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.
Z is for Zunka.
In this final (sob!) letter of this series, we come to the final letter of the alphabet, the letter "Z". This can mean only one thing as far as Marathi food is concerned: a humble and simple dish called zunka. Zunka is a close cousin of "pithale", the dish that we made for the "P" of Marathi food. It is simply a thicker form of pithale, and is also made with just a handful of simple ingredients. The traditional partner of zunka is bhakri, a thick flatbread made with whole grains such as jowar and bajra (these grains are not part of the Western diet, which is a pity, since they are very nutritious). Zunka and Bhakri form the backbone of the rural Marathi diet. It is (a) hearty (b) balanced in terms of "good" carbs and proteins and (c) efficient and portable; the thick zunka can be tucked within a bhakri very conveniently.
In most Marathi homes, rural or not, zunka has an important place as a meal that can be put together from a very lean pantry. If vegetables are on hand, they can be used in the zunka too. In fact, this is a characteristic of Marathi cooking: vegetables are sauteed in some simple spices, then some chickpea flour is stirred into the dish to give it more body, more flavor and add a lot of nutrition (chickpea flour is rich in protein). A small amount of veggies can be used to make enough zunka to feed a family. The cabbage zunka recipe below illustrates this, and also this Marathi Mirchi Bhaji posted by Kay. [Edited to add: Different terminology is used for these preparations: if the dish contains more chickpea flour in proportion to the vegetables then it would be called "zunka", if there are more vegetables, and only a couple of tablespoons of flour, then it would be called "pith-perlele bhaji" which literally translates as "vegetable with flour sowed into it"...thanks to Garam Masala for reminding me to add this note.]
I never have tried making bhakri (shame on me!) but deccanheffalump presents a beautiful Jowar Bhakri recipe
for those who would like to try making it.
(Serves 3-4, Prep time: 20 minutes)
1 cup cabbage, shredded
1 small onion, chopped
2 spring onions, cut into fine slices
1 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp sugar
salt to taste
1. Heat oil, then temper with mustard seeds and cumin seeds.
2. Saute the onions, then add turmeric, chilli powder, cumin and coriander powder, salt and sugar and stir for a few seconds.
3. Stir in the cabbage and half of the spring onions.
4. Cover the vegetables and cook for 5-7 minutes till cabbage is tender.
5. Stir in the chickpea flour and saute gently on medium heat. The flour will absorb the veggie juices and cook. Do not add any extra water!
6. Cover and cook on low heat for 4-5 minutes.
7. Garnish with the remaining spring onions.
Zunka is very versatile; it tastes great with rotis or any flatbread, or with rice and yogurt. The spring onions add a wonderful fresh flavor to the dish.
We are not done with this series just yet! I'll be back on Saturday with a special looonnnggg post containing:
a) some parting words about this series; maybe some speculation on what recipe garnered the most interest...
b) a round-up of all the Marathi recipes that we have made...
c) what series I am planning to do next...
d) and an announcement.