Easy-peasy split green mung dal

IMG_6395As I have said before, dals are such an integral part of food in India that each type may be used in four different ways: the whole bean, the split bean with the green peel left on, the split bean ‘cleaned’ of the green peel, and ground. And the amazing thing is, that at each of these stages, the cooked dal presents a different look, a different flavor, and a different meal entirely.

Let’s take mung dal. Now this is the most basic of the dals, the cheapest, and the earliest introduced in childhood. One dal, so many meals! The whole bean can be sprouted or boiled without sprouting; either way, it stays whole, earthy and chewy. The split-and-cleaned dal is yellowish and makes a creamy end-product when cooked. Ground, of course, it can be used to make crepes and pancakes, known as adai in the South.

The split-dal-with-green-peel occupies a place somewhere in between all of these methods. Creamy, though not completely mush; earthy but not entirely; a nice meal with roti for cold nights.

Sai dal

My family comes from Sindh which is now lost to Pakistan. If one were to ask me what sets Sindhi food apart from the rest of Indian food, I would say, that it is our extremely vague way of naming dishes. For instance, a gentle stew of split-green-mung dal with some garlic is known, simply, as ‘sai’ (green) dal. Everyone knows what you mean. What’s the point of being more specific?

In our family this was a very frequent lunch or dinner side, that went with chapati (roti) and a vegetable. If you want to add a pickle to the meal, I won’t complain.

The flavor is the very essence of savoriness, with a slightly ‘rough’ mouth feel due to the peel still being left on the mung bean. Plus, you get the fiber which is no small thing, especially in such a delicious way.

Split green mung dal (sai dal)

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cups split green mung dal
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 fresh green chili minced
  • 2-2.5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 heaped tablespoon minced garlic
  • A few curry leaves (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
Method:

Wash and drain the dal. Empty it into a pot that is big enough to allow for expansion of the dal’s volume as it cooks. Add two cups of water along with the turmeric, the tomato, roughly chopped, and the minced green chili.

Bring to a boil with the lid mostly off to allow for surging of steam that usually happens when dals cook. After it comes to a boil and the surge is done (around ten minutes), cover and turn the flame down to a simmer.

In around 40 minutes the dal will be softened. Add the salt and turn off the flame, leaving the dal covered.

Meanwhile start the tempering process. Heat oil in a small thick-bottomed pan on medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the cumin seeds. They should sizzle right away. Add the garlic, and wait until it shrivels. Add the curry leaves, if using. Add the red chili powder; this only needs to cook for a few seconds. Turn off the heat and pour the seasoned oil over the dal, and stir in to meld the flavors.

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How to make eggplant delicious

Eggplant topped with yogurt

Eggplant topped with yogurt

Call it eggplant, call it aubergine, or call it brinjal. Many will tell you that this is their most hated vegetable. I’m not sure what it is — is it that the flesh turns mushy and dark when cooked? Or that it is studded with seeds throughout? Or is it the sharp and yet bland flavor?

Whatever it is, while most people are cowering in fright from the onslaught of the dreaded eggplant, a vast swath of Asia from Iran to northern India is shoveling great mouthfuls of it down the hatch and passing the dish around for seconds. Why? What have they discovered?

One, that eggplant must be cooked through. Completely soft on the inside, almost charred on the outside. None of this fashionable light grill-marks with the al dente bite remaining. (What is the deal with that anyway? Why can’t we cook each vegetable the way the vegetable itself demands it, instead of applying one fashionable cooking method to all?)

Two, use oil. Enough oil. Be not afraid of the fat — haven’t you heard? Fat is good for you again! Eggplant soaks in oil like a sponge, they say, in faintly disapproving tones; not mentioning the crucial fact — that the oil, once it hits the inside at heat, is turning a rubbery sponge into sheer lusciousness.

The other trick? That eggplant goes well with the aromatic trio — onion, garlic and ginger, used in creative ways; and goes specially well layered with plain, thick, slightly-sour-and-slightly-creamy yogurt.

