This article is part of a special series called "The A-Z of Marathi food". India is the land of diversity. Each of the 28 states in India has a unique cuisine but the Indian food served in restaurants represents only a tiny fraction of our culinary heritage. I come from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Capital: Bombay (Mumbai). Population: 96 million (only 11 countries in the world have a population higher than Maharashtra). Language: Marathi. Traditional Marathi food is earthy and humble, diverse and very tasty. It also remains relatively unknown to non-marathis. Its time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to show-case Marathi cuisine.
H is for Hirvi Chutney.
This week finds us at the letter "H"...not the most inspiring letter for Marathi food. It does stand for a few delicious things though, such as halwa, that lovely dessert found in most Indian and Mid-Eastern cuisines. The most common halwas in Marathi food are doodhi halwa (made with white gourd, a member of the squash family) and gajar (carrot) halwa. Being Diwali, it is the season of halwa but this weekend turned out to be too busy work-wise so it will have to wait.
The other "H" word that I love is a green legume called harbara. These look like miniature bright green chickpeas. Fresh harbara is quite a seasonal delicacy in my home-town: you buy it in bunches, still within its pod. After shelling it, the fresh harbara can be roasted and sprinkled with salt, red chilli powder and lemon juice to give a delicious snack called "chatpate". Dried harbara is available in Indian grocery stores. I love making harbara chaat by boiling the harbara and tossing it with some minced onion, tomato, boiled potato, chillies, salt and lemon juice. What a tasty and healthy snack.
"H" also stands for a color: Hirava meaning green. So today I decided to make my favorite "hirava" food: Hiravi chutney or green chutney. This is a very versatile chutney that can be put together in minutes: a simple blend of hot green chillies and fresh herbs (which also happen to be green). Bombay is street-food paradise, and a favorite street food is sandwiches made with this green chutney, as we shall make today. My mom calls them "Raju sandwich-walla sandwiches"...I suppose she knew a vendor named Raju who made these! These sandwiches are really the healthiest of street foods, being
a) not fried, which is a miracle in the street food world
b) full of fresh raw veggies.
Hiravi (Green) Chutney
2 cups packed fresh cilantro
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup roughly chopped onion
2 green chillies
2 tbsp roasted peanuts
1 tbsp yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp cumin powder
salt to taste
Method: Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend with a little water to get a thick chutney. That's it!
To make sandwiches, spread softened butter, then a layer of chutney on a slice of bread. Top with thinly sliced tomato and cucumber, then season with salt and pepper. Cover with another slice, also spread with butter and chutney. This is delicious lunch-box or picnic food. The butter usually keeps the bread from getting soggy.
Variations on the sandwich:
a) Try other veggies, such as beets, radishes and boiled potato.
b) Add a slice of cheese.
c) Grill the sandwich. Mmm :)
That concludes the letter "H". See you next week with "I"! As usual, suggestions are much-appreciated!