Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Recipe of Kamal gatte ka halwa : Lotus seeds Indian pudding

Kamal gatta is the lotus seed or lotus nut that comes out of the conical fruit of lotus species (Nelumbo nucifera). Many people call Makhana as lotus seeds but that is wrong. Makhana or Foxnut belongs to a different species of water lilies called Euryale ferox. Since both are related species growing in aquatic habitat, people confuse with the identity.

Both Fox nuts (or Gorgon nuts) and Lotus nuts are edible but the usage is different. Foxnuts are popped at high heat to make makhanas and the nuts that don't pop are powdered and made into makhane ka sattu which is available in Banaras during Navratri season as it is a fasting food. Kamal gatta or Lotus nut is never popped as much as I know, please let me know if you have seen popped lotus seeds. Not makhana please.

Lotus seeds are eaten in tender fresh form when the fruit is still green and the seeds are tender like green peas. Once the seeds start maturing the inner green coloured germ starts getting bitter and one needs to remove that green germ to eat the seeds.

Alternately, Lotus seeds are also dried when mature, the seed coat turns black (dark purple) and hard and the seeds need to be cracked open to release the hard cotyledons which are edible. The green germ is still there and tastes bitter, so one needs to remove that to prepare lotus seeds for eating.

Kamal gatte ka halwa is one of those forgotten recipes that I always wanted to cook. The only problem was that the Kamal gatta was not easily available. Last time when I went to Banaras we did a walk through the spice market and I found a few spice shops had kamal gatta on the display. I bought some promptly and stuffed it into my handbag.

Kamal gatta was placed over a sack of makhanas interestingly, as if to prove the relationship they share.

The spice market of Banaras is called Gola Deenanath. It is a lane that starts diagonally opposite to the main gate of Kabirchaura hospital. Apart from spices and nuts, dry fruits etc you would find a lot of herbs and Ayurvedic medicines being sold in the shops and on the pavements. The shopkeepers are quite helpful and help you identify things.

My best find obviously was Kamal gatta from this market. Luckily I was there in the season. I realised it later as when I soaked the kamal gattas in water overnight I noticed the green germ (embryo) inside was nice and plump and was ready to sprout. That will happen when the kamal gatta is from the fresh crop, or so I guess.

No prizes for guessing that I actually set them apart for making some lotus seedlings. Dreaming of having lotus in my garden now. I have to arrange a deep pot for growing lotus of course.

Lotus seeds or kamal gatta was always a rare food because only a very few people cooked it. Separating the seeds from the fruit is quite difficult so even the tender kamal gatta is eaten as a fun snack rather than a staple like lotus stem. Once dry the seed coat is quite hard so breaking it, separating the edible part from the green embryo was so much work that only a few people actually cooked it.

But once the seeds are processed they make really good daal with minimal spices or even a nimona that uses very little lotus seeds to make a curry. Halwa was quite common in my childhood as my grandmother used to make it whenever she would get some kamal gatta. I never saw it being made once I grew up enough to understand recipes but I kept hearing about the kamal gatte ka halwa so much that it became a much desirable food in my mind.

The lotus seeds are known as nerve and cardiac tonic and is also supposed to be anti ageing in it's effect. The medicinal properties are recorded well in Thai texts as well as Indian Ayurveda texts. The book The Yoga of Herbs claims that the lotus seeds are aphrodisiac, rejuvenative and homostatic apart from being calming and sedative in nature. In my family kamal gatte ka halwa was known as the supplement that was fed to anyone recovering from a prolonged illness.

Luckily kamal gatta is available in split form else one would need to break every seed that actually slips many times when you hit it with a hammer. At least in the markets of Uttar Pradesh kamal gatta is available in split form I am sure.

Cooking the dry kamal gatta is quite a task even when you get them split. Once it is soaked overnight the seed coat needs to be removed from every individual seed, it is tougher than peeling water chestnuts because the seeds are small and the green embryo needs to be removed from each seed. .

Once cleaned, you just rinse the peeled seeds and grind them all in a blender. Some people like the mixture coarse and some like it smooth. Earlier this grinding was done on a stone mortar and pestle called silbatta.

I made a smooth paste because I wanted a set halwa that can be cut into neat squares. Kamlagatta has a tendency to set once cooked and cooled. Once the paste is made it is a matter of 15 minutes to make halwa for about 4-6 servings.

Note that some people make this halwa with kamal gatta along with other nuts as even my mother used to make it. But I think my mother was smitten with her normal mewe ka halwa so much that she would add loads of soaked and blended nuts to all the halwas she made. I wanted to make halwa with 100% kamal gatta so I can get the unadulterated taste of the lotus seeds.


150 gm kamal gatta soaked overnight
50 gm ghee (3 tbsp)
50-70 gm sugar ( I used jaggery granules)
chopped nuts to garnish


Peel the seeds and rinse them once. Make a paste, preferably without adding any water.

Heat the ghee in a kadhai ( I used iron kadhai) and pour the kamal gatta paste in it. The paste starts getting sticky once it heats up.

Keep scraping the bottom and stir for about 10 minutes to get a smooth and thick consistency. If using an iron kadhai you would see the paste become dark but that is worth it. Use a steel kadhai if you want a lighter colour.

Add the sugar or jaggery once the mixture comes together in a smooth lump. Stir and mix, cook for a couple of minutes.

Now empty the contents of the kadhai into a greased tray of suitable size and smoothen the surface using a butter knife or spatula. Sprinkle chopped nuts and press them to stick on the surface.