Eggplant peel — a fraught subject. And pre-salting?

One of the first disputes we had in our marriage was over eggplant peel. I love how it crisps up and adds a nice dimension to each bite of pan-grilled slices. While for my husband the peel sliding off the flesh in long strands causes psychic distress. In order to ever be able to have eggplant for dinner, I had to get him to partake; and in order to get him to eat it, I had to peel it.

So I do. But if you do not have a problem with the peel, you should leave it on, because the purple hues of the peel contain the same purple nutrient that blueberries do.

Also, I read in a lot of cooking advice that one must salt the eggplant for 30 minutes, and drain the resulting liquid, in order to remove the bitterness. I’m not sure what I am missing but I don’t find eggplant bitter in the first place. I never pre-salt it, and the result is not in the slightest bit objectionable. Is it possible that the eggplant of yore was indeed bitter and we have bred it out over the centuries? Yes, it is possible. So, skip the salting.

Baingan ki Boorani

A dish very similar to this was made in our home to be eaten with rotis. It is a classic all over Afghanistan and other parts of North India. Madhur Jaffrey has covered it in several of her books as well. But my recent inspiration came from the Feeding the Sonis blog, where Sanjana has made a dish with the same ingredients but different presentation. Check it out!

It involves pan-fried eggplant slices covered with flavored yogurt. Here, let your imagination be your guide. I did not add any green herbs, but anything from mint to scallions or cilantro would work; I did not make a tomato gravy, but that could be used  to cover the eggplant slices as well.

Slicing eggplant, half inch thick

Slicing eggplant, half inch thick

Tic-tac-toe cuts on one surface

Tic-tac-toe cuts on one surface

Pan-fry

Pan-fry

Flipped

Flipped

Flavor ingredients: yogurt, onions, garlic, ginger, chaat masala, red chili powder

Flavor ingredients: yogurt, onions, garlic, ginger, chaat masala, red chili powder

Salt and mash garlic

Salt and mash garlic

Mashed garlic, mashed ginger

Mashed garlic, mashed ginger

Fried onion

Fried onion

Topped with onion

Topped with onion

Topped with yogurt and spices

Topped with yogurt and spices

baingan ki boorani

Ingredients:
  • One large globe eggplant
  • Up to a quarter cup of oil
  • Half to one cup yogurt
  • Half of a medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, less if you prefer
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala, substitute with roasted and ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, substitute with paprika for no heat
  • Salt to taste
Method:

Slice the eggplant into half inch wide rounds. Keep the peel on (see notes above). Make slashes across one surface of the slice, in a vaguely tic-tac-toe pattern. The slashes do not have to penetrate to the other side.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick pan and when shimmering, lay the eggplant slices out in a single layer, slashed side down. They will start to sizzle and slowly brown. It will take about five minutes. Salt the tops with a light hand. Flip each slice, adding more drops of oil if needed and if it looks too dry. Salt the other side too.

Meanwhile prepare the flavorings. Whisk about half to one cup of plain yogurt to make it smooth. Thinly slice the onion. Mince the garlic, and salt it for about five minutes, then mash with a fork or in a mortar and pestle. Also grate the ginger. For this, I prefer my Japanese ceramic ginger grater, that does the job beautifully. But another means of grating it would work as well.

The garlic and ginger, once mashed, simply get mixed into the yogurt. Fry the onion slices in another tablespoon of oil until browned. Take care to salt the onions lightly as they cook, and add a small pinch of salt to the yogurt as well.

At this point, all ingredients are individually salted and can simply be assembled. Before serving, place some slices of onion on each slice, then a dollop of yogurt. Lastly, sprinkle with some chaat masala and some red chili powder, for color and heat. Or if you prefer, and if your onions are crisply fried, place some on top of the yogurt as well.

Enjoy!

Is Khichdi the Risotto of India?

