Friday, December 25, 2015

a virtual tour of dalmandi of Banaras | the lesser known places of Banaras

No tourist or traveler visiting Banaras thinks of going to Dalmandi. Most of them have never heard about this bustling place but I am always a little curious about this old world market located in the heart of the city, quite hidden from the general visitor.

Dalmandi is a long winding gully that has a few tributary gullies interlinked with other old markets but the two main ends of dalmandi are located such that you would easily miss locating them while passing by.

May be Dalmandi was well camouflaged and hidden because of the Tawayafs or nautch girls it was known for about a century ago. If you look up the old buildings you will still see highly adorned low set windows, often painted in different bright colours. These low set windows were the show windows for the nautch girls and the Dalmandi bazar below must have been as bustling as ever.

One end of dalmandi is at the main Chowk market and the other end is in the mid of Nai Sarak. You would not be able to gauge what is awaiting you inside this gully called dalmandi. The hustle bustle of the shoppers and the shopkeepers, small shop doing big business and of course a deluge of bling all over. You would easily know that more women come to this market than men. But may be that's not true.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

Dalmandi is known for the bling, the garish display of women's trinkets and loads of dresses and surplus fabric or leftover fabric from factories etc. These kind of stuff is available throughout the year but during a few festivals Dalmandi is adorned by different colours.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

Dalmandi is also known as a market for kites, firecrackers and cheap glass utensils. On my last visit during Makar Sankranti I saw a deluge of Kites if all colours and sizes, patang and manjha or guddi-latayi as it is called in local parlance.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

During Diwali you would find rows and rows of firecrackers being sold. Now probably the firecrackers will be lesser in numbers because the licensing for selling firecrackers has become strict.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

Dalmandi is also famous for the thinnest possible Sewaiyyan and Feni. I always wonder what kind of machinery they use for making these.

These thin sewaiyyan are available in roasted version that can be mixed directly in sugar syrup, milk solids and nuts etc. to make sookhi sewaiyyan or sewaiyyon ka muzaffar.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

And the white raw version that is valued by the home cooks who want precision in their recipes and prefer roasting the sewaiyyan slowly with ghee to get the best possible aroma in their sewaiyyon ka muzaffar.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

The Feni available here in Dalmandi comes on many versions. Sweetened, unsweetened, white or saffron coloured, all the versions selling like hot cakes.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

The other eatables which you find in Dalmandi and nowhere else in Banaras apart from Madanpura during Ramzan, are a few maida based deep fried pastry.

These super crisp biscuits called as khaste are just too rich for anyone like me but a great favourite of some. I saw people buying them in kilos.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

This version of shakkarparey is huge and lightly coated with sugar syrup. You wouldn't find these anywhere else in the city.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

The sohan halwa, made with loads of ghee, maida and sugar with nuts is a Muslim specialty and can be seen only in Dalmandi.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

These mithai shops in Dalmandi sell other popular mithais too, such as Rasgullas, Gulabjamuns, Boondi, Son Papdi and Imartis but the quality of the specialty of this place is the Muslim food.

There used to be a few shops selling classic kabab paratha and gosht ki tikia, Biryani, keema paratha etc. But now you see the shops have changed a bit and have started selling the usual gajar ka halwa, Mung ka halwa, chiwda matar and chaat etc which was not so common to find in Dalmandi.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

The gajar ka halwa in one of the places looked like this.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

They had rich Mewe ka halwa too which is basically a mixed nuts halwa made rich with some dehydrated milk as well.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

We found a very interesting Lassi shop that had thick and heavy Shahi tukdas loaded with malai (clotted cream).

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

The amount of clotted cream on the shahi tukda can make you feel sick if you don't like cream or malai, but if you like it you will be in a blissful state.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

Look at the size of this platter. Bigger than a regular sized coffee table in fact.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

This shop had sakoras (earthen bowls) of clotted cream as well, served with or without sugar.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

The kabab paratha and keema paratha shops have now adapted themselves to serve chicken tikka and seekh kabab, the restaurant style 'Mughlai food' which was never found in these traditional Awadhi style Muslim eateries.

This shop owner said they still make bade ke gosht ki tikia (buffalo meat kababs) in the evenings but the chicken tikka and seekh kabab sells more now.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

Thankfully rumali roti is made the same way.

a tour of Dalmandi of Banaras

I am not sure what all had changed in Dalmandi since the last 30 years or so I have known this place. It looks similar and even smells and sounds similar when you trudge along, but the trends have definitely started creeping in. We could feel it in the food being sold and the kites being made out of plastic and not paper like older days.

Dalmandi is still a well preserved slice of old world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

chukandar ke patton wala rajma | palak wala rajma | kidney beans cooked in beet greens or spinach gravy

chukandar wala rajma

I love rajma and make it in so many different ways that whenever I soak some rajma to cook I have to plan the way I will be cooking it the next morning as I rarely depend on one specific way to cook my rajma.

It doesn't mean I don't like the traditional rajma but I love experimenting more. I keep buying so many varieties of rajma it will be criminal to use them all in a singular way.

varieties of rajma

The badarwahi rajma from Jammu is usually cooked the traditional way or with beets puree added to the bhuna masala mix. The Jammu badarwahi rajma also tastes great with a simpler buttery gravy, the Kashmiri rajma.

The Uttarakhand rajma is cooked usually with a very light curry which is onion based as that was the way I loved it when I tasted in Uttarakhand. The big sized Uttarakhand rajma is very soft and creamy though it takes some time to get cooked in pressure cooker. I love the Uttarakhand variety with spinach puree added to bhuna masala mix.