Let the halwa get cold before you cut squares or serve hot like a sticky pudding.

The texture is quite similar to the fresh water chestnut halwa that I make but the taste is very distinctly different. Nutty, earthy and smooth, the flavour of the lotus nut is so mild and yet potent that the jaggery gets camouflaged.

Once the halwa is cold and cut into squares, you can refrigerate it for 3-4 days.

Kamal gatte ka halwa was one of the best things I cooked in the last month. It tasted great and it was one of those things I had been wanting to get my hands for so many years. I ahve some more kamala gatta with me, will be using it to make some daal next.

Of course the seeds are germinating well and will grow into healthy plants I am sure.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

tamatar chaat trail in Banaras and recreating the recipe of tamatar chaat

I have made tamatar chaat earlier and have been wanting to make it again and again. Tamatar chaat or tamatari is a delicious chaat from Banaras that is said to be a secret recipe. The reality is that all the chaat walas of the city have their own versions and most of them taste great, although all of them are slightly different from each other. Isn't that interesting?

I had been planning to make my own version of tamatari for ages, it is after the tamatari trail in Banaras that I came back and made it at home too.

I have also been dreaming of a chaat party as we used to have in Banaras. A chaat party is an apt alternative to high tea in Banaras. Almost all chaat walas are into catering and most people have their own favourites too.

The chaat parties of Banaras would mean a couple of chaat walas doing the catering, cooking live chaats and serving gol gappas street style. There would be counters of tamatari, chiwda matar, dahi bade, tikki chaat and gol gappas and a few unique chaats the hosts would arrange for. Tokri chaat, chhole bhatoorey, samosa chaat, kachori subzi etc used to be the usual add ons. Mung ka halwa, gajar halwa, hot gulab jamuns and jalebis would be the standard 'live' desserts being churned out.

Oh now I am seriously craving for a chaat party.

The best alternative to a chaat party is to go on a chaat trail in banaras. And if you are like me you would go trailing one type of chaat in a day, cover as many destinations as possible, take notes and conclude the one you like the best. This is what we did last time we were in Banaras.

The first Tamatari joint we raided was the Banarasi Chat Bhandar at Sankatmochan turning. Incidentally this was the place where I had first tasted the Tamatari 2 decades ago. I know how he used to make the Tamatari in those days but he has adapted the recipe now to make it quicker to serve to the waiting customers.

Earlier he use to crush some ready alu tikkis with some red tomatoes lined up around the periphery of the huge tawa and mix a few more chutneys and spices to churn out a tangy hot and sweet tamatari. Now he brings a ready mix of tomatoes and potatoes with some peas and even cubes of paneer which he pours on the griddle and bhunoes it till the tomato mixture gets nicely caramelised.

Then he adds a rich rassa to the reduced tomato mix which has makhanas and nuts, a sprinkling of chopped onions, coriander leaves etc and it is ready to be relished. But mind you, this earthen kulhad of tangy sweet and hot concoction comes to you after a good deal of waiting as by the time he makes tamatari there is a sizable crowd around his cart.

This would be my favourite tamatar chaat for 2 reasons. One the tamatar chaat has a dominant taste of tomatoes and the tomatoes are so well caramelised. There are other places where the tamatari is tasty but the tomato drowns among the other ingredients used. The second reason for liking this tamatari is that you get to stand in open air and eat the chaat, the cart is in an open space and they have a shop just behind the cart where you can sit and eat too.

Waiting for tables and sitting in claustrophobic chaat shops can be tolerated ONLY when the chaat is superlative. The good thing is that there are superlative chaats in those chaat bhandars of Banaras of course.

The next Tamatari we tasted was at Kashi Chat Bhandar and it was a bit more spicy though quite delicious. A father and son sharing table with us had two serving of tamatari there along with a variety of other chaats. The chiwda matar and alu tikki at Kashi Chaat Bhandar is great but the tamatari needs a little more balance of flavours and a little more tomatoes in it.

We found Deena Chaat Bhandar's Tamatari quite nice. It was more tangy, the kind of tangy that comes from using desi tomatoes and the flavours were really well balanced. I am told Deena used to make better Tamatari a decade ago. I can understand that as even the Banarasi at Sankatmochan turning also used to make much better tamatari when I had eaten from his cart. Deena's tamatari is still one of the best.

All these places used to crush a few alu tikkis, then caramalise a few ripe tomatoes and mix a few more things on the go to make tamatari back then. Now they have just made it more convenient for themselves as a ready mix is easy and quick to serve.

Most of them have started adding small cubes of paneer, peas, more nuts and even dry yellow peas to the tamatari to make it more attractive. All of them have their signature versions of the tamatari chaat.

I miss the version we used to get earlier and guess what? I had a leisurely chat with the original owner of the Banarasi Chaat Bhandar at Sankatmochan turning and he told he can make the original version on order. You just tell him a day in advance and the next day he will make it for you. Now that is something I am going to do next time.

But then, after having all these tamatari versions I had to make it at home too. The recipe of tamatari has been shared earlier but here it is once again. Use desi tomatoes for best taste I recommend. Or mix a few varieties of tomatoes to get the best of of them.

Ingredients, recipe and instructions of tamatari or tamatar chaat can be seen here.

The final outcome is always delicious. At home I make it less oily but the taste is great anyways.

Have it hot.

And have it for a meal. All the nuts, ghee and khoya in the tamatari chaat makes it quite heavy and when you are cooking it at home you must enjoy a large portion. So keep the Tamatar chaat for dinner menus or smaller portions for chaat parties where you serve more chaats.