Monday, September 14, 2015

Pulses … a small trivia

               Among the many wonders of Indian cuisine that appeal to the west, lentils and pulses lead the pack. From being the primary source of proteins for the vegetarians to providing much needed nitrogen for the soil, pulses have been around in our life forever. A little bit of theoretical study about these grains and their origins brought up a lot of Interesting trivia that I felt I should share.
               The three Ms of the Aryans…The trio of pulses that occur in Aryan literature are - masha (urad, vigna mungo), mugda (mung, vigna radiata) and masura (masoor, lens culinaris). Urad and mung have their origins in India (with grains being discovered dated 1500 BC and the mention of papads and vadas in Aryan literature using the properties of "phytin" the phosphorus compound in urad. Masoor, on the other hand is believed to have come from Turkey and Iran (where it has been dated to the seventh millennia BC) to India around 1800 BC. Probably that's why in scriptures it's a food forbidden in fasting and as an offering to Gods...

Matki - the Moth of Punjab and the Matki of Maharashtra, Sanskrit name Makushtha is now believed not to be Indian with proven origins in Guatemala and Mexico; leaving the origin of the Indian matki open....Lobia or the cowpea occurs as Nihpava in Buddhist canonical literature around 400BC, derived from lobos (Greek, Projection). It's again NOT of Indian origin, the current strain is believed to have come to us from Malaysia, where it was grown as fodder. 
Thuvar - whether it's the tall and bigger pod variety the North knows as Arahar or the South Indian shrubby Thuvarai; Pigeon pea till recently was believed to be African In origin, but of late South Indian excavations (around the western ghats ) have proved otherwise, giving hope that this grain that the Charaka Samhita so vividly endorses is Indian in origin!! 
Chana - the most multipurpose grain ever, finding uses in all courses of almost all Indian sub cuisines. Cicer Arietinum, it has been found in In Kalibangan and dated 2500 BC and yet traces its roots to Asia Minor and Middle East going back to 5400BC. South India received the chickpea even later (around 500BC), while the large kabuli varieties are only 200 years old in India 
Rajmah - the Shaane Kashmir legume is 8,000 years old but unfortunately has only spent the last 200 years in Kashmir having traveled from Peru via the Europeans; the French have been credited to try their cultivation first in India (like the broad bean which took the name French bean to credit their efforts). 
Well the origins might be local or global (or disputed ). The fact is, lentils are a 7,000 year old phenomena and every spoon of dal is a spoonful of history.

Green Moong Idli

Ingredients :
1 cup green moong dal (toasted and soaked overnight)
3 tbsp carrots (finely chopped)
3 tbsp French beans (boiled and finely chopped)
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp green chilli paste
2 tsp besan
1 tsp fruit salt (Eno)
Salt to taste

Masoor chutney
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
8 dried red chillies
100 gms rinsed and drained masoor dal
6 green chillies (de-seeded)
1 tsp fresh ginger (grated)
1 medium onion cut in quater
125 ml tamarind extract
1/2 tsp castor sugar
Salt to taste

Method :
1. Roast the moong dal in a non-stick pan till all the raw smell disappears. Cool and soak in water overnight. The next day, drain and discard the water. 

2. Grind the dal in a mixer to a thick paste using little water if required. Add carrots, green beans, salt, ginger, green chilli paste and mix well. Sprinkle the fruit salt on it and then a few drops of water on the fruit salt. When the bubbles form, mix gently. 
3. Wet a muslin cloth and spread all over idli mould. Pour the mixture gently into idli moulds and steam in a steamer for 15 minutes till they are done.
4. For masoor chutney, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the fenugreek seeds, dried red chilies, mustard seeds and dal and stir fry about two minutes on a low flame. 

5. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool, and then mix with green chilies, ginger, onion and tamarind extract in a bowl. 
6. Transfer to a blender and process, adding little water if necessary to form a smooth paste. Add sugar and mix well. You can store it in the airtight container for up to two days in the refrigerator.
Serve idlis hot with this chutney....

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The story of baklava … in Mumbai

                  Originally started as a Roman dessert around the second century BC and taken to its glory by the Ottoman Empire, if there's one festive sweet that crosses all cultural frontiers and political boundaries, it has to be the Baklava.
                  Right from Greece where baklava takes a Christian connotation (made with 33 dough layers, referring to the years of Christ's life.) to the Balkans, where , besides being a popular dessert. It is also made specially by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr, and by Christians during Pascha and Christmas.Called Pakhlava in Armenia and Azerbaijan, it's spiced with cinnamon and cloves it gets accompanied by a sour cream in Georgia. In Iran, a drier version of baklava is cooked and presented in smaller diamond-shaped cuts flavoured with rose water. 
                  The cities of Yazd and Qazvin are famous for their baklava, which is widely distributed in Iran. It's this rose scented Iranain version that took me to Bhindi Bazaar (yes that's right, right here in Mumbai!!).

                   The history drenched lanes of this market have many a folklore in its folds in the Imamvaara lane off the main street an old obscure shop that only opens once a year at the time of the Equinox (around the 21st March) for a month to celebrate the Irani and Parsi new year has its own stories to tell. Opened in 1909 by Haji Golam Ali in a shop that he bought for Rs 30 and with the dry fruits that he had gotten along was where Haji saab started by selling only baklava and Lauz to celebrate Navroz. His son Haji Mohd Ali continued the tradition and handed it over to Haji Mohd Hassan Hajati (Irani) who continues to run the space out of pure passion with his help Maksood who has been doing this with him for the last 15 years. 
                   This shop is a pilgrimage for every Irani and Parsi family in Mumbai. 55 now, "Iraani" saab as he is affectionately called still uses the wood-fired oven that his grandfather built and the "Thaalas" that are traditionally used for baklava, the biggest thaala can take a 100 kgs of baklava at a time!! Next time you go there do try lifting the empty big thaala once and if you succeed do let me know how you did it.... 
                   Iraani saab puts two layers of pastry at the bottom and three on top and in between that he puts hand ground nuts drenched with artisan honey and immense passion (either of which he as a vast amount of that you have to see and believe); the divine stroke for me is the Persian rose extract that gives this baklava a soothing after-taste. The handmade pastry is not super fluffy giving it a good bite. Well if you are from Mumbai, you had till April 15 to make this pilgrimage to Bhindi Bazaar because Iraani saab is gone for a year... and did I mention the pista Lauz yet … Well discover it for yourself....