The rajma cooked the Himachali way with spinach is also one of my favourites.

palak wala rajma

I make a variation of rajma that is called Gogji Rajma and is made with either Turnips or Knol khol. These Kashmiri recipes are so simple to cook and so delicious that one finds comfort in them even though one is not grown up eating them. Such is the case with me at least.

The recipe of Gogji Rajma will be shared soon but the pureed beets and beet greens and spinach rajma is not much from the recipes used all over north India, hence sharing them together to give you an idea of how a single dish can be nourishing and yet easy way to accommodate vegetables and beans in one.

(serves 3-4, depending on side dishes or the lack of it)

200 gm raw kidney beans (rajma), soaked overnight
1 tsp salt, add more later to adjust
1/4 tsp soda bi carb
1 liter water
500 gm cleaned spinach leaves or beet leaves
60 gm or 1 large sized red onion roughly chopped
15 cloves of garlic
2 inch piece of ginger chopped roughly
2 large ripe tomatoes chopped roughly (or 1/3 cup thick yogurt)
2-3 red dry chillies or to taste
2 tbsp everyday curry powder 
garam masala powder to taste
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp mustard oil
pinch of hing (asafoetida)

Drain the rajma, transfer to pressure cooker pan, add salt and soda bi carb and water and pressure cook for 20-25 minutes. Cool down before opening the cooker. Rajma should be well cooked and cracked.

In the meanwhile, prepare the greens and the spice mix.

Chop, steam, cool and puree the spinach or beet leaves. You can use a mix of both or just boiled beets puree instead of the leaves. I use boiled beets puree when making rajma with badarwahi (jammu) rajma.

Make a paste of onions, ginger, garlic and red chillies and keep aside. In the same blender puree the chopped tomatoes too. Or blend the yogurt if using. Keep aside.

Heat the oil, add hing and wait till it gets aromatic. Pour the onion paste and bhuno till the mixture looks glazed or oil separates.

Add the powder spices and bhuno again for a few minutes or till the mix becomes aromatic.

Now add the tomato puree or whipped yogurt and bhuno once again till the mix becomes glazed. Add garam masala powder and let it incorporate. Do not bhuno much after adding garam masala.

Add the spinach or beet greens puree (or boiled beets puree if using) and simmer the mix for 5 minutes or so. Add the cooked rajma with all the cooking liquid and simmer for 10-20 minutes. The rajma soaks all the flavours and the curry gets delicious.

Sometimes I add half puree and half chopped greens to get a nice texture. See this spinach rajma cooked with yogurt.

palak wala rajma

I need very little rice with my rajma and here is how my mug meals look like. This mug is 700 ml capacity and most of my soupy meals are enjoyed like this. Hot and comforting.

palak wala rajma

Always adjust seasoning too, because some mature leafy greens are a little alkaline in taste and you may want to have lesser salt in them and balance the alkalin etaste with some added yogurt or lime juice.

Serve with some butter on top of plain old ghee, or without any topping as the rajma itself is so flavourful.

chukandar wala rajma

This kind of rajma is best served with plain boiled rice but it tastes great with thin delicate chapatis or thick millet rotis too. Try this kind of rajma with some crisp hot parathas to break the monotony.

Some days you must try these rajma recipes enriched with the goodness of greens. It does take some time to cook but you can always cook in a large batch and serve 2-3 times over a week. Or just keep some bhuna masala for convenience and make any rajma recipe quick. We always find a way to eat what we like.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

palak chane ka shorba | spinach and black chickpeas winter stew

I did not realise I have so many winter recipes of beans and greens cooked together in my drafts. I was reminded when someone asked me how do I eat so much spinach and beet greens when I was buying my truckload. I do buy greens by the truckload, well almost.

I blurted out a few recipes then and there at the farmer's market, assured the lady that the recipes are there on the blogs. When I checked after coming home I found I have forgot posting them and the palak wala rajma, palak chane ka shorba and even palak ka nimona were still waiting in the drafts. Trying to bring them up one after the other.

All these recipes were shot last year. Anyway, better late than never.

palak chane ka shorba

This palak chane ka shorba is a one step pressure cooker recipe that I love cooking during winters. Thankfully it is loved by everyone who happens to taste it. Served with a little ghee on top and some plain boiled rice it makes a comforting warm winter meal. I survive on such soupy winter meals in fact.

Note that this recipe somehow works to treat any mild coughing or sneezing as well, thanks to the garam masala, turmeric and generous use of ginger in it.

The winter shorbas are in fact made keeping in mind the cold and cough season and to bring warmth to the body. I cook it in a large pressure cooker whenever I do and keep serving it for a week or so, every alternate day if not every day.

A shorba can be a stew or a soup, this is a black gram stew with spinach. Sometimes I add Beet greens as well.

(for 5-7 servings)

250 gm kala chana (black gram)
1 kilo cleaned and chopped spinach (1.5 kilo spinach before cleaning)
80-100 gm ginger, half made into a paste and half of it cut in julienne or as you wish
50-60 gm garlic cloves whole
whole dry red chillies to taste (make it hot I say)
1 tsp pepper powder
2 tsp garam masala powder of your choice
1.5 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup of fresh tomato puree (preferably desi tomatoes)
2 tbsp mustard oil or ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 pinch of hing

2-3 tbsp of deep fried browned onions crushed, if you have in your pantry or if you want to spend some time.


I have made this shorba in one step pressure cooking, like just dunking everything in the pressure cooker with 2 cups of water and pressure cooking for about 25 minutes after the first whistle and this shorba cooks so well and tastes so delicious no one believes it is such a simple recipe.

But if you want to spend some time you can heat mustard oil, add the hing, cumin seeds and then the turmeric powder and garam masala, the tomato puree and then everything else together. Top with 2 cups of water and cover the lid and let the pressure build till the first whistle.

