Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bihari ke chai-samose aur bharva tamatar bonda : memories from our BHU days

This is not going to be a recipe post but a major food related nostalgia. I was in Banaras last month and I went to the few places we used to throng during our college days and later during research days too. Bihari ki chai, samose and alu chop were universal gourmet food for us and we had the digestive fire to eat it all. Now after almost a quarter of a century gone by the chai and samosa is still the same, he has introduced a few more items to his menu and a few more hands on work. We saw alu stuffed kachoris and masala stuffed tomato fritters simply called 'tamatar' at his shop this time.

It did not help that we were with some of our M.Sc. classmates. We had a reunion of class and enjoyed each oter's company, went to our department, met our teachers etc but Bihari ki dukan brought back the hidden child in all of us.

All of us wanted to spend more time at Bihari's shop just watching at the things flying off the shelves, even though the shelves were just a makeshift tin to stock the fresh samosas for a few minutes. Till they landed in leaf donas and were lapped up hungrily by youngsters.

I just couldn't resist taking out my camera and clicking a few pictures of the men at work. Looks like this tea stall has been doing great business continuously and has been feeding students ever since. Their repertoire has enriched but the taste and the freshness is still the same. You just cannot pick a single favourite out of these simple snacks or mini meals the students enjoy every single day. All of us friends remembered how we used to pester each other for these simple treats :-)

An old man was stuffing masala in emptied tomato halves. This tamatar bonda used to be such a favourite on rainy days I remember.

See how spicy and yummy this filling looks. It has loads of green coriander, roasted peanuts and green peas along with potatoes and spices.

This 'tamatar' is a limited edition snack as it is labour intensive and probably getting similar sized tomatoes would be additional effort too. They fry it in 2-3 batches around lunch time and it is available for just about an hour or so. We were lucky to see them being made and then returned at the right time to have a bite too. I find these kind of street foods healthier than any packaged foods and very satiating and filling too. And when these are deep fried at such high temperature there is no issue of hygiene as well.

The frying oil can be a concern if you are eating them everyday and if the shop is frying the snacks in acrid burnt oil. I saw the oil looked transparent and fresh when I took pictures. A good thing to discover.

See this huge pot of 'matar chhole' being tempered with a spice mix. This is served with a round potato stuffed kachori they make.

See the kachoris being shaped.

How do they find such popular combinations and keep selling them for years, to generations and make such classics. Street food needs some more recognition I feel. It evolves along the changing palate of patrons but the core flavours remain the same.

We did not taste any other snacks this time but had 2 rounds of the famous chai. Bihari ki chai as we used to call it.

The chai has a smoky flavour to it, very milky and just rightly sweet for the temperament one gets when visiting such places.

I missed not having those samose. But then we visited another classmate the next day who is a Professor in Agriculture department and he made us eat those samose :-) there are few things that make a way to reach you at the right time.

One samosa found its way to me too :-)

Friday, March 13, 2015

kathal ki sookhi masaledar subzi made with minimal oil

For some reason Kathal (jackfruit) ki subzi is a Holi tradition in many vegetarian families in Eastern UP. The hardcore non vegetarians cook a spicy mutton dish to set off the gujhia nd malpua sweetness that the festival brings in. Kathal is vegetarians meat and if cooked the same way it actually tastes really good and serves the purpose of being paired with many many sweet dishes on the festive menu.

Although jackfruit fruits all year round in the southern peninsula, the Gangetic plains have a distinct season for jackfruit which starts around the spring time after the harsh winter. This could be a reason why jackfruit is associated with Holi tradition in many vegetarian family in this region. Those who love this meaty vegetable keep cooking till the season lasts and even pickle it. My mom used to make a pickle of jackfruit slices with raw mangoes and I remember we used to like the kathal ka achar (jackfruit pickle) more than kathal ki subzi. Now I don't care for the pickle and gave away a huge jar to my maid.

Coming to kathal ki subzi, this is not one of my favourite subzi to be honest, I like it occasionally for a change. But one or two odd requests about kathal ki subzi have been coming to me and considering kathal is available throughout the year here in Delhi I feel guilty of not cooking it even if it is occasional. It so happened that one day while my weekly vegetable shopping I came across this subziwala who was cutting very fresh medium sized jackfruit and I bought it just because it looked fresh.

New potatoes in the season also make this kathal ki subzi special because the floury sweetish summer potatoes just spoil this spicy curry. Skip adding potatoes if you don't have new potatoes.

Note that most people deep fry the kathal and use a lot of oil to fry the masala paste too when making this subzi traditionally, I avoided kathal ki subzi for the same reason for several year as I had seen my mom cooking it with loads of oil floating in it. Later I figured how to cook kathal with minimal oil and still retain it's flavours. This recipe is my adaptation of the flavours of UP style kathal ki subzi using minimal oil.

This is a pressure cooker recipe to ensure even cooking of jackfruit and letting it absorb the spices without deep frying it.

(4 servings )

peeled and cubed jackfruit 300 gm
boiled peeled, cooled down completely and halved new baby potatoes 200 gm
salt to taste
mustard oil 2 tbsp
hing a pinch or strong hing solution 2 drops
nutmeg and mace powders 1 pinch each

to make a coarse paste..
chopped onion 2 tbsp
dry red chillies 3-4

to make a smooth paste ..
garlic cloves 4-5
ginger slivers 1 tbsp
whole coriander seeds 1 tbsp
cumin seeds 1 tsp
peppercorns 1 tsp
black cardamom 2
green cardamom 2
cloves 5
cinnamon stick 1/2 inch
tejpatta 3
turmeric powder 1 tsp


Heat the oil in a pressure cooker pan and tip in the hing, wait till the hing floats up or the oil gets aromatic with hing. Now tip in the coarse paste along with salt and brown it on medium flame.

Tip in the smooth paste and bhuno it all for about 6-8 minutes on medium heat or till it gets aromatic and looks glazed.

Add the cubed boiled potatoes and jack fruit cubes into the masala mix and toss to coat. Stir fry while tossing it till edges of jackfruit and potatoes start getting golden brown. It takes some time as the amount of cooking oil is less but in a pressure cooker pan it doesn't stick to the bottom thankfully.

Add the nutmeg and mace powders in the last and mix well. Then add 1/2 a cup of water, close the lid and let the pressure build up till the first whistle. Lower the heat and cook for 5 more minutes. If the jack fruit is very fresh and tender it might cook sooner, hard jack fruit mat take some more time.

Let the pressure cooker cool down before you open the lid. Serve hot with or without a garnish of coriander greens. In older times kathal ki subzi was made mostly during summer months, the peak season of jack fruit, and coriander greens were a winter produce so it is not a normal garnish for kathal ki subzi. Even tomatoes are not used in all summer subzi recipes traditionally for the same reason.

The kathal absorbs the spices well owing to it's fibrous porous nature and the texture is quite meaty. So if you add spices similar to meat curries it gives a feel of meat to vegetarians apparently. I have never found it comparable to meat personally but all vegetarians consider it to be the vegetarian's meat. I never question that :-)

Poori is a favored pairing with kathal ki subzi during the spring season and specially holi but in summers it is always served with a cooling cucumber raita, sliced and vinegar soaked onions and plain thin chapatis.