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!)