Khichdi

Khichdi

Good morning everyone! I have been away from my blog home for a long time, but I have certainly not neglected my kitchen. Meanwhile, global warming has given us the warmest January on record, and our San Francisco February, which ought to be dreary and cold, has instead been sparkling with sunshine.

Still, it is time for some winter cooking, no? Let’s talk about khichdi.

What is khichdi? Simply put, it is comfort food, rice cooked with a dal or two. One of my go-to books on cooking, World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey, describes it as the risotto of India. When I first read this, I had not heard of nor eaten any Italian food other than spaghetti and pizza. So at the time my thought was — aha! so risotto is the khichdi of Italy!

But is it? I suppose, in a vague, cross-cultural kind of way. But really, there are differences.

With risotto, the starchification of the rice is so much fetishized that it impacts many choices. The choice of the grain — Italians use a plump starchy variety, that will nevertheless hold on to a firm core. Khichdi on the other hand, can be made with the ‘normal’ medium or long grained rice that you use for other cooking. The cooking technique — risotto is stirred and stirred with nominal additions of water until the starch is drawn out the the rice. The result is something like the Asian congee, or a porridge, but with more definition. While khichdi — starchy though it may be, the effect is produced just by the addition of more or less water.

More importantly, the additions. Risotto can have vegetables, but also seafood and sausages and other meats. While khichdi must, must, must…simply must! have dals cooked along with the rice. Otherwise it is not a khichdi. Since dals take longer to cook than rice, you are already looking at a somewhat gloopier texture, rather than the ideal of each grain of rice being separate. Vegetables are optional. Meats are never used. Carnivores, look away, khichdi is not for you. Though there is the bastardized British version called kedgeree, where, I hear, fish such as kippers are often added.

The accompaniments. With risotto, it seems, one can never have too much parmesan or cheese of one sort or another. For khichdi however, plain yogurt is utterly appropriate. And ghee is the cooking medium of choice.

Split green mung khichdi

There are probably as many versions of khichdi as there are families in India. In my family, this khichdi was eaten every Monday night, along with this dish. It uses a handful of split green mung cooked along with the rice. The texture is meant to be a little wetter and more gloppy than plain white rice, but don’t go all the way to porridgy.

Now just cooking the rice and dal along with some ghee and salt will give you a good dish. But here I have fancied it up a tiny bit with cashews and fried onions.

Rice and split mung measure

Rice and split mung measure

Whole black pepper and cumin

Whole black pepper and cumin

Washed and rinsed

Washed and rinsed

Black pepper floating to the top

Black pepper floating to the top

Frying onions and cashews

Frying onions and cashews

Cooked

Cooked

Topped

Topped

Khichdi with split green mung

Ingredients:
  • 2/3 cups medium- or long-grain rice
  • 1/3 split green mung
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1/4 medium onion, sliced
  • a tiny fistful raw cashews
Method:

Rinse and drain the rice and split mung together. Put in in a pressure cooker or a nice hefty pot along with two and a half cups water, the salt, the cumin and black pepper. At this point, swish it around so that all the whole black peppers float to the top. This way, it will be easier for you to pick them out after the cooking is done.

Pressure cook for 15 minutes, or, if boiling in a pot, bring to a boil, cover tightly, and simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and pick out the whole black peppers.

Separately, heat ghee in a small thick-bottomed pan. Fry sliced onions in it until browned; then give the cashews a light browning as well. Mix this in with the rice, but reserve some to add to the top as garnish.

Enjoy it with some plain yogurt on the side and some sharply tasting pickles or chutneys, some kadhi, or this spinach wonder.

Idiot-proof vegetable pulao

Vegetable pulav with tomato soup

Vegetable pulao with tomato soup

One of the first dishes I ever tried cooking on my own was flavored rice cooked with a few vegetables. This is known as a vegetable pulao — or pilaf — or pulav, the standard-est and basic-est of Indian home recipes. So why has it taken me this long to blog about it?

