I’m sure the title caught your attention and for those who are familiar with Haldi Kunku, I can imagine the title intrigued you 🙂
In my never-ending quest to take traditional recipes and find new ways to serve them on the Bombay Howrah Dining Car menu, the latest Marathi dish I have decided to play with is an unusual coffee preparation that gets served at a ‘Haldi Kunku’, a fun, social gathering typically amongst married women who exchange haldi (turmeric) and kunku or kumkum (vermillon), give each other small gifts and eat typical Marathi snacks which usually include a sweet & a savoury item.
Haldi Kunku coffee is a hot beverage served at these gatherings and is made with instant coffee powder, milk, sugar and flavoured with cardamom powder. At some houses, the host would make it quite milky and sweet, which I didn’t enjoy. But if you added more coffee and cardamom to the recipe, the stronger flavour ended up being surprisingly delicious!
I have been toying with this dish for a long time, not knowing exactly how to bring it on the menu. And then for a recent dinner, as I was flicking through my recipe collection to figure out something for a strict vegetarian diner, I rediscovered a chocolate pudding recipe from one of my favourite food blogs – Smitten Kitchen. Inspiration struck! I decided to combine the chocolate pudding and haldi kunku coffee recipe to produce….ta da! my Haldi Kunku Pudding.
A dense chocolate pudding with instant coffee-chicory powder, a good dash of freshly ground cardamom, served with a lovely slice of my homemade orange crisp and homemade nankhatai crumble. However I went a step ahead, well far ahead of what any traditional haldi kunku ceremony would ever have done….I decided to serve the pudding with a digestif! A shot of Dom Benedictine mixed with my homemade cardamom bitters, thereby trying to elevate the cardamom notes in the overall dessert experience! As to how best to enjoy this combination – I leave that to the guests. Eat the pudding first, followed by the digestif, reverse eat it or enjoy them sequentially 🙂
For me, Makar Sankranti has always been about eating halwa (sugar granules coated in sugar syrup) and homemade tilachi vadi and buying kites that I would then attempt to fly on our terrace with my father & grandfather! My grandmother and mother would sometimes join a haldi-kunku celebration (haldi = turmeric, kunku = vermillion worn on foreheads) and the tradition was to wear black sarees with kasuti work on them. I luckily possess one such saree in my ever growing saree collection.
But as with all festivals in India, Makar Sankranti is about food and for me in particular it was my paternal grandmother’s tilachi vadi (sesame cakes). Indu aaji was an exceptional cook and she was also extremely fond of cooking – two things that bode well for all my holidays to Nagpur. Her melt-in-your-mouth tilachi vadi, which my mother faithfully makes every year, contain only 3 ingredients. Equal weights of sugar & roasted, ground sesame seeds and some roasted dry coconut (dry not fresh coconut) for topping. Our home recipe does not use peanut powder, cardamom powder or any other ingredient.
First slowly roast white sesame (unpolished if available) till it acquires a golden hue. Once it is cool grind it slowly in a food processor. Place the sugar in a pan and cover with just enough water. Gradually melt the sugar for about 3 mins. To test if it is done, place a dot of the sugar syrup on a plate and tilt the plate. If the syrup stays in place it is ready. Our grandmothers didn’t have the luxury of candy thermometers as we do today, so they relied on kitchen logic to determine when the sugar was cooked enough for the preparation they needed 🙂
Once the syrup is ready, add the roasted and ground sesame and mix to incorporate well. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool slightly but not completely. The mixture will develop a slightly creamy layer on top. Once it is cool enough to handle (i.e. you don’t yelp as you try to handle it), take a tablespoon of the mixture and shape it with your hands or use a mould. My grandmother had these beautiful wooden moulds that she would use to shape the vadis. Once the mould is fully stuffed, the wooden handle is used to push the vadi through and release it on a plate. Once the mixture has been used up, decorate each vadi with a little roasted dry coconut. ta-da! meltingly soft tilachi vadi for you to enjoy.
I enjoy these a lot more than the jawbreakingly hard tilache ladoo that you normally find in stores.
