Monday, January 02, 2006

P is for PITHALE

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.

P is for Pithale.

"P" is a glorious letter for Marathi food. "P" is the letter of a whole lot of foods associated with feasting and in contrast, it also stands for one of the humblest foods that I can think of...we shall look at them all. First come a plethora of flatbreads: starting with the very simple poli (another name for chapati), a bread made with wheat flour and baked on a griddle. A more complicated version of the flatbread is the parotha or paratha, in which the dough is rolled into layers, separated by strokes of oil, resulting in a flaky puffy bread. Parothas can be enhanced by stuffing cooked spiced vegetables into them, for instance batata-parotha (or aloo paratha) is a favorite breakfast and lunch dish. The most festive flatbread, reserved for special occasions, is the puri or bread fried till is puffy and golden, often served with potato curry and a sweet yogurt dessert called shrikhand. All the above breads are savory, but one sweet flatbread reigns supreme in Marathi cuisine, the puran-poli, a bread stuffed with a delicious sweet lentil mixture.
Next come more feast foods: pulao ("pilaf") which not a single dish but a whole group of rice dishes; and a Kolhapuri specialty called pandhra rassa ("white curry") which is a very unusual coconut and yogurt-based meat stew that can be adapted to a veggie version. No feast can be complete with those wonderful fried or roasted papads, of course! In fact, the Marathi word for feast dishes is pakwann, also a "P" word!
One popular "P" food is actually a drink: panha. You take raw mangoes (tart!), cook them with jaggery (unrefined sugar), season the resulting pulp with a pinch of cardamom, and mix in with chilled water to make a refreshing beverage.
Two other "P" words are staples in the produce section: paalak or spinach and pudina or mint. So which of these delicious dishes am I showcasing for this letter? None, actually. I am going to tell you about the most humble "P" food. It is called pithale and is a curry made entirely of chickpea flour (besan) which is cooked into a kind of savory custard. Traditionally this is eaten with a flatbread called "bhakri" but I like eating it with rotis or rice or even with some crusty bread. The wonder of pithale is that about a 1/3 of a cup of chickpea flour produces enough pithale to become a meal that serves 4!
India is a land of great contrasts, where wealth and poverty, feast and famine are often painfully juxtaposed. The "P" letter foods show how this contrast is reflected in our cuisine. So here I give you the recipe for pithale, a food that uses a handful of flour to feed a family.
Pithale has numerous variations, such as these three recipes. I give you my own version, with precise quantitities that have worked consistently in my hands. As one reader said in a mail to me, "Pithale is one dish that is easy to make but easily screwable" :)


(serves 3-4)
1/3 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1 small onion, minced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
4-5 curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chilli powder
salt to taste
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cilantro, minced
1. In a bowl, mix the besan with 2 and a half cups water until there are no lumps (using your hands helps).
2. In a saucepan, heat the oil. Make a "tadka" with cumin and mustard seeds.
3. Add curry leaves, onion, garlic and saute for a minute or two until onion is transluscent.
4. Add turmeric, chilli powder, salt and saute for a few seconds.
5. Add the diluted besan and on low-medium heat, cook it, stirring often, till the besan cooks into a thick "custardy" consistency. (you might want to taste it to make sure that the "raw" taste is gone).
6. Take off the heat and then mix in the lemon juice and cilantro.

Serve right away with steamed rice/ bread/ rotis, with a dollop of ghee if desired.
We meet in a few days with the rather difficult "Q"!


  1. Oh, I'm going to have to try this - I have all the ingredients on hand (I've got leftover curry leaves in the freezer). I love something like this that can be made quickly from pantry items!

  2. Am actually making it now as I type this. lets see how it comes out. looking quite promising :)

  3. Hi Nupur,
    I have found that roasting the besan before mixing it with water helps get rid of the raw smell before hand.
    Grea recipe though for a perennial favorite

  4. nupur,

    wonderful food blog. I spent a good amount of time drooling over the pics. Have you thought of writing a cook book sort of thing on Marathi cuisine?