Because sometimes the simplest things give you the most trouble. It has taken me years for me to get this right. Sometimes the rice isn’t cooked through. If it is, it is cooked too much. Or the vegetables are cut too big and raw on the inside, or they have turned to mush. If all goes right regarding the timing, the thing is tasteless. Gah.

One way to get around these problems is to cook the rice and vegetables separately then combine them. But while there are many perfectly fine recipes that rely on this method (many from the south — yogurt rice, lemon rice, tomato rice etc.), for vegetable pulao, the flavors must fuse, which means cooking together is a must. They must come out with a flourish, all perfectly done at the same time. They say each grain of rice must be separate, so add that to the list of requirements. It must be gently spiced, but not too much — too much would kick it over into being a biryani. That’s fine, but that’s not what we are after.

So now, finally, I present to you my pulao secrets, recently discovered after many years of trial and error, which should make all doubts vanish under the first whiff aroma that hits you when you open the pot. Here they are.

Secrets of pulao

  1. Be stingy with the water. The vegetables you add will leave off some steam of their own, so I would use about a quarter less water than you would with plain rice.

  2. But if you do that, the danger is that the rice will cook and expand and rise above the water line, leaving the upper layer uncooked. Curses! To get around this problem, we use a pressure cooker. (I believe a tightly closed dutch oven slow-cooked in an oven would work as well, but that is not what I did.)

  3. Do not use vegetables that will turn to mush, like tomatoes or zucchini. The vegetables that you do use must be diced. I use vegetables like green beans, carrots, peas, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers, celery, etc.

  4. Rice tends to be a bit bland, so you need to fire on all cylinders where the aromatics are concerned. So that means — garlic, ginger, green chilies, onion, and yogurt for richness.

  5. Now this is the most important — do not caramelize the onions! Cook them till softened, but not browned. A lower flame would help. This is because what we are after is a savory flavor, not a sweet caramel browned flavor (there are other excellent rice dishes that explore this profile, we will go into that at some point).

Armed with these tenets we are ready to begin.

Rice soaking and vegetables diced

Rice soaking and vegetables diced

Ginger garlic chili paste with yogurt

Ginger garlic chili paste with yogurt

Onion cooking with bay leaf and cardamom

Onion cooking with bay leaf and cardamom

Paste enters

Paste enters

Paste drying up

Paste drying up

Vegetables enter

Vegetables enter

Rice enters

Rice enters

Done

Done

Vegetable Pulao

Ingredients
  • 1 cup long-grained rice
  • 1.25 cup water
  • 4 cups diced vegetables, mix of carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower (cut slightly larger, because it has the tendency to turn to mush if overcooked), bell pepper, celery, potatoes
  • 1 black cardamom
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup diced onion (this will be about half a medium onion)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch piece ginger
  • 1-3 fresh green chilies
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons oil
Method

Rinse and soak the rice for about half hour. Dice the vegetables — those that cook quickly (like cauliflower) can be left larger, those that cook slowly (like carrot) can be cut smaller. Blend the yogurt along with ginger, garlic and chilies to make a paste.

Heat oil in the pressure cooker or dutch oven on medium heat. When it shimmers, put in the cardamom and bay leaf. Let them cook until an aroma arises. Then put in the onion. It can cook for a few minutes until softened. Now put in the paste and stir to combine with the oil. In about five minutes of cooking, the paste will have dried up and the oil will show separating from the paste.

Now you can put the vegetables in, and simply toss them around to mix with the oil. Drain the rice and add that in as well, and stir to coat the rice with the oil and spices. Now put in the water and salt, and pressure cook for 15 minutes. If you are using a dutch oven, cover it tightly and cook it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 250ºF.

Let it sit covered for a few minutes after taking it off the heat. Before serving, fluff it up lightly with a fork.