As we got to the end of 2016, we began to think of new dishes to incorporate into the BHDC menu. One of the things I enjoy the most is to take the unusual flavours of many Marathi dishes and innovate with them. My most successful experiment to date has been the Puran Poli Inside Out and with Sankranti approaching, I began to wonder what I could do with the tilachi vadi as a starting point.
I started exploring sesame based desserts in Asia, as black sesame is very popular and Japanese kurogoma (roasted black sesame) ice-cream and Chinese tang yuan (glutinous rice balls with black sesame paste) are two of my favourite sesame based desserts. So I figured it was worth featuring a little bit of black sesame in whatever I managed to create. I came across a lot of matcha and black sesame cakes, puddings and all manner of black sesame cream-filled things. But all of them strayed too far from the taste of the tilachi vadi.
I turned my research back to India and then to the Middle-East where I finally struck gold. I had forgotten about my other favourite sesame product – tahini! I was delighted at the prospect of using it, because the creaminess of tahini could be used to great advantage to retain the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the tilachivadi.
Finally after a lot of elimination, I decided on a tahini cheesecake with a black sesame & biscuit base! Not wanting to forget the lovely roasted coconut on each vadi, I paired the cheesecake with coconut ice-cream and topped it off with some kakvi – jaggery syrup. It may sound like an unusual take on the original dish, but that tahini cheesecake and coconut ice-cream combination does taste a lot like my grandmother’s tilachi vadi. Now I wonder what she would have to say about it 🙂
Growing up in Bombay, there were some dishes that only seemed to make their appearance during Puja. Almost as if those recipes would magically appear during those five days of October, and then retreat away into some misty mountain top – much like the myth of Maa Durga! That theory was clearly a product of my comics-addled brain, but not being in Calcutta, we would not be exposed to the moghlai porota, or the ghugni off-season. My mother would make the chops and fish fries at home from time to time, but I have no memory of eating ghugni outside of Puja time.
So, when we added ghugni to our BHDC menu, the main memory I was going for was the snacky variety we ate at the Puja Pandal. I’m not quite sure if there’s a homier version of that dish but when we brought it on to the menu, my aim was to get the moreish taste so much of the world’s street food gets right. The dish is really simple and satisfying at its heart. Cooked yellow peas spiced with the classic bhaja moshla (freshly roasted and powdered chili and cumin powder in the main, but I add coriander to this version too) topped with onions, chilli, and dried mango powder. Comfort food, tang and spice, rolled into one. And the beauty – as with so many lentil dishes goes – is that works wonderfully with meat as well. Apart from the spices and the toppings that make you keep going back for the next spoonful, the key to a good ghugni is that the peas have to ben somewhat al dente. Obviously not undercooked, but a mushy gloop of peas could be many things – a ghugni it is not.
For those who have a memory of taking trains in the days before railway catering, or just for a touch of whimsy, we serve it in tiffin carrier bowls. And the response so far – to the dish and the presentation – has been very good!
Recipe for vegetarian ghugni (Adapted from a great recipe I found on the bongcookbook.com):
Ingredients (for 6 servings):
For the first cook of the peas:
2 cups yellow peas (also called white peas/ white vatana in Indian grocery stores)
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder
5 tsp bhaja moshla (for this one I dry roast equal parts cumin seeds, coriander seeds and kashmiri chilis till fragrant and then grind them to a fine powder)
2 inch knob of ginger finely cut
6-8 green chilis – whole, split
2 medium potatoes diced
For the finishing cook
1 tbsp mustard oil
2 tsp roasted cumin seeds
2 medium onions chopped
2 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp of red chili powder
2 tbsp of bhaja moshla
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
Soak the peas overnight in enough water to cover them – wash them out the next day once you are ready to cook them
Add the soaked peas (should have grown to 2 times the size), potatoes, and the ingredients of the first cook with twice as much water – enough to cover them properly – and pressure cook it (about 15-20 minutes from the time the cooker starts to whistle). The peas should be about 80% done here i.e. it should not squish easily between your fingers.
