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.
L is for Lasun Chutney.
We continue our journey with the letter "L". It is certainly the letter for spicy, fiery foods, representing lasun (garlic) and lavang (cloves). Cloves are not merely a spice, but an important part of the first-aid kit: toothaches can be relieved by chewing on cloves (the clove oil has a rapid numbing effect). Another fiery "L" food is laal rassa or red curry (the same concept as the egg rassa I made earlier. The most exciting "L" is definitely lonche or pickles, and these come in an infinite variety. In the days before refrigeration, pickles were an all-important way to store vegetables for the leaner months; the high salt content of pickles keep them from spoiling. Unlike "pickles" in the US, which generally refer to veggies packed in salt and vinegar, Indian pickles are choc-a-bloc with spices. They come in all flavors: sweet, spicy, sour and every combination thereof. If ever you are in an Indian home and someone mentions home-made pickles, I suggest you lay on the charm and get a bottle for yourself, for every family will have their unique recipe. What about "L" foods in the produce section: I can think of two, limbu or lemons (an important candidate for making pickles!) and laal bhopla or pumpkin, a hardy vegetable that is found in even the most arid regions of the state. Deccanheffalump recently wrote a beautiful post about this veggie along with a tasty, easy step-by-step recipe. After these spicy food, we need a sweet food to end with, and that would be ladoo, those sweet dessert balls that also come in infinite variety. Some popular kinds are besan ladoo, made with chickpea flour and rava ladoo, made with toasted cream-of-wheat.
For our "L" dish today, I had to go with the flow and make something spicy, and so I am making a signature rustic Marathi condiment, lasun chutney or garlic chutney. For many rural folk in Maharashtra, when food budgets are tight, the humble chutney is much more than just a condiment. When only thick dry flatbreads (bhakri) are available for sustenance, the lasun chutney and a side of raw onions makes the meal palatable. For helping millions of people through lean times, the lasun chutney gets pride of place in the Marathi A-Z.
(makes about 1 cup)
1/3 cup dry shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1/3 cup peanuts
10 cloves garlic
5 dried red chillies
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp dry tamarind
salt to taste
Method: Dry roast each ingredient (except tamarind and salt) seperately on low heat till toasted. Grind all ingredients together to form the chutney. Store in a dry container.
This chutney can be served as a condiment with almost any Indian meal. I love it simply as a topping with bread and butter! See you next week for a look at the "M" of Marathi food.