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Yellow mung dal with mangosteen

Moong dal served with radish cucumber salad

Moong dal served with radish cucumber salad

People have been eating locally long before it became a ‘thing’ and got its own hashtag. Thousands of years back essentially everyone was a locavore. All food was made out of plants that grew in the backyard fields or roots and shoots gathered from nearby forests. And sometimes a couple of these backyard ingredients came together in recipes that have remained classics.

I like to think of it has the boy-next-door and the girl-next-door getting married. How can a dish like that not be comfort food!

One such ingredient from the West coast of India is mung bean. There is more information about it here. This recipe calls for the split, dehusked form.

The other locally grown ingredient from the same region is the Indian mangosteen fruit. It grows mostly wild around the wet evergreen forests. The website Aayi’s recipes focuses on recipes from the Konkan coast and has great information (and pictures!) about it here. I have to admit that unlike that author, I did not grow up lobbing fresh mangosteen fruit at my brother. In fact I have never seen a fresh one, as far as I know. I had a city upbringing, and we obtained the dried and blackened rinds of the fruit in a bag. This is how it is used in this and in most other recipes.

kokum

Dried rind of Indian mangosteen, kokum

I can only imagine the sizzle and joy when these two ingredients first came together in a pot. Moong dal cooks into a creamy yellow pulpy thing, and the added rind of mangosteen (kokum) adds a very subtle sourness in a way that cannot be replaced by lemon or other souring agent. This dish is made more liquid to go with rice. There are no sharp flavors here — it is pure comfort food. When I was a child I enjoyed making it more bland by mixing it with some plain yogurt.

Some pictures to show the process.

Soaked and drained moong dal, turmeric, kokum together in a pot

Soaked and drained dal, turmeric, kokum together in a pot

Herbs for moong dal, prepared

Herbs for moong dal, prepared

Moong dal, cooked

Moong dal, cooked

Herbs, sizzling

Herbs, sizzling

Moong dal all done

Moong dal all done

Moong dal with kokum

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup dehusked and split yellow moong dal
  • 5 or 6 pieces of dried rind of mangosteen fruit (kokum)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1-4 fresh green chilies (I used serrano)
  • 4-5 large cloves of garlic
  • 5-6 curry leaves, if you don’t have them leave them out
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Method:

Rinse the dal in several changes of fresh water, running your fingers through to free up the loose starchy powder, until the water runs somewhat clear.

Put it in a pot along with the turmeric and the kokum and three cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for about an hour, partially covered. Or, you can use a pressure cooker, cooking under pressure for 15 minutes.

Once the dal is cooked down to being completely mashable, whisk the liquid to make it creamy. Add salt and turn it off, covered.

At this point, let’s start the tempering. Slice the garlic and the chilies. Just for the fancies, I sliced one of my chilies and simply vertically halved the other. Heat the oil in a small thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers, put in the mustard seeds. They will presently pop. The rest of the fresh herbs, chilies, garlic, curry leaves go in. They will sizzle and cook. When done, turn off, pour the oil over the dal, and stir it in nicely.

Cilantro for garnish if you like. This goes well with white rice, with some salad or relish of fried stuff alongside.

You say potato pancake, I say aalu tikki, she says kartoffelpuffern

Potatoes take supremely well to crisping up in oil. The brown crunchy coating that they develop, given enough oil and heat, is quite beguiling. Then again the insides consisting of the potato itself tends to be quite bland, so needs some help in the taste department. Also, potato does not hold itself together while frying, so it also needs some help in the ‘having integrity’ department. A conscience? No, a binder.

I have basically described an aalu tikki — a cake of mashed, spiced potato that is bound with some bread and fried in oil. This is a common Sindhi dish, eaten as an appetizer, a side, or an evening snack with possibly some sweet and hot chutney on the side.

My first clue that cultures have discovered this basic paradigm over and over came from a Swiss girl who interned at my work place. Invited over to our home for a meal, she spied a plate of aalu tikkis and said — ‘kartoffelpuffern!’ Kartoffel — potato, puffern — cake. Till today, this pair consists of the only German words I know.