Lower the heat and let it cook on its own for 25-30 minutes.Take off the heat, let it cool and open the lid. Garnish with some ghee and some coriander greens if you like.

Serve hot, without or without accompaniments I say. Boiled rice tastes great with it but try having very little rice in this shorba.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

mungodi wala palak ka nimona | spinach curry with lentil dumplings

We have a lot of nimona recipes on Banaras ka Khana and if you have been following this blog for some time you would have come across this spicy matar ka nimona, the tender peas nimona, mungodi wala matar ka nimona, alu gobhi wala matar ka nimona, harey chane ka nimona and even masoor dal ka nimona. To cut the long story short, nimona is a curry where the gravy is made with a liquidized ingredient and there are some vegetables of mungodi or vadi added to the gravy.

All these variants of nimona used to be a winter specialty owing to the ready availability of a lot of vegetables and greens. Liquidizing the vegetables makes sense if one wants to consume them in larger amounts. Clever ways to use up fresh produce.

Here is the next nimona recipe and this is palak ka nimona. This palak ka nimona is a curried spinach gravy with mungodis or fried mung fritters or masoor daal vadis. Sometimes a little besan (chickpea flour) or lentil paste was added to the palak ka nimona to give it body.

This masoor daal bhapouri (steamed lentil cakes) was also a common addition to palak ka nimona and I remember some street food stalls had adapted this curry into a chaat specialty. Larger masoor daal steamed dumplings soaked in spinach gravy, served almost like a dahi vada sprinkled with fine sev, some dry cooked kala chana and bit of onion and green chillies. Back in my maternal grandmother's place, this chaat was also called as Bhapouri or baphouri.

(serves 2-3)

500 gm spinach steamed
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tbsp light everyday curry powder
turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
2 tsp mustard oil
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
tomato paste (fresh) 1/2 cup or whisked yogurt 1/3 cup

For the fritters/dumplings
200 gm red lentils (masoor daal) soaked for 2 hours, the volume increases when soaked
1 tsp cumin seeds
little ginger and green chili to taste
salt to taste
Oil for deep frying is doing so. Else follow the bhapouri recipe 

Minced ginger and chopped coriander greens for garnish


Make a paste of the lentil fritter ingredients without adding any water.

In the same blender puree the spinach too. The remains of the lentils paste will thicken the gravy and make it more robust in taste.

Deep fry the fritters if doing so. Else follow the bhapouri recipe to steam them.

Heat 2 tsp mustard oil for the gravy. Add hing, ginger garlic paste and fry till oil released. Add the curry powder and turmeric, fry a little and then add the spinach puree and tomato paste or yogurt.

Mix well, simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Add the steamed fritters (lightly shallow fried if you wish) or deep fried ones. Add a little water to adjust consistency and simmer the curry till the fritters have soaked the essence of gravy.

Serve hot garnished with some ghee and coriander greens.

Note that this palak ka nimona can be made without the fritters too. Some people like it with shallow fried florets of cauliflowers and green peas, may be some boiled potatoes too.

This palak ka nimona pairs well with plain boiled rice as well as multi grain roti, millet rotis or phulkas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

witnessing some old English classics at 1911 restaurant at The Imperial as a celebration of 104th year of Delhi Durbar : 'Durbar ki Daawat'

New Delhi became the capital of British Raj in 1911 when the King George V and Queen Mary coronated the new capital after being shifted from Calcutta to Delhi, henceforth called New Delhi. The Coronation Park still exists as a memorial of the coronation ceremony, one of the many historical monuments of Delhi that we keep visiting to know about this city that has lived many lives, has seen many kings come and go.

Rashtrapati Bhawan (formerly known as Viceroy's House), Rajpath leading to India Gate, Janpath and Connaught place and Parliament House etc are the buildings that were built by Edwin Lutyens after New Delhi became the capital. That part of Delhi is still called as Lutyen's Delhi and is surrounded by a thick swathe of green including acres of Presidential estate, Nehru Park, Lodhi Gardens, the National Zoological park, Humayun's Tomb etc.

The Imperial is one of the oldest and grandest hotels in Delhi located at Janpath road. It is almost like a gem hidden into the chaos of Japath market. But once you step into the lobby and walk past the corridor, you see precious memorabilia from the past and get lost in the serenity.

Chef Prem Kumar Pogakula (Executive Sous Chef,The Imperial) along with his team has curated the 'Delhi Durbar ki Daawat' to revive the flavours of coronation ceremony of Delhi Durbar. Hotel's GM and senior executive VP Vijay Wanchoo has also contributed in this curated experience of Delhi Durbar ki Daawat. At the media preview he kept talking about old recipes, ingredients the old banquets, the art the hotel owns and how the hotel has preserved it's original structure.

The dawat was set up in a plush white canopy, the table resplendent with the finest wine goblets and champagne flutes, salads and irresistible bread rolls. Welcome drink was brought in as soon as we took our seats.

Reading the curated menu placed on our table, it was evident a lot of work has been done to recreate the banquets of the bygone era.

Scotch eggs and broth came to the table first with chunks of lamb, vegetables and pearl barley, half a scotch egg sitting pretty in the bowl. Delicious flavours and textures enriched by barley that I love in my soups. Vegetarians had a Mulligatawny soup, Mr Vijay Wanchoo who became vegetarian later in life told how this soup has Srilankan origin but became so popular with British.

Shepherd's Pie came reminding of how simplicity is the best virtue. The pie was made in individual portions and was melt in the mouth creamy, the mince below was delicious, succulent and rightly spiced. The potato crust browned beautifully, it was a stunner.