Drain the peas and potatoes from the water, reserve the stock.
Some of the pea shells soften and come off in the cooking – fish them out with a slotted spoon (they make for a great, healthy snack!)
You can cook it more gradually on an open flame, but I found a short pressure cook did not mush up the peas and was far more time efficient.
Heat the mustard oil in a heavy bottomed pan, when the oil is heated, add the cumin seeds
Add the onions and cook them down till translucent
Add the tomatoes and dry spices and fry together till the oil separates.
Add the drained, par-cooked chickpeas and potatoes, and cook it at high heat for 5-6 minutes. Add salt and sugar to taste. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes then on a low simmer with some of the stock reserved from the first cook, till the peas are fully cooked through, but hold their form and can be bitten through. The gravy should be loose but not watery – like a thick coating.
Finely chopped onion and green chili, marinated in lime juice
Pinch of amchur (dried mango powder)
A little sprinkle of the bhaja moshla – if you like a bit more heat in your ghugni (I always do!)
As a guest at our supper club, one of the first things you will notice as you sit down at the table is a miniature copper or brass vessel sitting on top of the BHDC menu. These miniature vessels are called ‘bhatukali‘ and represent typical cooking utensils used in many Maharashtrian kitchens, especially more traditional kitchens, like those of our grandmothers.
When I was very young, I used to play with a set of aluminium and copper vessels that had been pulled together from old sets that my mother & grandmother had. My big joy, as it seems from this photo, was to try and balance the pots one on top of the other 🙂
When I got older, my mother gifted me a new bhatukali set for my birthday. The set was made of stainless steel and came with a kitchen shelf (the kind that would be nailed to the wall typically above the sink) in which all the utensils could fit. I remember many afternoons spent playing with it, imagining meals my mother would never have allowed me to actually cook in her kitchen!
I guess it was her cunning plan to get me interested in cooking from a young age! But it turns out that the thought behind bhatukali was to actually get girls interested in traditional rituals through play. Well, it took its time but seems to have eventually worked its magic on me!
As I got older however, I forgot about the bhatukali set and moved on to other interests. My stainless steel set is still there, but tucked away on the loft in my mother’s house. And then a couple of months back, out of the blue, my mother and sister gifted me another set – a beautiful one made of copper and consisting of the more traditional utensils used by my grandmother. And just like that I rediscovered my love for bhatukali! So it only felt right to use them as place settings for our dinners.
Many people have asked where they can buy these beautiful miniatures. The only place I know is Pune – they are available at Tulsi Bagh in the old part of the city. Some families have started reproducing them and they are available at many of the vendors around the temple. You will find brass and copper ones, and some stores will also carry steel miniatures but the quality does differ.
You can also try and get them at Either Or, a wonderful store at Sassoon Road near Camp. On my recent trip to Pune I discovered miniature stone vessels at the store, which I have not seen anywhere else! Promptly added to my collection 🙂
If you are keen on reading more about bhatukali, here are a couple of interesting links:
Vilas Karandikar is a collector and holds exhibitions of his vast and beautiful collection of pieces – many which are no longer produced. My mother and sister were lucky to go for one of his exhibitions in Pune earlier this year. His website features the collection, but is in Marathi: http://www.bhatukali.com/
And if you’re in Pune, you should try and visit the Kelkar museum. They have a small collection of bhatukali but a very impressive collection of actual, traditional cooking vessels which are beautiful!
I keep getting a number of queries on where to buy bhatukali and I’ve called out both Tulsi Baag in Pune and Either Or, a lovely store in Pune, as the places where I have sourced these. I don’t sell them myself 🙂
Last week I made a trip to Pune, the second largest city in Maharashtra after Mumbai and often considered the cultural capital of the state. I was going back to Pune after 8 years, which is quite remarkable for me because through school and college Pune was pretty much a second home. A large part of my mother’s family lived there and since it was convenient to get to, both by rail and road and enjoyed a pleasant weather for most parts of the year, a trip to Pune was usually a no brainer. But trips back home to Mumbai from Singapore are always too short to afford even a one day visit. So finally, this time I took a little extra time off to visit Pune.