Another such concoction is the Eastern European/Jewish latke. Here the potato is grated rather than boiled and mashed, and clearly the Indian version is more spicy, but the end result is similar. Latkes are traditionally eaten at Hannukah; we are a little late for that, but nice and early for the next one.

The recipe below makes about two dozen tikkis.

Aalu Tikki

Ingredients:

  • 3 russet or other starchy large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon salt for boiling
  • 3 slices bread. It should not be sweet. I used crusty sourdough.
  • 1 tablespoon chaat masala, substitute with dry mango powder, substitute that with lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • Quarter to half cup finely chopped onion
  • Quarter to half cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
  • 3 – 4 finely sliced fresh chilies, if you are cooking for kids you can leave them out.
  • Up to half a cup of oil

Method:

Boil the potatoes in about 3 – 4 cups of water. Put them in cold, add about a tablespoon of salt to the water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, till the potatoes are soft. I used a pressure cooker and it took about 10 minutes under pressure. Drain the potatoes when done and peel them when cool.

IMG_0270 IMG_0272

Meanwhile have the bread slices soaking in water until the crusts are softened. This will take at least 15 minutes. Now, squeeze out the water from the slices and save the bread. This will be used as the binder.

IMG_0274

Mash the potatoes. Once the lumps are more-or-less gone, add in the squeezed bread, the spices, salt, and the minced vegetables. The point is to mix this stuff nicely into a mostly homogeneous dough. I have found that this works best with your hands. There is no other kitchen implement that has five rubbery prongs with such fine control, plus the strength of the heel of your hand.

IMG_0276 IMG_0277

Anyway. Once the dough is ready, one is ready to fry them. Form small fistfuls of the dough into flying saucer shaped disks and save them on a plate. Clearly this must be done by hand, but oil your hands first to get it to not stick.

IMG_0278

Heat two tablespoons of oil at a time in a large, flat, thick-bottomed, non-stick pan. Once it is shimmering, put in as many disks as will fit in a single layer with gaps around. Flatten and spread them with a spatula somewhat. This is best done on high-ish heat with enough oil bubbling away beneath; in this configuration each side should take about five minutes.

Flip each tikki when it is browned underneath. Add more oil for this side. Five minutes on this side should suffice as well.

IMG_0280

Remove them and place on a paper towel to soak up the extra oil.

These are best eaten fresh, with a bit of chutney or ketchup on the side; if you like sandwich a tikki between bread slices and have it that way.

Yellow garlick rice

IMG_0170

Yes I know there is a misspelling in the title, I just like the way that looks. Please direct all complaints to: The Editor, The Odd Pantry, Internet.

This is a simple rice preparation that looks quite grand (some people will mistake the yellow as coming from saffron which is the world’s most expensive spice). But it is simple enough to do for an everyday meal. Basically, use this recipe when you want to do a minor feast; not, for instance, when you have the Prime Minister of Senegal over.

Yellow garlick rice

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup long-grained rice
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Half a teaspoon turmeric
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
  • One tablespoon oil

Method:

Rinse the rice once and soak it for about 10 minutes to half hour. Drain the soaking water.

Heat the oil in thick-bottomed pot. Put in the garlic and the turmeric when the oil shimmers and stir it around for a couple minutes until the garlic looks shriveled. Now put in the drained rice and the salt, and stir to coat the grains with oil. Most of the grains will start to look opaque once they toast in the oil.

IMG_0167 IMG_0169

Put in one and a quarter cup of water and bring to a boil, covered. Turn it down to a simmer, tightly covered, and let it simmer for about seven minutes. Turn the heat off and leave it covered, in place, for about ten more minutes. This last step of waiting ensures that the collected steam is absorbed by the rice.

If you like, fluff with a fork before serving.

Variation: If you like, throw in a quarter cup of frozen peas before bringing to a boil. It will look a little fancier and be tasty too.

