Thursday, June 2, 2011

Soul Food

We, humans, are constantly aspiring to create something new, something unique - be it technology or something as basic as our food. After frenzied efforts of creating new dishes in my kitchen over the past week, I just wanted to slip into my comfort zone and make what's tried and tested and passed down for generations. The food I grew up eating every day, food that defines a part of who I am. The regional cuisine of the western state of Maharashtra. Much can be said about the cusine and cultural aspects but I'm afraid I'll end up with an essay. Here is not completely comprehensive yet a decent read on the cuisine of the region I belong to. The vastness of the state and its distinguishing location between the South and North India, make it difficult to categorize the cuisine. They also contribute to influences from both sides of the country. Yet, two aspects that strike me the most and make me love the food are simplicity and balance. Don't get me wrong...I can name atleast a 100 dishes off the top of my head that only the experienced cooks can make. But everyday meals are made with sparing use of spices and are well thought out with inclusion of all the nutritional components. It's all about nourishing your soul just as much as the body.

I'm going to share a few of my favorite recipes that mom made frequently. My hubby and I enjoyed these simple dishes over the last couple of days.

The first recipe is an appetizer I love love love! I guess I made my point! Every so often when the large eggplant wasn't used for making Bharit/Bharta, my mom made Vangyache Kaap (Eggplant chips). It's made fairly commonly in Maharashtrian homes as a teat-time snack or a dinner appetizer. We had coined a new name for it as kids - Vangyache Fish (Eggplant fish) for its resemblance to Konkani fish fry. Fear not, it doesn't taste anything like fish. Funnily, it doesn't taste much eggplant-y either, as if it was made to convert non-eggplant lovers.

Toss anything in a li'l bit of flour and cook in oil - it's bound to taste good!
Powder and pretty 'em up
My oil-deprived eggplant wafers/chips
Vangyache Kaap/Eggplant Chips

1 Large eggplant
~3/4 Cup rice flour
1 Teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
Couple of pinches turmeric powder
A pinch asafoetida
Salt to taste
Oil for cooking

  • Cut the eggplant into thin slices and keep them in cold water. This will prevent browning as well as help the flour coating stick to the eggplants. 
  • Mix rice flour and the spices to create the coating. Adjust spices if needed. 
  • Drain the eggplant slices and dredge them in the flour-spice mix. 
  • Heat a shallow frying pan and add a little bit of oil. Helps to shake the pan so the oil spreads. Cook the eggplant slices on each side for a couple of minutes until they brown. Add oil if/as needed. Don't OD as the eggplants soak up oil and become soggy. You want to keep them crispy. 
  • Once cooked, keep them in a plate with a paper towel to soak up any extra oil. Enjoy!

Next up is one of my most favorite vegetables ever (yeah, I say that about 90% of them..but this one is really a favorite) - Bhendi/Okra. The most common/known way of making okra is similar to one of my earlier posts. However, the community I belong to has a different method that involves tamarind and jaggery. We are very big on the use of tamarind and jaggery which tone down the spices (that are already in little quantity). This recipe is a specialty of my grandma and no matter how tasty my mom makes it, my dad just won't approve of it. Guess grandma's not making a 24 hr journey to feed me. So my dad can dislike anyone else's attempt all he wants but I have to make it for myself. My husband absolutely loves okra but refused to eat any preparation of it without onions and garlic. One taste of this new dish and he's raving about it!

Bhendi/Okra curried with tamarin-jaggery
Bhendichi Chincha-Gulachi Bhaaji/Okra with Tamarind-Jaggery

1 1/2 Cup fresh cut okra
1 Teaspoon tamarind concentrate/pulp
1 sq inch cube of jaggery - you can substitute it with a teaspoon of brown sugar
1/4 Teaspoon mustard
1/4 Teaspoon turmeric powder
1 Pinch asafoetida
1/2 Teaspoon red chili powder
1/3 Teaspoon cumin-coriander powder
1 Teaspoon oil
Salt to taste
Water as needed

  • Heat oil in a cooking pan, add mustard seeds and let them splutter. 
  • Add turmeric powder, asafoetida and okra to the pan and saute for a 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well. Add some water barely covering the okra and cook on medium heat until the okra is soft and cooked.
  • Eat with some roti and yogurt on the side. 

The last recipe I'm going to post serves as a vegetable to accompany roti and can also replace amati/daal to eat with rice. Tasty spinach curry that is usually made for a quick dinner (even a quick dinner constitutes of atleast 3 items). Spinach shrinks up quite a bit once cooked so this recipe is good to bulk it up - useful especially when my mom had to feed a family of 6. This light, non-spicy dish is great for dinner when you shouldn't be eating anything too heavy. The curry is also made with alu/taro leaves.

Spinach Curry

Palakachi Takatali Bhaji/Spinach in Buttermilk Curry

1 Bunch spinach
1 Serrano pepper/Thai green chili
1/2 Cup thick buttermilk/ 2-3 Tablespoons yogurt
1 Tablespoon besan/chickpea flour
1/2 Teaspoon cumin seeds
7-8 Curry leaves
A handful peanuts (or more if you are like me)
Turmeric powder
1 Teaspoon oil
Salt to taste

  • Chop fresh spinach and one green chili and pressure cook (1 whistle). If you are cooking in an open pot, just cook for a few minutes until the spinach softens. 
  • On the side, whisk some yogurt and water and add besan to it. Make sure the besan is completely dissolved. 
  • Heat oil in a pot, add cumin seeds, curry leaves, turmeric powder, asafoetida (you probably know the deal with seasoning now) and add the cooked spinach to it. 
  • Toss in a handful of peanuts. This is another common ingredient in Maharashtrian cooking. Peanuts, whole or ground, are used in many of the traditional dishes. I personally am a sucker for them so I always add a little more! They plump up and become soft after cooking - yum.
  • Add the buttermilk/besan mix. Add some water if needed and let it boil for a few minutes. The spinach is already cooked so you just want to boil until it all comes together. 

Have the bhaji with some roti or rice or by itself. It will taste good no matter what. So so good!

There are numerous regional recipes on my 'must have's list. This is a good start. I will post more in the future. For now, I must get back into the 'experimental' mode and prepare for tomorrow's BBQ party :)


Priyanka said...

Heyy, Vangyache kaap is my fav too! I posted it on my blog few days ago. you can check it here:

Snehal said...

@Priyanka: Guess who has a blog I never knew about??? How come it doesn't show up in your profile? Okay, enough of my interrogation.
I do love vangyache kaap very much and I'll feed this to anyone who doesn't believe eggplants are tasty

Priyanka said...

Yeyye, you are my first follower! :) I write this blog for a while now. Never shared a link with anyone. Now that u've liked it, I think i'm ready to share it with ppl! Thanks for visiting Snehal!

Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

Lovely, home-style cooking, Snehal! That's exactly how we make vaangyache kaap and paalak chi paatal bhaji at home. Comfort food at its best!

Snehal said...

Thanks you, Saee. Nothing beats comfort food :)


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