The vegetarians had Vol-au-vents, the French stuffed puff pastry that became the favourite of the British. It was served the old fashioned way, a delicious brown lentil sauce poured over them while serving. I had a small bite and loved it. The brown lentil sauce is worth mentioning as it was just so creamy and delicious I took second helping of the sauce.

Vegetable polonaise, a classic vegetable main course dish of 1900s came next. Made of Asparagus spears, cauliflower floret, breadcrumbs and herbs it was an interesting baked dish that I liked a lot. Baked vegetables retained their crunch yet baked enough to get cooked and get delicious.

Pannequets, vegetable stuffed thin pancakes smeared with tomato and deep fried spinach leaves was delicious as well. It was wonderful to witness old classics being recreated.

Bubble and Squeak was an old recipe where the cooks used up the leftover vegetables to make potato cakes that was served as a starchy main course dish with meats. It looked like alu tikkis and I would like it with some grilled meat for sure.

Creamed spinach charmed everyone I guess. Well made and so very creamy. Interestingly, while I was researching about culinary heritage of Banaras last year I got to know that the family of the King of Vijayanagar, who have a palace in Banaras too, loved creamed spinach a lot and it was a regular on their family table.

I loved the Plum and Cherry roasted free range chicken. The roasted fat plums along with root vegetables and onions was a masterpiece in itself, chicken was incidental although well roasted and succulent. I just loved the use of roasted plum, the flavours mingling so well with root vegetables.

The desserts included Rhubarb Pie, old fashioned Trifle and Crepes Suzette.

The Rhubarb Pie was beautifully done, the Trifle really good and some of us polished it off even though it came in a really large serving. What I loved the most was the Crepe Suzette, a very thin crepe folded and doused with orange sauce and flambeed. It was supposedly the favourite dessert of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, for the right reasons I believe. Very delicate and very flavourful.

It is interesting to see how British took influences from all the countries they colonized. The French and Scottish influence is quite obvious but how they took elements from India, Burma and Srilanka during the colonial times and even later, is a story that I would like to dig in more.

Thanks to Mr. Vijay Wanchoo, Chef Prem Kumar Pogakula, Ruchi Jain and Aparupa Ray Ganguli for giving us a peek into the culinary history. Most of these dishes are still made in their classic form too, but the small variations and even some fusions have occurred in the past century that gives us an idea how the availability of ingredients due to globalization influences the cuisines.

Durbar Ki Dawat is on till December 17th so hurry up and go have a glimpse of a table 100 years old.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Dev Diwali in Banaras and Loi Krathong, the festival of floating lights in Thailand have an ancient connection between them

Dev Diwali was recently celebrated in Banaras and Ganga Mahotsav has just concluded. The holy month of Kartik is the season of festivities and the rituals of connecting with the Almighty in one way or the other. I have memories of Banaras being choked with the influx of religious tourists from far corners of India and curious tourists from all corners of the world during these festivals, I rarely gave any importance to the festivals other than the traffic that got deadlocked during these times.

What was it that attracted flocks of tourists and travelers from far away places to Banaras? I am finding the answers slowly and believing more in the theory of the world being a global village.

We were invited to the Loi Krathong festival being celebrated at Radisson Blu Plaza a few days ago. The celebration was organised jointly by Thailand authority of Tourism and Radisson Blu Plaza and we witnessed a few dance performances and Thai Boxing (Muay Thai), the artists and boxers were flown in from Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand).

Loi Krathong is a festival of lights in Thailand and it is celebrated on the full moon day in November, coinciding with the Poornima of Kartik month, the day when we celebrate Dev Diwali in Banaras, Guru Purab in Punjab and Karthikayi in Tamilnadu. I got to know recently that a harvest festival in Coorg called Puthari is also celebrated on the same day. There has to be a deeper connection to this simultaneous celebration in different regions with their roots in Hinduism. Hinduism being the oldest surviving (pardon me and enlighten if I am wrong about the chronology) religion and having branched into a few more religions, Hindu rituals have a deeper connect with the elements of nature, seasons, harvests and rivers I believe. The rituals are a form of living history.

After the cultural program we saw a palanquin carried Miss Loi Krathong to the pool area where she invited the guests to float the Krathongs (boats) in the pool. I was not carrying my camera so a few cell phone pictures are being shared.

It was quite a ceremonious floating of decorated lotus shaped floral boats in the sparkling pool of the hotel. The lotus shaped Krathongs were made of paper, on a base of Styrofoam that helps the Krathong float in the water. I wish the Krathongs were made of real leaves and flowers, we need to take care of the 'environmental sanctity' of the water bodies too.

A candle and few incense sticks are lit in each Krathong before floating it in the water body after making a wish. In Thailand couples do this ritual together and this festival has taken a romantic hue.

The lighting and floating of the Krathongs reminded me of many such rituals followed by Hindu pilgrims in cities like Banaras, Haridwar, Ayodhya, Nashik and many other places. The fire over water symbolism has a deeper meaning, I have been reading about it. Will definitely share sometime.

I must tell you that Banaras celebrates Dev Diwali in a very interesting way. All the ghats are lined up with very high Bamboo poles, a Bamboo wicker basket is ascended to the top of each of these poles with a burning lamp (Diya) every evening and the sky gets lit at the ghats with thousands of these lamps hanging from Bamboo poles. These are called Akashdeep, meaning skylights, and are meant to please the Gods. Hence the name Dev Diwali or Dev Deepawali. Both Loi Krathong and Dev Diwali are celebrated on exactly the same date every year. People float lamps (ghee ke diye) in leaf boats shaped either round or conical, there are a few marigold, rose or lotus flowers in these floating leaf boats as an offering to Ganga ji (the Mother Ganges), such beautiful rituals have survived thousands of years of civilization. 

