festive meal like this is offered to the Gods and due to religious reasons, use of pungent garlic & onion is forbidden. While for me there’s no such restriction, I still try to avoid the two ingredients that ‘I Love’ just to learn that an equally delicious and flavourful meal can be prepared without them.

Sweet, sour, hot, crispy, soft, tangy, cool, warm…oh.. the vocabulary in English language is really limited to describe all the tastes and textures presented on a single plate of vegetarian meal like this. A rich, grand traditional meal of my land!

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Kamalabai OgleWhenever I’m planning on cooking some traditional Maharashtrian recipe, I just go over to the bookshelf & pick up ‘Ruchira’ automatically. My copy of the book is as old as my marriage, almost 13 years! Over the years, this heavily used book has picked up stains of turmeric, chilli powder, oil; even some pages are coming off loose and still every time I’m browsing it, I find something new in it. Like many of the Maharashtrian brides, I was gifted this cookbook at my wedding but my relationship with this book is even older. Growing up, I always noticed my mother referring to ‘Ruchira’ and this book was part of our kitchen since. My mother is an accomplished cook and my maternal grandmother was even a step further. (My grandmother passed away over twenty-five years ago and still, even today there are people who talk about her cooking and her desire to achieve perfection in everything she did.) So a book that has been endorsed by both my grandmother and my mother; has to be something special! Ruchira is not just a cookbook to me; it’s an extract of a traditional Maharashtrian cuisine that has been handed over from mothers to daughters over the last few generations. My statement above might seem like an overstatement if you consider that this cuisine that I’m referring to is ‘traditional, Maharashtrian, Brahmnical and vegetarian’! However like everything in India…even this small segment of a cuisine is seriously vast and for a single person to try and capture this in entirety in one book and sell it at a price which was affordable for everybody is really commendable. Just to put it in perspective, the printed price on my book is 90 Rupees which is less than 2 Euros. Granted that the value of 90 rupees in India thirteen years ago was lot more than 2 Euros in Europe today but it was still a very affordable price for most sections of the society in India then.Ruchira

This book is not the glamourous cookbook which has millions of wonderfully styled food photographs or the one that gives you precise instructions with exact cooking times etc. but it covers a wide range of recipes from simple everyday meals to special festive meals for a large number of people and even pickles and preserves. If this puts you off; let me assure you that this exactly is the charm of the book. What it offers you is a traditional recipe in a way a mother would tell her daughter, it lets you explore it a little, it gives you a little room to work within the recipe, it shows you that the person narrating this recipe has some confidence in your abilities as a cook. Few things are taken for granted in this book though, it is assumed that the user of this book is Maharashtrian, Indian and is familiar with general cooking methods and ingredients in this part of the world. Even though an English version of this book is available it doesn’t have all the recipes from the original book. At the moment the English version of the book seems to be out of stock at popular sites like Amazon & Book Depository (U.K.) but it seems to be available for online order here.

The author of this wonderful book Kamalabai Ogle was sixty years old when this book was first published. In a very touching prologue of the book Kamalabai tells the story of how little she knew about cooking when she got married and how she quickly learned under the guidance of her mother in law, who was an accomplished cook. In a very humble and simple manner she tells her story of how she came about writing this book. Whenever I read this part of the book, I feel a strong connection with her & my heart fills with this overwhelming emotion of gratitude towards her & towards the generation of my mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers & all the previous generations who continued this wonderful tradition of handing down traditional knowledge from mothers to daughters. This book has ensured that this tradition will continue for a few more generations.

This book challenges me personally as well, to even try and cook all the recipes given in the book will take me years. At the beginning of this year as a resolution I’ve decided to cook at least one recipe from the book everyday and photograph it. Persistence, determination and consistency are usually not the virtues that are associated with my name but lets see if my passion for this book overcomes my vices! Kamalabai Ogle has given us this book as a tribute to her own mother in law & this will be my personal tribute to Kamalabai for this wonderful book.

Maharashtrian Thali

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