  5. Hi Nupur.. this is the first time I am visiting ur blog & the recipes out here look great... This ones really easy. I am surely gonna try it..

  6. Nupur, you forgot the famous Marathi 'Pohe'.

    I lived in Pune for a while and got used to some of the Marathi dishes. Pohe and Puran Poli were the best, when eaten in Maharastra!

  7. Hi Nupur,
    Good to see you doing your bit for Maharashtrian cuisine!
    I also add the green parts of scallions (spring onion) that gives a real zing to the pithale. Btw sifting the chickpea flour with a sieve is a foolproof way to get a creamy texture to the dish.

  8. Pithale is one of the few Maharashtrian dishes I know and I must say your recipe and photo are very appealing.

  9. Hi Nupur,

    I've been following your blog for a couple of months and its brought back memories of some great eats from back home. Thanks for writing so well about some of my favorite comfort foods :-)


  10. Cathy, let me know if it works! :)

    Bilbo, I saw on your blog that you made it already, looks great!

    Anonymous, thanks for sharing a great tip! I will do that next time.

    Nachiketas, what a nice thing to say :) but I hardly know enough to write a cookbook!

    Hi Tina, I hope it works out! Thanks for stopping by!

    Courtney, you are too kind!

    Kay, how could I forget pohe!!! I am addicted to pohe...I will have to devote a post to that soon. thanks for reminding me :)

    Ashwini, thanks for sharing two great tips! I really appreciate it, have to try that next time.

    Mika, thanks, and nice to see you back! I hope you are doing well in California.

    Genesysion, thanks for saying that :) I appreciate your encouragement.

    Hi Aruna, thanks for leaving a comment, I really appreciate hearing from you!

  11. We are an odd breed that came down South from Maharashtra.

    Our Pitla is different.

    Take a mixture of vegetables (potatoes, the various gourds incl bitter gourd, beans, peanuts, yam....), cook all the vegetables.

    Cook tuvar dal separately.

    Take some Urad, Pepper corns, dry coconut roast. Can add 1 red dry chilli for flavor. Grind to a paste.

    Heat tamarind water and add masala to it. Bring to boil, add vegetables and then daal.Bring to boil. Finish off with a 'phodni' / tadka.

    Yummmm! Traditionally eaten with rice.

  12. Just stumbles across your blog and am sure Ill keep following it often :), I never thot abt this P word...pithle is yummy.

  13. Just remebered..P is for PATRA..ALUWADI :)

  14. Nupur,we prepare a very similar dish called 'senaga chutney' almost on similar lines with besan and tamarind pulp which is eaten with idlis and dosas.
    Btw,wishing you a wonderful NEW YEAR!

  15. nupur ani tama khavayyanno, ram ram!
    happy to see ur blog.
    i m a marathi, studying in chennai (madras). i lov south indian food, but what i realised here, is MAHARASHTRIAN FOOD CULTURE IS MUCH MUCH RICHER AND DIVERSE THAN THE SOUTH INDIAN FOOD! the only thing y idlis are known 2 everybody not pohey is, v hav not marketed our food. maharshtra itself is so huge and diverse that v not only hav various types of 'warans', but regional variations of every single 'waran' (e.g. kat (read as cut) in marathwada is different that kat in konkan, isnt it?)
    now compare this with sambar, that is eaten in the whole of south, with ofcourse slight regional changes.
    btw, those who wanna learn n eat original sumptous marathi food, kamala bai ogle's 'ruchira' is simply the best (though it fails to cover all the delicacies or its regional types).

  16. Hi A Peg, wow, your version sounds delicious and unusual...I will give it a try.

    Hi mtalpz, thanks for stopping by. Ooh, I love aluwadi too :)

    Hi sailu, happy new year to you too! I love that chutney...have eaten it in some restaurants.