After the ceremonial floating of the candles, the dinner was served buffet style by Neung Roi, the best Thai restaurant in the city and we stuffed ourselves with our favourite salads (Som tam, Thai pomelo salad and raw mango salad) and then the fruits and desserts.

Most of the salads were served in individual serving bowls at the salad counter of the beautifully laid out buffet by Neung Roi, but the Som tam (Raw papaya salad) was being made at a live counter with all it's usual trimmings. Chef Suthiwaja herself hand pounded the salad in a huge wooden mortar and pestle.

Picture courtesy Mudita Chauhan Mubayi
At Neung Roi you will be spoilt rotten if you love salads and want several helping of different salads. The Thai fruits of the buffet were too good to resist so we skipped mains very conveniently and enjoyed what we love the most without feeling stuffed.

While trying to find out more about the possible links between all these festivals being celebrated on the same day in different regions of India and Thailand, I realised religious festivals serve many functions, some more central that others to the dominant religious tradition within a given culture. 

Loi Krathong in Thiland (a Buddhist country) has little to do Buddhism as a doctrinal system (source). Although this festival appears to be animistic or Bramhanical in origin, it has become at least partially assimilated into the Theravada Buddhist cultural traditions of countries of southeast Asia. According to The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia by Donald K. Swearer, Loi Krathong is a festival related to harvest cycle, celebrated after the back breaking work done in the fields to plant the paddy crop. A way to relax and enjoy. 

The origin of the Loi Krathong in Thailand (see source) according to the earliest evidence, it was started by the second queen of king Phra Rueang (ca 1300 C.E.) who was the daughter of a Bramhin family attached to the court, in order to please the king. There are a few more theories in other parts of Thailand but interestingly one of the theory says that the Krathongs are offered to Mae Khongkha (mother Ganges), the mother of all waters. 

Isn't it interesting to find the mention of Maa Ganga in the tales of origin of this festival?  

All the festivals in every religion and every region is linked to seasons and harvest cycles, or the mountains or water bodies. One way or the other. The symbolism may or may not be relevant in the modern world but the religious connect to nature is evident. 

Thanks to Thailand authority of Tourism and Radisson Blu Plaza for the hospitality and a grand show. I hope to visit Thailand soon and explore more about the cultural similarities we share.

Monday, November 16, 2015

gudpaarey, gud waley shakkarpaarey | fried pastry coated with jaggery

Our Diwali has always been quite and this time was no exception. Yes we try and do the mandatory spring cleaning on the pretext of welcoming the Goddess Laxmi, get some earthen diyas and some tealight candles to light them on Diwali eve, and make some mithai for the prasad offering to Laxmi Ganesh puja. And that prasad offering is always a simple besan ka laddu and shakkarparey that my mother in law used to make.

diwali sweets

Arvind loves these sweet treats that are made so rarely now, not that I don't like these but someone else's choices are greater excuse. Over the years I have realised that our traditional sweets are way more healthy than the industrially made desserts and pastries, even though the calorific value may not be less.

Here is all my effort that took the shape of some sweets and savouries. The white coloured trail mix is a popped rice and peanuts trail mix with a tempering of chillies, curry leaves, cumin and hint of turmeric just like my mother used to make. We get popped rice (called Kheel or dhaan ka lava) only during Diwali season and I try and make the most of this opportunity. This kheel ki namkeen is quite an old favourite of mine. More about that later.

diwali snacks

Today I am sharing the recipe of jaggery coated shakkarparey. This is a deep fried pastry (fried dough) coated with fennel infused jaggery. It can be called as jaggery glazed fried cookies too.

I normally make these sugar coated shakkarparey but this time my brother came home and we started talking of the things we liked as kids. We were reminded of the jaggery coated miniature khaja (a deep fried flaky layered pastry) and a jaggery coated sev (finger shaped sticks made of chickpea flour) and of course these gudparey. You know we had a collective obsession about all things jaggery.

I changed my shakkarparey plan to gudparey conveniently and all of us loved them. When I posted the picture on Instagram someone asked for the recipe. The recipe in fact is quite simple but someone who wants to make it for the first time would need instructions. So here it is.

I made a lot of it, packed some for my brother and gave some to the house help and still have some to enjoy over a month. A couple of these is good enough to bring a rich taste. It is not like overly sugary stuff that makes you keep craving for it the whole day.

gud waley shakkarparey

(make more than a kilo of gudparey)

500 gm maida (or atta)
80-100 gm ghee (for shortening)
cold (not chilled) water to knead the dough
300 gm jaggery (see *note)
3 tbsp or 50 ml water
1 tbsp fennel coarsely pounded
ghee for deep frying (about 500 gm total, about 200 gm gets used)


Rub the 100 gm ghee in the maida till it looks like breadcrumbs and binds together when you press a portion of the flour in your fist. Now add cold water slowly and knead in quick movements. You have to be careful not to overwork the dough, just let it get together in a ball. Overkneading doesn't allow the layers form in the shakkarparey.

Now divide the dough into 4-5 parts and roll out 1 cm thick sheet. Cut the sheet into bite sized diamond shapes. Repeat till you use up the whole dough.

Heat ghee and deep fry the diamond shaped shakkarparey in batches. It has to be fried on low flame so the layers of the shakkarparey open up while frying.

Once all the diamond shaped shakkaparey are fried start working with the jaggery.

Chop the jaggery and mix with water and fennel in a wide and deep kadhai. Cook till the jaggery melts and starts frothing. You have to make *teen taar ki chashni* which means a thick syrup that is ready to crystallise. There is a way to check this stage of the syrup.

