Never judge a book by its cover, the wise one warned us a long time ago. I am reminded of this as I look at a jar filled with a nondescript ingredient — wheat flour or atta — in our kitchen. This beige and powdery item is not going to win a beauty pageant, but can wield enormous magic. And in this festive season, it has quite a role to play.
- Parboiled rice - 1 cup
- Urad dal - 1/4 cup
- Methi seeds - 1 tsp
- Grated capsicum and coconut - As needed
- Salt To taste
- Green chillies, curry leaves, urad dal, mustard seeds, chopped onion and oil for tempering
Uma Ravi’s preparation
Soak the rice overnight. Separately, mix urad dal with methi seeds and soak these too overnight. The next morning, grind them, again separately. Keep aside for six hours. Then, blend them together in a blender with salt. In a bit of oil, sauté mustard seeds, urad dal, green chillies, curry leaves and onion. Add the dal-rice mix. To this, add grated capsicum and carrot. Put it in lightly oiled moulds in a paniyaram vessel, cover and cook for 2½ minutes. Turn them gently with the help of chopsticks, cover, and cook for another 2½ minutes. Serve with coconut chutney or a garlic-tomato dip.
Take eight pods of garlic, and three large tomatoes. Squish the garlic, and mix in a blender with the tomatoes, turmeric, red chillies and salt. In hot oil in a karahi, add asafoetida (hing), urad dal, curry leaves and mustard seeds.
Add some water in the blender, shake it and put it in the karahi. Cook for a bit. The garlic-tomato chutney is ready.
Diwali is not just about sweets, though, of course, they do play the lead role in this glittering festival. But savouries have a side role that is almost as important as the star. Across the country, different kinds of snacks are being readied, or will be prepared, for the festival. And I am sure, in many homes, the most sought-after item will be the kachori, usually served with a potato curry. Homemakers and cooks will be lightly sautéing soaked and ground urad dal with a pinch of asafoetida (hing), red chillies, dried ginger, fennel (saunf) and carom seeds (ajwain). They will knead mounds of dough, make oily balls out of the big mass, and then fill each ball with the dal mix. This will be rolled out into a small puri, and then fried in hot oil. And the magnificent kachori that bobs up will be served to family and friends. In our village home, the kachoris were small, and had the most delicious filling of spicy potatoes. They had to be all eaten before the potato went bad — but finishing them off was not a difficult task at all.
Puris are the other festive favourite — served with pumpkin sabzi, potato curry or chana. Some of our close friends serve the most delicious puris with a Diwali-special jimikand (yam) sabzi. The yam is cubed and fried; the gravy is prepared with tomato, ginger, coriander, cumin seeds and a lot of asafoetida. The jimikand is mixed in the gravy, and put in a pressure cooker. One whistle, and the veggie is ready to be eaten with hot puris.
The season, indeed, welcomes various kinds of savouries. With Diwali comes the first whiff of winter. The worst of the summer is behind us, and even temperamental autumn is on its way out. So, as homage to the advent of winter, spicy and heavy savouries are prepared across the country. And these occupy the high table during Diwali.
If the North has its puris, the East revels in luchis, which are maida puris, usually smaller than its northern cousin, and served with a simple potato sabzi, flavoured with cumin seeds and green chillies, or channe ki dal, peppered with bits of fried coconut and raisins. People in parts of the North and the West will be preparing little hillocks of matthris — uneven, crisp atta discs, often flavoured with fenugreek leaves and seeds.
And, of course, there is a world outside wheat, too. Take rice flour, which goes into all kinds of savouries, especially in the South. The crunchy murukku or chakralu, for example, is a deep-fried snack prepared with rice flour and urad dal. I have been encountering some delicious southern Indian snacks in recent times, thanks to our neighbours, the Ravis — a warm and friendly Tamil family. Every now and then, Uma Ravi — who is an immensely talented cook — comes over with a covered dish. We open it, and are enveloped by the delightful aroma of something like the paniyaram — spicy dumplings prepared with ground rice and urad dal.
Another innocuous ingredient which plays quite a stirring role is besan. This chickpea powder is used to create various kinds of snacks. In Gujarat, and elsewhere, you will get the steamed besan delicacies, dhoklas and khandvi, tempered with mustard seeds. Besan chillas are some of the easiest dishes to make. All you need to do is make a runny batter of besan, chilli flakes and cumin seeds. You place a dollop of this batter in an oiled frying pan, spread it out, and serve it hot off the tawa. And, if you want (I would!), you can stuff your chilla (or dosa) with minced meat. Diwali, after all, is not just about vegetarian fare.
But when you get ready to light up the house with lamps, make sure that your kitchen is stocked with besan, rice powder, maida and atta. These are modest ingredients, but have immense potential. This Diwali, let’s say it with savouries.
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