Friday, July 29, 2016

wild mushrooms | Katarua or Indian truffles | subzi and biryani recipes using Katarua

Last month I was lucky to get hold of some wild mushrooms brought by my brother. He was driving from Lakhimpur and I had requested him to bring some of these foraged wild foods.

I had tasted several varieties of wild mushrooms during our days in Dhanbad, my maid who belonged to Munda tribe had introduced me to many of these wild foods, and the memory of those freshly foraged wild mushrooms sometimes makes me crave for them. Especially during the rainy season as I am reminded of how the local haats (vegetable markets) will have at least 3-4 mushroom sellers during this season.

Sometimes my maid would bring a fistful of Termite mushrooms that she had found on her way to my home in the morning, the fresh aroma of those mushrooms is unforgettable. She would always tell me these can be eaten raw as well but I never tried that, blame it to my urban sense of hygiene.

So when two bundles of wild mushrooms arrived one day wrapped in newspaper, the way the foragers sell these, I opened the bundles instantly to see what were those. One of them was this wild mushroom called as 'Dharti ka phool' and had a pleasant smell to it.

The other one was so stinky I felt a bit hesitant to cook with it. A similar looking wild mushroom called Rugda from Jharkhand was not smelly at all as much as I remember. Or was it my help who used to clean it? But the big question was I had to clean it all by myself this time.

wild mushrooms Katarua

This pebble like wild mushroom is known as Katarua in Lakhimpur and as Phutphut in Dehradun I got to know. Covered in layers of black mud these had to be rinsed repeatedly to clean.

Katarua or Phutphut is identified as Astraeus hygrometricus (source) which grows mostly around Sal trees  and erupts in rainy season every year.

After a good wash the Katarua looks like this. These are Indian truffles, closely related to other truffles of the world and very flavourful.

wild mushrooms Katarua

These have a cartilaginous cover and a pulpy center and need to be halved for cooking into curries. I decided to pressure cook first because the stinky mud had made me sick. Some great foods test your patience truly.

After pressure cooking for about 10 minutes (after one whistle) the Kataura mushrooms were cooled down, chopped into halves and curried. The taste was so good it makes me crave for it now. Very meaty taste, cartilaginous capsule and soft egg yolk like center.

I cooked it with potatoes once as it flavours anything that is cooked with it.

wild mushrooms Katarua ki subzi

The recipe is not much different for this spicy curry as I followed the bhuna masala method, where the masala is prepared first and then the mushrooms are simmered with the bhuna masala and some water for about 10 minutes. Note that the Katarua has already been pressure cooked. It takes well to prolonged cooking as the cartilage like outer cover is quite hard.

Next time I kept the gravy a little thin as I love the way the soupy curry carries the flavours.This one we polished off with sourdough kulchas.

And then I made biryani with the Katarua wild mushrooms because I thought the rice grains will take to it's flavour really well. The biryani really proved to be worthy of all the effort. Unfortunately I was trying out an organic rice that was sent to me by a farmer and it turned out to be too mushy for biryani but the taste was great. 

wild mushrooms Katarua ki biryani

To make the Katarua biryani, follow the steps as suggested below.

It is not a true biryani but something that will make you think positively about vegetarian biryanis trust me.

1. Make the curry with bhuna masala like above.
2. Boil basmati rice with plenty of water, few tejpatta leaves and few peppercorns. Cook the rice only till the rice is half done. Drain the water and reserve rice, rinse with chilled water briefly.
3. Now layer the Katarua subzi and half cooked rice in a thick bottomed handi. Pour the gravy over it and some additional water, some mint leaves (optional) and a tbsp of ghee. The water used at this step has to be enough to cook the rice while on 'dum'.
4. Cover the handi and cook on 'dum'. Keep a tick griddle below the handi and let it cook slowly on low heat for 25 minutes. This is how 'dum' cooking results into aromatic biryani.
5. Serve the biryani as soon as the dum cooking is over.

We normally serve raita and salad with biryanis but since it was the rare flavour of Katarua we decided to make a plain kachumber of tomatoes and onions. It was such a delectable meal to remember.

Next time I get hold of these wild mushrooms called as Katarua, I am going to experiment some more and see if it pairs well with the western recipes.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

sooran ka achar or zamikand ka achar | pickled elephant yam

I keep saying we are not a pickle consuming family but we do appreciate a good pickle once in a  while. And sometimes when someone mentions a pickle that was made back home with much ostentation, I feel like making that pickle just for my memory's sake.

This sooran ka achar was one of those pickles that I made after my brother was remembering this pickle made my our grandmother.

sooran ka achar

We used to take second and third helping of this pickle whenever it was placed on the table. I remember this was one of the pickle that was used to show off the varieties of pickle that my parents used to hoard. And we were lucky to have a grandmother who used to find great pleasure in seeing such pageantry around the food she made.

Making sooran ka achar is not difficult once you get the vegetable grated and ready. A food processor or a handy house help and you can easily breeze through making this Elephant yam pickle. Peeling the muddy skin and grating this hard tuber is the most difficult thing, but once it is done you just have to toss it like a salad.

Salad? Do we have salads in India? Check this article I wrote for my column in Indian Express.

Coming back to this sooran ka achar, it is actually a balanced mix of the yam, ginger, garlic, chillies and of course the pickling spices. It looks more like a chutney and tastes somewhere between an Indian tart chutney and a pickle resplendent with pickling spices. Ginger plays a very good role in this pickle.

elephant yam


300 gm peeled, rinsed and grated sooran
200 gm cleaned and grated fresh ginger root
100 gm garlic peeled and minced (or chopped roughly if you like the bite)
50-60 gm dry red chilly powder (coarse preferably)
150 gm salt
100 gm pickling spice mix
50 gm turmeric powder Or 100 gm fresh turmeric root grated
200 ml pure cold pressed mustard oil (a little more to top up)
1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida)
100 ml vinegar of your choice (I use home made jamun or apple cider vinegar)


Take care to clean the chopping board and grating equipment thoroughly. Grate and chop the ingredients as required and mix with salt and turmeric. Keep aside for an hour or so. No need to sun dry anything.

Heat the mustard oil, add the hing powder and wait till it froths. Add the remaining spices at once and take the pan off the stove. Add this infused oil along with the spices in the sooran mix and give it a good stir.

Add the vinegar, mix well and immediately fill into a sterilized jar, press it down to remove air gaps. Pour some additional mustard oil if the pickle looks too dry, the top layer should be submerged in a thin layer of oil.

sooran ka achar

This pickle will be ready to eat in 2-3 days and keeps well for a whole year. The taste keeps getting a little more tart as this pickle ages.

This sooran ka achar is great as a condiment for Indian meals but do try it as a spread for sandwiches sometimes and see how it replaces your regular mustard.

Sooran is also known as Zamikand, Oal or Ole in other parts of India but this pickle is probably a recipe belonging to eastern UP and Bihar. I haven't come across this sooran ka achar in any other regions till now.