In the beginning when you let the jaggery syrup drop from the stirring ladle it drips in one thick stream, later it forms 2 thinner streams and when you cook it further for a few more minutes it starts making three thin streams dripping off the ladle, *teen taar ki chashni*. This is when you have to work quickly.

Pour the syrup over the fried shakkarparey and start mixing them in soft but quick movements. In about a couple of minutes the syrup starts getting dry and each diamond shaped shakkarpara gets separated from each other. Let it cool and then pack in air tight container after the initial round of tasting.

gud waley shakkarparey

We were four of us to do the tasting round this time. What pleasure when there are more people to enjoy the food being cooked. Festivals are just about cooking and eating together, praying together and welcome the changing season.

*Note : I have practice of making these and other jaggery or sugar coated snacks like this jaggery coated almonds, so I can handle an even and thin coating of jaggery over these. If you are making it for the first time it may not get evenly coated but there is nothing to worry about, just use more jaggery and keep stirring the shakkarparey or nuts being coated till they are all separated from the sticky drying jaggery syrup. The extra jeggery will remain in the pan that can be used to make some other dessert or simple maleeda.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

everyday subzi: palak paneer recipe | 3 ways to make palak paneer

I never thought I should be sharing a palak paneer recipe on my blogs. It was too ordinary everyday recipe that I thought everyone would know. After all you don't need any special skill to make palak paneer, that is what I thought. And then someone asked me whether I have palak paneer recipe on the blog when I suggested it in her meal plan.

palak paneer recipes

I realised such regional recipes have become popular because of their popularity in restaurants and people relate these recipes with heavy and rich curries they eat at those restaurants. The simpler homely deliciousness of palak paneer and such recipes stays limited only in their respective regions. That was enough reason for me to think about posting some of the very ordinary but popular recipes so whoever wants to try the homely version of palak paneer gets a chance to taste the original flavour. Although the original or authentic taste may be an illusion as every family has it's own recipe, my intention is to get the unspoiled taste of spinach and paneer in the curry.

Also, as I learn more about the complex recipes I realise we need to have exact and accurate recipes of the simpler food too as a simpler recipe is more likely to get lost for the lack of seriousness attached to it. If we know the simpler version we can always add on our own twist to it according to seasons and taste. Like I make a palak paneer tahiri sometimes with leftover palak paneer or add some sweet corn kernels to the plain palak paneer to make it more interesting.

Note that palak paneer can be made in a jiffy if the palak (spinach) has been cleaned, rinsed, chopped and steamed already. This is the way I store my spinach mostly. Once the greens are chopped and lightly steamed, it refrigerates well for 3-4 days and freezes well for months. I keep it in a container for 3-4 days.

Alternately, cleaned unwashed spinach also keeps well for a week, if wrapped in brown paper or cloth napkin. Just rinse, chop and use as required.

My simplest palak paneer recipe has been the most popular with any guests and even kids. Even my daughter used to love the simpler version of palak paneer. So the first recipe is the plain palak paneer that gets ready in just about 10 minutes if you have the steamed spinach ready in the fridge.

Note that you can use the stems of spinach too for palak paneer if the leaves are tender, but if the spinach leaves are mature and the stems are hard, it is better to remove the stems as it may make the curry slightly bitter.

Plain palak paneer recipe (no onion garlic)...

(2-3 servings)

2 cups steamed spinach
100-150 gm paneer cubed
2 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp cumin powder
salt 1/3 tsp or to taste
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup whisked fresh yogurt


Puree the spinach and keep ready.

Heat the ghee lightly and tip in the cumin powder. Pour the spinach puree as soon as the cumin powder starts sizzling. Take care not to burn the cumin powder.

Stir and cook till spinach puree starts bubbling.

Add the other ingredients and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve right away.

This recipe is a fasting recipe that we used to eat during navratri a lot. You can have it with plain boiled buckwheat groats or sama ke chawal too.

spicy palak paneer recipe 

This recipe takes about 15 minutes if you have the chopped and steamed spinach ready. This is more close to the restaurant style palak paneer but way more healthier homely version of it.

ingredients (2-3 servings)

2 cups steamed spinach
150 gm or more paneer cubed
2 tbsp finely chopped onion
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste (or minced)
1/2 cup fresh raw tomato paste (freshly chopped tomatoes liquidised in mixie)
1 tbsp everyday curry powder (or curry powder of your choice)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder or to taste
dash of garam masala powder (optional, depends on what curry powder you are using)
2-3 tejpatta
1.5 tbsp mustard oil
salt to taste


Grease a griddle ( I use my cast iron dosa tawa mostly) with ghee or oil and grill the paneer cubes both sides till lightly browned. This step is optional but enhances the flavour, you can deep fry the paneer if you are making large quantity. Dip all the fried paneer cubes in a cup of hot water, cover and let it rest till required.

Puree the spinach and keep aside.

Heat mustard oil and tip in the finely chopped onion and fry till golden brown. Add the ginger garlic paste and salt, fry till oil releases.

Add the powder spices with a tbsp of water and bhuno on medium flame till it looks glazed.

Add the tomato paste and bhuno again till it dries up. Add the spinach puree and let it bubble once.

Add the fried paneer cubes along with the soaking water, simmer for a couple of minutes. Serve hot.

This version of palak paneer lends well to palak paneer wali tahiri. I usually make some extra rice and refrigerate the leftover. This way we can make a quick meal with leftover things. For a cup of cooked rice you can use up 1.5-2 cups of leftover palak paneer, just mix both the rice and palak paneer well and let it cook covered on very low flame for 10 minutes or so. In our case it is usually half the quantity and I cook it till it start looking like this.

I usually make a quick stir fry with this kind of meal too. Here it is a radish stir fry we love a lot. Will share the radish stir fry recipe soon.