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, food was always a big part of our holidays to Pune. Many of our meals would be had at home prepared by the cook, an irascible old lady we called ‘vaaghin’ (which means tigress, and boy was she short-tempered!).
My favourite Maharashtrian restaurant was Hotel Shreyas on Apte Road. To this day, in my opinion, they serve the best home-style Marathi food. A wonderful unlimited thali with dishes I have grown up eating at home – batata rassa (spicy potato curry), amti or varan and bhat (lentils with rice), usal (legumes), a dry preparation like sukha batata (potato) or vatana (peas), koshimbir (vegetable salad), farsan or fried snacks, chapatis or puri, yoghurt or buttermilk and dessert. If we were in Pune for a wedding, a heavier version of this thali would get served at the innumerable ‘karyalays’ or wedding halls.
When my father started working on a project in Pune he would stay at Hotel Swaroop on Prabhat Road. The hotel had a well known restaurant called Anand Dining Hall, that originally served only Marathi food – they have now expanded their menu. I decided to stay at Swaroop last week and dined at the Anand Dining Hall after many years. Simple tasty food like valachi usal (bitter beans), onion and potato rassa (curry), khamang kakdi (cucumber salad) and pithla (yoghurt & gram flour curry), eaten with fresh bhakri (millet or sorghum chapatis). The owners of Hotel Swaroop also own mango orchards and serve homemade fresh mango ice-cream, which was absolutely delicious!
No trip to Pune would be complete without visiting Chitale Bandhu, famous for their amba barfi (mango fudge) and bhakarwadi – an absolutely amazing spicy, fried, savoury snack. Mom also visits Desai Bandhu (owned by the same family that owns Hotel Swaroop), a grocery store that is a great place to buy Marathi spice mixes, sauces, pickles & sweets.
But our food jaunts were not restricted to the older part of the city only. We would also go to ‘Camp’ or the cantonment area. The first trip used to be early morning to secure Shrewsbury biscuits from Kayani bakery on East Street. Back then, the biscuits would run out quite quickly and therefore Kayani Bakery used to ration the amount of biscuits each person could buy – usually 1/4 kg. This required some clever planning within the family, with one member being sent in at a time to secure a box, because if everyone went in together, they would only allow you one box!
In the evening we would go to Dorabjee’s supermarket, where the big draw for me were their homemade centre-filled chocolates, wrapped in different coloured foil paper, to indicate the flavours. Then we would walk to Main Street or M. G. Road and head to Marz-O-Rin – purveyors of fine food items like pattice, rolls, cutlets, sandwiches and cakes, much like the bakeries in Bandra, Mumbai. Next to Marz-O-Rin was Pasteur bakery where we would buy delicious almond or coconut macaroons.
On the trip last week, I went back to another old favourite – Shabri, located on Ghole Road, just off Ferguson Road. Originally we would go for their delicious bhakri with jhunka (thick gram flour & yoghurt gravy), thecha (ground chillies) and fresh onion. A simple farmer’s meal, but so tasty and so filling! But now they serve a thali, which was quite a heavy meal!
Near Shabri, I discovered a new restaurant called Jevan (which means meal). Elegant interiors and a menu dedicated to Marathi food made this a wonderful find. I tried the spicy and dry Dongri Mutton (dry mutton cooked with garlic, dark masala and fresh coconut), Pandhra Rassa (white mutton stock soup) and Vade (fried lentil bread) followed by kharvas, an unusual cardamom flavoured custard made with colostrum-rich milk.
I also managed to try Pune’s version of misal pav at Shree Krishna Bhuvan near Tulsi Bagh. It is served as a spicy watery gravy that is poured on a plate of mashed potato, flattened rice flakes (poha), chopped onion and sev (deep fried gram flour) and then eaten with bread. This is very different to the Mumbai misal and makes for an interesting change.