  17. HI Ashish, thanks for visiting. I beg to differ with you on one point though: it is very wrong and unfair to assume that the cuisine of one region is richer and more diverse than the cuisine of another. The reason: the diversity of the cuisine can generally be explored only in home cooking and not by eating in restaurants. Can you honestly state that you have eaten in many homes from southern india? Non-Marathi people also never get a sense of marathi food until they actually get a chance to eat in several homes.
    Putting down the cuisine of another place in favour of your own is not only wrong, it is ignorant. You yourself say that there are "slight regional changes" in sambar. When it is your own cuisine, it is "different", for other cuisines, it is "slight changes"?? Please don't fall into that trap.
    Just for the record, I have been exploring southern indian cuisine through some books etc, and the sheer variety of dishes is amazing! After this series is done, I will be exploring regional cuisine all over India. My blog is about celebrating regional food everywhere, not saying that one is better than another.

  18. Nupur, I have been a regular visitor of your blog for a long time now, I tried out Pithale and it came out excellent :)

    And I agree with your argument about regional cuisine. South Indian food is basically categorised to Idly/dosa/sambar.People need to explore more before concluding. I am from Karnataka and I find that non-kannadigas are not at all aware of the rich food from my state. Can't blame them though. And I will wait for the day when you come up with recipes from other regions of India :)Keep it up!

  19. hey nup,
    totally agree with you on the regional cuisine arguement. While I was making the pithale, I was talking to a friend and I forwarded to him the link to ur pithale blog. His first reaction was that he has something similar at home. Now this guy is from Rajasthan. Turns out my mom makes something similar to what he was describing.And I am from Uttarpradesh. I guess what I am trying to say is that we can have unity in diversity. Our own variation on a cuisine and thats what makes it so good. So many different goodies to look forward too. Case in point, mango pickle. I am sure we have an enormous variety of pickle made out of just that one vegetable. Okie now I am seriously home sick. :( I 'll stop here.

  20. Nupur,

    I have got to try this. I spent sometime in North Karnataka and I acquired a taste for Bhakri. But I always ate it with dry vegetables and Pithale and Bhakri sounds like an interesting idea.

    I also like your response to the guy shouting his cuisine is better than another. It is too sad to see people clinging to their belief that the culture, food, religion or whatever they were born into is the best. The reality is that restaurant cuisine is like pop culture - a mere hint of reality. If one takes the time and explores any cuisine, one quickly sees so many new things. Even after 45 years of constant eatng, I am still seeing new things from areas which are merely 150 Kms away from my home town :)

    Good luck and keep up the good work!

  21. Hi Nupur,

    I like the style in which you give your give the details and then start your recipe..which is so cool...and i have sent your A to Z Marathi recipes to all my friends I know..and all are enjoying Thank you....

  22. Nupur, I made this recently and cannot believe how simple it was!
    I followed your recipe to the T and got great results. Usually I don't follow the exact proportions mentioned in a recipe and usually just "wing it". I have tried making this earlier too after seeing a recipe somewhere else. The results were quite disappointing...
    This one's a keeper though. Thank you so much!

  23. Love your blog and the Maharashtrian fare. I had a cook long back who used to make this sometimes. Love it!

  24. hi nupur..
    the pithale was truly yummy.. and just took about ten minutes to make.. please keep up the great work.. bye..Shobana

  25. Made this yesterday..enjoyed it so much, made it again today.Lovely recipe!

  26. hi nupur,

    My sister is married to a maharashtrian, that's where i first tasted marathi food, and absolutely loved it. sis and me don't get time enough to discuss recipes...really glad to have found your blog. tried the came out great. thanks...


  27. i like your way of writing...especially the point about feasts and famine. India is a land of contradictions..and they coexist without anyone raising as much as an eyebrow. we have learnt to accept that there are people who spend crores and there are is a large population that doesnt even have electricity in the house(rather, hut).
    About the recipe - perfect. i was searching for a good pithale recipe...too odd an hour to call up my mother in India to ask :) Loved the fact that the way of making it sounds familiar (tho we often dont add cumin seeds..i think ).

    Thanks a LOT !!

  28. Thank You for this recipe! I LOVE all foods from the region of India, and I'm always experimenting. I have lots of chickpea flour in the pantry that I really want to use up, but got tired of making Pakoras and wanted something new. I'm most definitely trying this for dinner tonight! Please keep posting your wonderful recipes! :)


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