Another palak paneer version is my way of making creamed spinach mostly. It is a practical way to eat greens and make it workable for a roti subzi kind of Indian meal too.

Creamed spinach with paneer recipe (creamed palak paneer) ...

(2-3 servings)

2 cups of chopped steamed spinach (or raw chopped)
1/4 cup cream (heavy or light as you wish, I use whatever I have or add 2 tbsp of malai)
100-120 gm paneer cubed in small pieces
salt to taste
black pepper powder to taste
pinch of nutmeg powder (optional)
pinch of garlic powder


Basically everything can be put in a pan and cooked till the spinach wilts and the cream get a greenish hue if you go by what I do. But wilting the spinach forst with added salt and then adding everything else and cooking it all covered for a few minutes does the trick. That's all.

The 'curry' style creamed spinach and paneer is so convenient for me sometimes it saves me on hectic mornings. We have had it with plain boiled rice, roti, paratha and even with plain boiled pasta. Try it once and you would know what I am talking about.

Hoping that making palak paneer will not be difficult any more,e if you have palak paneer in restaurants all your life. Try making these versions and tell me which one you liked more. Each one has a different flavour and you would plan these with different kind of meals once you start making them in your own kitchen.

The home made paneer could be of great help if you wish to keep the fat content of paneer in check.

Monday, October 19, 2015

fresh water chestnuts curry for fasting | 2 ways with fresh water chestnuts (singhada or paniphal) | vrat ka khana

water chestnuts or singhade

Fresh raw water chestnuts or Caltrops are in season and thankfully we get them here in the capital too. Apparently Delhi has a lot of 'rainwater' bodies around the city too and the singhada comes from those and from far flung areas as well. We do get a deluge of singhade during this season and we end up buying a couple of kilos every week. The reason for another singhada post just after the Singhade ka achar.

And no, we are not fasting during Navratri though we used to look forward to this fasting season eagerly every year. Times change, no regrets.

We eat a lot of singhade every season. The most common way to eat is this simple stir fry with cumin seeds and lot of freshly milled pepper. This recipe is common in singhada growing areas of Eastern UP and Bihar, as my family learnt it from a family friend who had their own ponds of singhada around Chandouli  in Banaras.

This jeerey wala singhada was more of a tea time snack or an evening snack for everyday and a meal for fasting days. People don't wait for fasting days when singhada is in season. By the way, the same recipe is made with baby potatoes of the new season too, to be served as a snack and that is very different from jeera alu.

jeerey wala singhada

Jeerey wala kachha singhada recipe 

(2 large breakfast servings or 4 snack servings)
650 gm raw tender peeled water chestnuts (1 kilo singhade after peels removed)
1 tbsp ghee
2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp or to taste freshly milled pepper (or crush in mortar and pestle)
pink salt (sendha namak) to taste
lime juice if required (we never use it but you may like it)


Halve the water chestnuts so they make bite sized pieces and cook quickly too. Cutting them into halves ensures absorption of the salt better. Note that medium mature singhadas taste great in this stir fry. Very hard and mature ones are suitable for boiled snacks and curries.

Heat the ghee in a deep pan (kadhai) and tip in the cumin seeds. Let them crackle before you dunk in all the peeled and halved singhade. Add salt and stir fry in medium heat for a couple of minutes. Cover and cook for a couple more minutes.

Add the freshly crushed peppercorns, stir and cook some more till the singhada pieces start looking glazed. It is ready once you see the singhada pieces getting glazed with a slight change in colour.

You can add some lime juice or a hint of amchoor powder if you wish.

Serve right away.

Sometimes I add a little chopped coriander greens to it and skip adding pepper.

water chestnuts stir fry

Both the variations are very different from each other because minimal seasoning results in a very fresh flavour that changes even if you change one ingredient.

You can add garlic chives or thyme too if you wish, I generally don't deviate from our traditional seasonings for this one. Though I use singhada from Chinese type stir fries too.

Now coming to a singhade ki subzi which is cooked in a true Banarasi way. During fasting or otherwise too, Banarasis love to cook the curries with milk and khoya when there is a special occasion. This is one of those milky curries that taste so good with kuttu or singhade ki puri that you may want to observe fasting forever. We have it with singhade ki roti mostly.

singhade aur makhane ki subzi

Kachhe singhade aur Makhane ki subzi 
(serves 2-3)

500 gm peeled and halved raw water chestnuts
100 gm or 2 cups of makhane (fox nuts)
2 tbsp khoya (preferably home made khoya)
1 cup milk
1 tbsp everyday curry powder (mix of coriander seeds, cumin, pepper and tejpatta)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder (optional, some people don't add this)
pink salt to taste
handful of chopped coriander greens
2 +1 tsp ghee (total 1 tbsp)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds


Heat 2 tsp ghee in a deep pan (medium heat) and tip in all the makhana in it. Keep stirring to roast them evenly. They get roasted in about a couple of minutes and get crisp. Remove from pan and let them cool on a plate.

Heat 1 tsp ghee in the same pan and add the cumin seeds. Add the everyday curry powder , bhuno for a few seconds till it gets aromatic and add the crushed khoya. Bhuno till everything gets mixed well and aroma emanates.

Add the chopped singhade, milk, salt and let all these simmer together for 5 minutes. Add the fried/roasted makhane and simmer again till the makhane shrink in size and get soggy with the gravy. You may want to add a little more milk or water to get a desired consistency. I added some water to get a thinner curry that I like.

