Bhutta, roasted corn, with lime juice, salt, pepper and chilli powder
Monsoon season in Mumbai has its own menu mostly comprising of hot tea and a variety of fried snacks, consumed ideally in a balcony or near a window where a light spray from the rain would be a welcome companion.
But for me, the lasting memory of the Mumbai monsoon is the joy of eating freshly roasted corn on the cob, called bhutta, liberally coated with salt, chilli powder and lime juice. My mouth is watering just by writing this!
There would always be a man with a cart selling this delicious treat at Bandstand, in Bandra. Back then the corn was the smaller, paler yellow variety and not the bright American corn now available everywhere. He would roast it on charcoal in a small sigri (stove) and then dip half a lime into a bowl containing mostly salt and chilli powder and massage it into the roasted corn, till it was glistening from the lime juice and speckled with the spices! Then while still warm, he would serve it to you on a plate fashioned from the outer, pale green leaves of the corn.
And there you would stand, watching the high tide lash onto the rocks and dig into the corn till your teeth went right down to the very core. That explosion of the freshly roasted corn combined with the lime juice and spices was the best snack I have ever had on a rainy day.
Now when I want this treat, I need to roast it over a gas flame which doesn’t give quite the same taste as roasting over charcoal. But once the lime and spices go in, it still tastes damn good!
Corn roasting on a gas flame
Alu wadi or alwachi wadi is a Marathi snack made from Colocasia leaves. The leaves are layered with a thick paste made of besan (gram flour), jaggery, tamarind pulp and spices. After layering, the leaves are rolled up and steamed. After steaming, they are cut into round discs and either eaten straight away with a mustard seed tempering or better still, fried under crisp. A very unusual and delightful snack, thanks to the combination of the slightly bitter leaves and the spicy & tangy mixture that is used as a filling between each layer.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find these leaves in Singapore, so alu wadi for me can only be enjoyed on trips back home 😦
For a recent get together with friends I made my version of the kathi rolls from Kolkata. I have spoken earlier about Kolkata kathi rolls vs. the Mumbai frankie and still maintain that both are quite different and tasty in their own right.
The filling in my rolls is made of chicken, methi (fenugreek leaves) and spinach and spiced with kashmiri chillies, the 3C’s – clove, cardamom and cinnamon, and coriander seeds. For the wrap, I made it using a combination of plain flour, whole wheat flour and an egg. And while cooking, I smeared beaten egg on the roll on one side and then flipped it over and cooked it, giving softness and added flavour to the rolls. Finally, the beautiful looking rolls were done by Aniruddha!
My best memory of kathi rolls in Kolkata is at a shop that Ani’s friend Indro had taken us to in Gariahat and what I remember most of those rolls is the heat from the filling inside – mouth-wateringly good! I kept mine more mild given the audience but my original recipe has at least 3 more chillies than I had used. Yowzer!
Chakli is a fried snack made from wheat flour and flavoured mildly with spices. A good chakli should be crispy and crumbly to eat. But often chaklis which are store bought tend to be quite hard and not as enjoyable to eat.
At home we make chaklis with an equal combination of whole wheat and plain flour, and then steam this for 10-15 minutes. After steaming, the flour will become a lump so its important to break it down quickly. Once slightly cool, we add melted ghee, chilli powder, sesame seeds, dash of turmeric, pepper and salt. Using water this is kneaded into a soft dough.
This dough is then put into a kitchen press and pressed out into spirals that are then fried on a medium heat.
You can play around with the spices and add other ingredients to the dough also like garlic paste or fenugreek or spinach. And use different flours as well – a rice flour and urad dal (split black gram) version of this is called Murukku and is popular in Southern Indian.
Chaklis don’t last for very long at home as they are very addictive.
Sabudana vada – fried sago patties
When I was in school, we used to have the equivalent of a class bake sale, where we would set up stalls either individually or with friends in our lunch room and sell snacks cooked by our parents. Kids from other classes would buy the snacks during the lunch break and the money collected would be used by us to either buy some equipment or do some improvements in the class. It was our first experience with commerce!
Every year that we did the sale, my mother would make sabudana vada – fried sago patties served with sauce or a coriander-yoghurt chutney. Similar to the sabudana khichadi, the sago is soaked and then drained by wrapping it in a tea towel. The sago is then mixed with boiled and mashed potato, roasted peanuts, chilli powder, fresh coriander, salt and sugar. You mash it all together, make small rounds and fry them. And they taste amazing! A crispy texture on the outside contrasts a soft and crunchy texture inside, because of the peanuts. Which then meets the simple yet delicious flavour combination of coriander, red chilli powder, salt and sugar.
She would bring the sago mixture to school and fry them fresh in the school kitchen to serve them piping hot. That’s how they are meant to be eaten and given how delicious they taste, it’s no surprise that we would always sell out!
Few people outside Mumbai have tried this snack and I always make it a point to serve it when people come home for dinner. My friends in Singapore are pleasantly surprised at having a savoury sago snack, given most of the sago they consume is typically in a dessert.
I’m glad it’s always appreciated and I like it so much that I usually wolf down a couple myself 🙂
The irony of Indian food is that dishes that are cooked on the days of religious fasts are often the tastiest (and at times the richest in flavour). Sabudana khichadi is one such dish. My family never observed fasts, so sabudana khichadi would either get made for breakfast on weekends or as a tea time snack.
It is made of sago tempered with spices. The sago is soaked in water for a few hours till it softens. Then it is wrapped in a tea towel to drain off all the excess water and cooked in ghee with cumin, green chilli, curry leaves, roasted peanut powder, salt and sugar. When serving It is topped with fresh coconut and chopped coriander.
It looks light, but it is quite filling and very delicious!
As shallow as it sounds, a very large part of my devotion during Durga Pujo was centered around the food – the bhog-er khichudi (rice and lentils cooked together with vegetables – that description does it no justice) in the morning and the various non-vegetarian snacks in the evening. And the king of those snacks was the Mutton Chop. No, we are not chewing on some gentleman’s giant side burns (Yech!!) or the cut of meat. The Bengali mutton chop is a deep fried patty of spiced mutton mince, coated in a potato mash, crumb coated and fried.
I made the mutton chops with mutton kheema (mince) cooked with peas, and liberally seasoned with ‘bhaja masala’ (a dry roasted cumin and red chili powder that is an amazingly versatile spice mix), coated with potato, and a double-coating of egg and crumbs, and deep fried. Yes, it tastes great and no, it’s not on the weight-watchers’ recommended menu.