 

The bane of every Sindhi child

IMG_0176

This is a meal that every Sindhi child has made faces over at the dinner table while dawdling over their food. But by the time that Sindhi child has grown up into a Sindhi adult, they begin to crave it with an intensity that is only matched by their craving for home.

When I was the Sindhi child making faces at Sai Bhaji — which translates simply to ‘greens’ — no amount of talking up by my mother about how this meal is a nutritional powerhouse mattered to me at all. Now as an adult (and a mother myself) I’m thinking — a delicious, simple-to-make, nutritional-powerhouse meal-in-a-pot! What’s not to like?

Sai Bhaji is a stewed concoction of spinach and other greens, some lentils, with other veggies thrown in. It is eaten with rice and plain yogurt and possibly something fried on the side.

One of the selling points of this dish is that you can throw in basically any vegetable you have lying around in portions that are too small to make a meal themselves. The taste of spinach and dill is strong enough that all these mini-portions will be swallowed, subsumed, absorbed and spat out as part of the Sai Bhaji empire. Thus adding even more nutrition.

Sai Bhaji (spinach-lentils stew)

Ingredients:

  • One bunch spinach
  • Half a bunch fresh dill
  • Two tablespoons channa dal, soaked for half an hour at least. This post talks more about channa dal.
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons oil
  • One small potato chopped
  • Half an onion, chopped
  • 1 – 4 fresh chilies, jalapeno/serrano/bird’s eye/cayenne
  • Half inch slice of ginger root, minced
  • One teaspoon coriander powder
  • Half a teaspoon turmeric powder
  • One teaspoon dry mango powder (aamchur) or substitute with lime/lemon
  • One teaspoon salt
  • Optional: 1 cup of other chopped vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini, tomato, carrots, bell peppers, etc.

Method:

Have the channa dal soaking in plenty of water for about half an hour. Wash the green thoroughly in a sink full of water a few times. Chop them up roughly including the stems that are not too woody.

IMG_0163 IMG_0162

Now start layering the dish in a thick-bottomed pot with a well-fitting lid. First, the oil. Then, the onions, chili and ginger. Then, the potatoes, and the coriander and turmeric powders. Then about half the greens. Sandwiched between this and the other half of the greens throw in the drained channa dal. After the last of the greens, sprinkle the salt over, cover, and bring to a boil. The water from rinsing the greens should be enough to cook, or add about a quarter cup if it seems dry.

IMG_0164 IMG_0165 IMG_0166

Once it comes to a boil lower to a simmer and let it be, covered, simmering for about 45 to 50 minutes.

When you open the lid, the lentils should be softened and the greens cooked down a lot. Add the dry mango powder or lime/lemon juice, and mash it with a potato masher or the handy-dandy mandheera.

IMG_0172

mandheera

mandheera

IMG_0175

Warm it through before serving. This is generally eaten mixed with rice and plain yogurt. Three types of rice dishes work well: rice browned with onions, khichdi rice, or yellow garlic rice (recipe forthcoming).

On my plate, I served sai bhaji, rice and yogurt in three neat sides, with some fried taro on the side. My husband however likes it all piled up, like this:

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Far be it from me to dictate which way you choose to eat it, but you won’t be sorry you did.

Garlic-fenugreek gravy with absolutely anything

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This is a Sindhi gravy that you can throw anything into, and make a wonderful meal, sort of like this gravy. And it is so simple to do, that you will be left wondering if you left out any steps. You didn’t!

Greenish in color from the fresh herbs, it also has the wonderful warm aroma of garlic. The herbs and the garlic together make an intense and unfamiliar aroma that most people are intrigued by.

As for what to put in it — some common Sindhi preparations use okra, or King mackarel fish, or zucchini; I have made a successful combination of paneer and peas in this gravy or potatoes and peas. You also have your choice about how wet or dry to make the result; and whether to have it with roti as a side, or over plain white rice. But use your imagination and let’s get started.