Once a thin layer of fat comes on top the curry is ready. Some people deep fry the makhana in ghee and this curry looks totally submerged in ghee and that is tasty too, but we can't afford to have those curries any more at this age and with this almost sedentary lifestyle.

singhade aur makhane ki subzi

This light yet so delicious singhade aur makhane ki subzi is just my type. I often have it as a meal in itself. Try doing that and let me know.

Many people have been pointing at severely polluted water bodies in the periphery of the city where all the sewage goes and more waste is dumped, where they say singhada is grown. But when you think of it, this plant cannot grow in polluted water bodies with so much of rotting organic and chemical waste. Singhada or water chestnuts (Indian) grows in shallow ponds and marshes where water collects after the rainy season.

Of course all water bodies and even soil is polluted but we need not to worry about the water chestnuts coming to us from sewage dumps. This crop needs immaculate and accurate methods of seed saving after the crop is harvested and then the germinated seeds are broadcasted (a method of sowing) in newly filled up shallow water bodies around farming areas after monsoons and in private ponds and lakes too.

Water chestnuts are safe to eat. We should worry more about the synthetic colours in cake frostings and even in some health drinks and fruit juices these days.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

singhade ka achar | pickled water chestnuts in Indian spices

singhade ka achar

Singhade ka achar (pickled water chestnuts) is one of those seasonal pickles that very few people make. In fact pickling was mostly associated with aam ka achar, bhari mirch ka achar or nimbu ka achar more and these pickles were a must have in any Indian kitchen (read north Indian kitchen). But few families (read chatori families) kept pickling seasonal vegetables on the sly and serving such seasonal pickles as a fresh condiment to bring variety and taste to the everyday meals.

All of those gobi matar ka achar, gobhi, shalgam, gajar ka achar, sem ka achar and even alu ka achar made with new potatoes come into this category of seasonal pickles. Many of these pickles are called pani ka achar as no oil is used in making these or very little oil just to bring the spices to life. It will be useful to mention that pani ka achar is more of a mustard based pickle that gets fermented a little in a day or two and tastes very good, apart from being a good probiotic supplement. I will share a few recipe of pani ka achar, this mooli ka achar comes into that category.

This singhade ka achar has the pickling spices used for aam ka achar, the most common and popular pickling spice mix in north India. I made sooran ka achar recently with the same spices and it has been the must have condiment on the table right now. You can pickle any vegetable and even some fruits using these spices, the treatment of the vegetable will differ according to the water content they have.

Indian pickling spices

And singhadas have loads of water in them. The tough skin contains the nut (kernel) inside which is in fact a very soft and watery nut. They start coming to markets in early winter, the season lasts about 6-7 weeks. The water chestnut kernel gets harder and more starchy by November, the hard kernel is preferred more for boiled water chestnuts and curries.

Some people like this achar made with softer (tender) water chestnuts while some like it with the hard ones. I prefer the soft singhada for achar.

water chestnuts

Singhade ka achar is a fresh pickle that is meant to be consumed in maximum 2 weeks. It can be preserved for longer duration but the fresh taste will be lost after a month or so and the specialty of this pickle will be lost.

Each water chestnut is peeled in a specific way so as to keep the soft parts of the skin on and to remove the hard horns, also to remove the tip from both ends to allow the pickling spices to seep in.

The picture below would give you an idea about how to peel the water chestnuts to make the achar.

singhade ka achar recipe

(to fill up a 500 ml jar)

500 gm water chestnuts (singhada)
15-20 gm salt (keep it lesser if you want to eat more singhade ka achar for every meal)
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp yellow mustard powder
1 tbsp whole fennel seeds (sounf)
2 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
1 tsp omum (ajwain)
1 tsp nigela (mangrail or kalonji or kalo jeere)
pinch of good quality asafoetida (hing)
2 tsp red chilli powder or to taste
2 tbsp mustard oil


Rinse and clean the water chestnuts nicely. Drain. No need to sun dry.

Peel the water chestnuts, they look like this after partial peeling. Alternately, you can just remove the thorns and cut the water chestnuts in 2 halves lengthwise.

singhade ka achar recipe

Boil enough water in a deep pan to submerge all the water chestnuts. Add a little salt (1 tsp per liter) and tip in the water chestnuts in boiling water at once. Wait for 2 minutes and drain the hot water, retain the water chestnuts in a colander.

Add the salt and turmeric powder to the water chestnuts and toss to mix. Now add the mustard powder too, toss and keep aside. Start preparing for the other spices.

Heat mustard oil in a pan, add the asafoetida, fenugreek seeds and nigela seeds one by one, waiting a few seconds before one spices starts sizzling. Then add the fennel and omum (ajwain) together and remove the pan from stove.

Mix well, add the red chilli powder and pour the spice mix over the water chestnuts seeped into salt, turmeric and mustard powder. Mix well to coat them all and fill in a sterile glass jar. The pickle will be ready to eat in 2-3 hours.

Refrigerate after about 4 hours. This pickle keeps well refrigerated for 2-3 weeks. At room temperature it lasts for a couple of days, adding more salt and mustard oil can make it stable at room temperature.

singhade ka achar recipe

The water chestnuts release a lot of water by the next day, shake well before serving. You can add boiled and cooled baby potatoes to this pickle to make a nice variation after 3-4 days when there is enough watery liquid in it to soak up the potatoes.

The kernel of the water chestnuts remain whitish but take up the flavours of the spices very well.

singhade ka achar recipe

You would love singhade ka achar I am sure and will keep making it once you get the taste. It is as easy as making a subzi and can be served as a side dish during singhada season. Tastes great with parathas and daal chawal, tahiris and khichdi etc.

There a loads of singhada recipes on this blog. Check out the singhade ke atte ki roti if you haven't seen already. Singhade ke atte ki roti is a fasting bead recipe you might like to try this Navratri.