My final dish in Pune was a concoction I have read about, but never eaten – ‘Mastani’. So my mother, sister and I trooped to the Sujata Mastani outlet at Nimbalkar Talim Chowk and each ordered a different variety – mom going for rose, and my sister and I deciding to first try the Sujata Special Mastani followed by the Orange flavour. Mastani as explained to me by the staff is a thick milkshake with ice-cream and topped with fruits and nuts. Apparently people used to say ‘Mast‘ (Super) after eating it, which overtime expanded to Mastani, in a nod to the famous historical figure. Even though milk shake with ice-cream may not live up to the fancy name, the mango & kesarMastani was delicious and super indulgent.
Sujata Special Mastani
Someone asked me if I ate my way through Pune. The answer of course is a resounding yes! Let’s hope the next time is not another 8 years away 🙂
My mind always gravitates to dessert and one of the desserts I have long wanted to play around with has been the Lobongo Latika, a dessert I was introduced to by Aniruddha’s parents.
Back in 2000, they had a Bengali vendor who used to prepare sweets at his house and sell them door-to-door to his Bengali patrons. He would arrive with a large aluminium tiffin carrier and would usually bring 3-4 varieties. One of these was the Lobongo Latika, a deep fried sweet made from khoya or mawa (milk solids) placed in the middle of a rolled-out circle of dough, which is then wrapped around the mawa like an envelope, held in place with a clove and deep fried. And wait….it’s then dipped in sugar syrup!
In Indian desserts we use a lot of spices like nutmeg, mace, cardamom and sometimes cinnamon. But cloves were either to be used in savoury preparations or tucked into your mouth at the first sign of a toothache. Till I tasted the Lobongo Latika, I had never had a dessert with a predominant taste of cloves. And what a taste combination that deep fried dough, soft and heavy mawa and cloves produced – absolutely delicious!
Re-creating the Lobongo Latika is not difficult, but it is a calorie overload. So I decided to borrow its flavours and adapt another calorie heavy, but not as lethal, a dessert – the almond frangipane tart. The combination of the tart and the soft almond frangipane filling was reminiscent of the Lobongo Latika, but of course would need a good dose of cloves and some mawa to bring it closer to the taste. To cut the heaviness I decided to pair it with some fresh orange ice-cream. For some reason cloves and oranges work well in my head.
The resulting tart was really delicious – to be fair it is not a Lobongo Latika, as Aniruddha was quick to point out 😀 But the flavours are definitely present. Even managed to serve it to some friends as a trial and it got very good feedback. A couple of more tweaks and it’s on to the BHDC menu soon….
Lobongo Frangipane Tart
Clove and Almond Filling
85g caster sugar
90g ground almonds
30 g mawa/khoya (In Singapore, frozen mawa is available at Mustafa)
2-3 tsps freshly roasted and ground clove powder (roasting and grinding it fresh makes a ton of difference to the flavour)
1 tbsp plain flour
20g icing sugar
1/2 tsp clove powder
1 tsp orange zest
1 egg yolk
1-2 tsp ice cold water
Put the flour for the pastry, with the butter, sugar, clove powder and orange zest in a bowl and combine gently with your fingers till the mixture looks crumbly. Add the egg yolk and cold water and bring together to form a dough. Form the dough into the shape that best fits the size and shape of your tart tin, as this will make it easier to roll out. (I used a 9 x 3.5 inch tin). Cover with cling wrap and chill for 20-30 mins
Remove the pastry dough and on a well floured surface roll it out to the size and shape of your tart tin. I typically put the dough between two floured, baking sheets as this makes it easier to roll and avoid sticking, given the heat in Singapore. Line your tart tin and put it back into the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 mins
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 3. Place the sugar and almonds in a food processor and process for 2 mins until finely ground. Add butter and process till combined. Add egg and process again. Finally add the flour and clove powder and process for under a minute to combine.
Remove the tart tin with the lined pastry and pour the almond frangipane filling into it. Place this into the oven – I usually place it in the lower 1/3rd rather than the middle of the oven as mine tends to heat rather quickly on the top. Bake for 25-30 mins and insert a toothpick to check if the frangipane filling is done.