Thoom-methi gravy with potatoes and peas

Ingredients:

  • Half a large red or yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 – 4 largish cloves garlic
  • 3 (or to taste) fresh chilies, jalapeno, serrano, bird’s eye or cayenne
  • half a bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dry fenugreek or half a cup fresh if you can find it
  • One large tomato
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • half teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups of chopped vegetables: I used 3 cubed red potatoes and half a cup of peas.
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons oil

Method:

Combine in a blender the following roughly chopped vegetables, with about a quarter cup of water: onion, garlic, cilantro, fenugreek and chilies. Blend to a paste consistency, as shown below.

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Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pot and when it shimmers, put in the paste and cook it on medium-high. In about ten minutes it will dry up and start to darken; keep stirring it once in a while. When it goes from looking like this:

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to looking like this:

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put in the chopped tomatoes. The tomatoes will first liquefy and then turn pasty and combine nicely with the rest of the spice. Stir for about 5 minutes; when they are more or less dry, put in the coriander and turmeric powders and stir. Now put in about a cup or cup and a half of water, bring to a boil.

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Now the gravy is ready, and it is time to put in whatever chopped vegetables you want. I put in cubed potatoes, and simmered them with the lid on for 15 minutes to cook; then I put in the frozen peas and only cooked them enough to heat through.

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Oh — I added the salt along with the vegetables so that they absorb the salinity properly.

A Sindhi breakfast Julia Child might approve of

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If I name the following ingredients: flour, potatoes, salt and pepper, dairy — a very commonplace list, in the Western part of the world — what doesn’t come to mind is a morning in a Sindhi town 60 years ago. And yet, so it is. My grandmother made these very rustic kachoris for my mother’s breakfast decades ago, and it is such a simple idea, but so complex and satisfying, that I still crave it and make it in my 21st century Californian kitchen, and yes, have it for breakfast.

This amount makes enough for a simple breakfast for one.

Potato Kachoris

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium red potato
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour, I use King Arthur Premium
  • 1.5 tablespoon plain yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1.25 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Oil for frying

Method:

The traditional recipe asks you to boil the potato in lightly salted water until done. I have replaced that step with microwaving in nearly all such recipes that need a tuber to be cooked through before using. Not only is it quicker, but I feel like it avoids some of the nutrients leaching out into the water that one has to then throw away.

So go ahead, nuke the chap. Five minutes should put paid on a medium potato.

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When it is no longer shooting steam lava at you when you touch it, cut it into cubes and roughly mash it, peel and all. It can be lumpy, I personally don’t mind that.

Add the flour, salt, and pepper.

Now. You may be alarmed at the amount of pepper I am having you put in. Don’t be! Remember, pepper drove world-traffic all the way to the South Indian coast for centuries. Pepper is the Helen of Troy of spices. You want to feel it.

Mix and squeeze the flour in with the potato mixture with your fingers, till it is a rough, shaggy mass. Now put in the plain yogurt and knead briefly to make it a rough dough.

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This amount of dough will roll out to about 4 small circles of 5 – 6 inches each. So break golf-ball sized pieces, and roll each out. Now if you are used to rolling rotis you will find that these don’t roll out as smoothly or as thin. This, naturally, is because of the influx of the natural lumpiness of the potato (which I insisted a few lines ago that you don’t quell completely). That’s fine! It all adds to the rustic charm. The only thing you have to be aware of is, you may have to fry them a tad longer than normal, because they are thicker.

OK. So circles rolled out, heat about an inch of oil in a thick bottomed fry-pan. When the oil shimmers (but before it smokes! That is when the oil starts to break down and do Bad Things to us) put in a rolled out circle. Let it cook on one side for about half a minute, bobbing it up and down with your slotted spoon or tongs. Then flip it, and cook it for another half a minute. Take it out and drain it on paper towels.

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Have it with some more plain yogurt on the side. Surprisingly heavenly. Julia Child, eat your heart out.