This article is first 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 those outside the state. It's time to change that. I invite you to join me on an alphabetical culinary tour of my home state. We will go through the letters A to Z and make a dish with each letter to showcase the cuisine that I grew up on.
B is for Bhendi Fry and Bharli Vangi
B stands for lots and lots of good Marathi eats: thank you all for giving me awesome suggestions! The highest number of votes went to Bhakri. This is a flatbread made with different flours like bajra (millet) and jowar (sorghum) and patted into shape rather than rolled out. Nutritious and filling, bhakri is the staff of life, especially in rural Maharashtra. I would have loved to try making Bhakri, but shied away from it because I have only an electric range and a stainless steel skillet and doubt if someone without experience can make successful bhakri without the proper pan ("tava"). Maybe someone out there has some bhakri-making tips for me.
Two popular street foods also are "B" words: Batata Vada is a favorite snack and I have already written about it. Bhelpuri is a mixture of fried tit-bits and sweet and spicy chutneys and I am sure to write about this soon.
Another favorite "B" is Besan ladoo, a sweet treat made with chickpea flour, sugar and ghee, which I will make for the festival of lights, "Diwali", coming up in a month or so.
Finally, some of my favorite vegetables are "B" words: Batata (potato), Bhendi (okra) and Bhopla (pumpkin) to name just three.
So what did I finally decide to make? Both dishes on my "B" menu are traditional vegetable preparations. Every family has their favorite recipes, and these are the versions as I remember them.
My first offering is "Bhendi Fry" or okra fry, a family favorite. This is my grandma's recipe, something that my cousins and I really looked forward to during our annual summer visits to grandma's place in Bombay. Aji (grandma in marathi) served this with boiled white rice and plain yellow dal called "Varan". If you are one of those who are grossed out by the sticky slime of okra, this recipe is for you. The final product is crispy and tasty with no sliminess whatsoever. Just make sure the okra is completely dry before you chop it.
makes 2 servings
2 cups chopped okra (wash, dry completely with a kitchen towel and chop fine)
3 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1/4 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp cumin powder
Oil for frying
In a bowl, toss together all the ingredients except for the oil. The okra gets a nice coating with the besan and spices. Heat 1/4 inch oil in a skillet and shallow fry the okra, draining it onto paper towels. Serve immediately as a side-dish with plain dal and rice.
Note: "Varan" is made by cooking and mashing toor dal (yellow split peas), adding some salt and curry leaves, then simmering for a minute. The simplicity is deceptive...this dal tastes wonderful.
Next is a very traditional Marathi dish: Bharli Vangi or "Stuffed Eggplant". Almost every cuisine has traditional recipes for stuffed vegetables, and eggplant especially lends itself well to being stuffed in a variety of ways. This Marathi recipe is delicious and easier to make than it sounds. It illustrates the wide use of peanuts and coconuts in Marathi cuisine. If you don't get baby eggplants, I don't see why this recipe could not be adapted to bigger eggplants, slit multiple times and stuffed.
6-8 baby eggplants, slit open
2 tbsp dry grated unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup peanuts
2 tsp sesame seeds
3-4 dry red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
Place all these in a skillet, roast on low heat and grind together to a fine powder.
To this powder, add...
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp finely minced onion
Salt to taste
Mix together the stuffing, using some water if necessary to make a thick paste. Stuff inside the baby eggplants as shown in the picture.
Cooking the eggplants: Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet. Pop 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, add 1/2 cup minced onion, fry till transluscent. Add the baby eggplants and 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low heat. Check every few minutes and add some water to the pan if necessary till eggplants are cooked through and onions are golden. Garnish with minced cilantro.
Bharli vaangi and bhakri is the traditional combo. For people who can make bhakri, that is :) I will learn in due course. Meanwhile I hope you will join me when we explore "C" next week. Any guesses for "C"?