Remove from oven and let it cool down before removing the tart from the tin. Cut into slices and serve with orange ice-cream or even just plain vanilla ice-cream, garnished with orange zest
The word ‘Moghlai’ that features prominently on so many restaurant boards back home conjures up images of a rich, heavy meal followed closely by Antacids, in many of us. While it’s understandable, that is a shame. While there is a tendency towards richness in that cuisine, it often gets short shrift for the oily, over-spiced onion and tomato concoctions so many restaurants serve up as an excuse for Moghlai food.
But a well-executed Moghlai dish is a thing of joy. From its Central Asian roots, it grew into a deep and complex cuisine with its kebabs, koftas, pulaos, a range of curries, and some unfairly delicious things done to breads. Don’t plan on eating a Moghlai meal before a run, but be prepared to taste some very subtle spices, a range of sauces and flavours in meats and vegetables.
The Chicken Rezala is an offspring of this cuisine and very popular in Calcutta with its rich tradition of Moghlai food that travelled there with the Nawabs from Avadh. It is a white gravy cooked in yoghurt and cashew paste (sans poppy seeds in Singapore, which is a part of the recipe back home), and we love it because it looks and tastes different to the many of the more onion and tomato centric dishes. It is a white creamy sauce and has sweet and floral notes with the saffron, kewra (screw pine) essence that plays against the garam masala spices. It is normally had with roomali rotis or as an accompaniment to a biryani, but we decided to give it a modern twist by serving it as a filling in an open tart.
The recipe for the Rezala and the tarts:
400 gms Chicken – ideally thigh and leg pieces cut into 2 inch pieces (for the tart, else use bone-in pieces and keep it intact if using just for a rezala curry)
½ cup boiled onion paste (boiling the onion before making a paste makes it sweeter)
¾ cup Yoghurt
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
½ cup whole unroasted cashews
1 tbsp poppy seeds (if you can use poppy seeds where you live!)
Whole garam masala
1 inch cassia bark / cinnamon stick
3-4 cardamom pods
1 small strip of mace
6-8 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 teaspoons coriander powder
½ teaspoon white pepper powder
1 teaspoon kewra water
4-5 strands of saffron soaked in a table spoon of warm milk, and ground to release the colour
1 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp oil
Salt and sugar to taste
Soak the cashews and poppy seeds in 2 tablespoons of water and after about half an hour, grind them in a smooth paste in the food processor
Combine the boiled onion paste, ginger garlic paste, and yoghurt with salt and the white pepper powder and marinate the chicken pieces for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator
Heat the ghee and oil in a heavy-bottomed pan add the whole garam masala pieces and fry them gently till aromatic
Add the marinated chicken pieces to the pan, fry to seal the chicken – about 10 minutes
Add the coriander powder, cashew (and poppy seed) paste, salt and sugar to the pan, coat the chicken pieces evenly, and cook on medium heat for another 15-20 minutes with a closed lid, stirring occasionally
Open the lid, add the kewra water and saffron, and reduce the sauce to a creamy consistency for the tart filling (if you’re making just a rezala curry with rotis, you may want to keep it a little runny)
The tart shells
200gms plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
120gm salted butter, chilled and diced
1 large egg yolk
½ tbsp ice water
Put flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Add butter and process till the mixture reaches a crumbly texture. Add the egg yolk and add a little ice water at a time to bring the dough together (you may not need the full tablespoon of ice water). Make a disc with the dough, wrap in cling wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 15-20 minutes
Cut out the dough in portions and roll it out to about 2mm thick between 2 sheets of parchment paper
Carefully ease the dough into 3 inch diameter tart pans, ease it into the flutes and the base evenly with some overhang
Prick the base of the tarts with a fork. Run the roller over the tart edge to remove the extra dough. Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees C, Gas Mark 3
Put the tarts in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, and then check for a golden crust. If it’s not quite done, give it another 2 minutes at a time till they are done
You can save the tarts in an airtight container for up to a day – we assemble them pretty much fresh, with the chicken rezala pieces and gravy, and top it with some chopped spring onions.