Thursday, March 09, 2006

Z is for ZUNKA

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.

Cabbage Zunka

(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.
Stay tuned!


  1. Anxiously waiting for ur next series and the 'announcement':)

  2. Bittersweet, ending something that's obviously been a passion. Must meant there's better things to come!! ;-)

  3. Nupur - this sounds great and I have most all the ingredients needed hanging around... just need some spring onions. This might be dinner tomorrow! I'm going to miss this series so much, but I know you're going to keep bringing us great recipes!

  4. I can't wait! I've been learning so much and plan to go back and read all the entries you posted before I found your blog. Thanks for taking the time to do this!

  5. Very interesting; I don't think I've ever seen this. I have enjoyed this whole series so much. Really looking forward to seeing what you are doing next.

  6. Nupur:

    Your recipe sounds very interesting. I am definitely going to try this. Anything to make cabbage intersting :).

  7. This was an excellent series, with very informative insight! Looking forward to what you have planned next.

    I make a similar preparation with green peppers and spring onions, cooked with chick pea flour. Would that also be a Zunka variation?

  8. wow, sounds interesting ! Iam a maharashrian but a BIG 0 in maharashtrian cooking. I learnt everthing abt it form ur blog. Thanx for enlightening me. And i also have a doubt my mom makes pan vadi/ patral vadi , is it maharashtrians speciality of gujurathi. And i also want to know if they r made in taro root leaves or colocassia leaves. My mom used to make it in taro root leaves.
    And waiting to hear the special announcement

  9. Great idea to do an A-Z of Marathi food. And wonderfully well executed too. Eagerly awaiting your next big idea.

  10. Hi Nupur,

    Loveeeeeeee your blog. It is awesome. I tried a few of your recipes and they are awesome, particularly the panner pilaf. I am a tamilian with not much exposure to other parts of India. So this series was a very informative and fun one. Looking forward to your next series.

    Take care,
    A simple cook from San Diego

  11. Hurray for Nupur! Such a fantastic series is over but it seems you have another one planned. Can't wait for Saturday and your announcement.

  12. Announcement...hmmmmm...Are you pregnant? And maybe you are doing a series on baby food? Oh, I'm sorry. I mean, I don't even know whether you are single yet. Well, I know nearly nothing about you. But 'announcement' makes me think of very few things. Cliched thinking, isn't it? Anyway, looking forward to Saturday.

  13. I am so sad the series has come to an end - can't you just start over again with "A"?

    Seriously, I have enjoyed it immensely. I am not Desi, but cook Indian food often - but mainly northern or southern food. Marathi food was fairly unknown to me, and I have loved this introduction. I think the ratala kees was my favorite (yum!). Thanks for all the hard work, and extra time you have taken not just to post a recipe (which would have been cool enough) but to expand on all your thoughts about the cuisine.

    I look forward to the next series!

  14. Thanks everyone, for saying all those nice things :)

    Cathy, if you try it, let me know if it works!

    GM, thanks for that reminded me that I should have clarified this. If you add lots of chickpea flour, then its zunka, if you add only a couple of tbsps, then it is a subzi variation called "Pith perleli bhaji"

    Priya, that is something we call "alu wadi" and it is popular in both Mah and gujarat so I have no idea what the origin is. It is colocassia leaves though, at least the way I know it.

    Vaishali, no and no! and yes, very cliched :)

  15. Nupur,

    Tried the zunka with tindora today. Came out awesome. My whole family including kids loved it and gobbled it up. I also made yogurt rice your style. That came out very nice too....

    I got some Ciabatta bread at Costco today and am going to fix Pav Bhaji for dinner tomorrow using your recipe. Very excited....

    Thanks for the inspiration,

  16. I love your blog and your A-Z series. My husband and I are Tamilians, but he grew up amidst Marathis and even lived in a Marathi household for 5 years. He misses the food from those times and makes a lot of requests for some of the dishes he used to eat at that time. But, considering that I had no exposure to Marathi fod and regrettably no Marathi restaurant that I know of, we never cooked those dishes until I chanced on your blog. I have tried a few of your dishes and today I will give Zunka a try.
    If you are taking requests,could you please feature Bhakarwadi (sp correctly?) when you get a chance? I had it only once and was blown away by the taste.
    Keep up the good work and you are helping a lot of people through your posts.
    -Anon admirer from California

  17. hi nupur,z already........didnt quite realize when the journey was nearing its end . it has been truly wonderful going down memory lane as well while walking thru khau galli with you.
    cant quite guess whats coming next. dont keep us waiting for long. all the best for yr 2nd baby.luv, yoma.

  18. Nupur,

    I recently came across your blog and am hooked to it ! You write so beautifully. I'm making Paneer Pilaf for dinner today and am going to try making Poha over the weekend ! Next on my list is the Fig kulfi..Thanks for the wonderful recipes. You have inspired me to start an A-Z series on Tamil food ! Along the way I might learn some Tamil recipes that I never knew existed. Thanks

  19. Hi Nupur..

    You have successfully completed your series.Iam just wondering what your next series is bcoz u r really a creative person and I wonder what would be next

  20. Nupur ... congratulations on a simply amazing series! It was truly enjoyable and full points to you for putting in the efforts for the whole series! All the picks were excellent choices and for sure I will be coming back again and again for references from your detailed recipes.

  21. One thing I learned from your series is how much we share and how similar some recipes are when compared to Andhra cuisine. It's like Marathis and Andhras learned the cooking from the same mother but parted ways, keeping the mothers teachings intact, but calling them different names.
    Congrats on the series, Nupur!

    About the announcement - you're going to get married, aren't you? I read you talk about fiancee and India trip in April. If it is that, then my heartfelt congratulations to both of you!

  22. I have been having problems with the net so am absolutely the last person to do this. Congrats on a great job :-)

  23. Nupur:

    I made cabbage and carrot zhunka using your recipe. It came out awesome. Thank you for the recipe.


  24. hi
    i tried your cabbage zunka and it came out really very well i loved it and so did my son.your photos are so good that when i see the snaps i feel like making the dish so you are a very good inspiration as i am a new blogger i hope that i will be able to do some good work on my blog just like you
    best of luck to you...

  25. Hi Nupur,
    Sorry, but my Aaji made the best zunka on the planet! :-)
    As a Bombayite married to a "Maharashtrian-American" (yes, there is such a breed!) and a new Mom, I've recently found myself wondering about the role Indian food is going to play in our family.
    Thanks for creating your yummy, well-crafted and thoughtful blog. Never thought Zunka could look so gourmet! You've definitely found a chord.
    If you ever want to start a Maharashtrian Dinner Club, I'm totally in. ( We live 1/2 hour from midtown, in northern NJ).
    And congrats on your wedding!
    Take care,
    Prachi Junankar-Gokhale

  26. Arey! you have a brilliant blog here...tripped here via Antony's curry mela...lots of interesting things...shall tag u...n get back soon...

  27. Thanks for Marathi Recepies.

    I have tried some and the end product has been quite good.

    Keep Up good work.

    Waiting for more additions

  28. can't believe that i missed a wonderful dish for 4 years:( this is like pan-fried pakora. i ate most of the zunka as it is. didn't know spring onions are used in our cooking. i buy them only to make fried rice/noodles. awesome recipe, Nupur. a big thanks!

  29. Most of my childhood memory includes getting yelled at by my mother, and eat your veggies; but I used to pay no heed to it. However as time passes, most of us come around to eating vegetables as we are aware of the countless benefits they have for our health.

    Cabbage is especially one of the world's most nutrient dense vegetables readily available for us to enjoy, rich in essential vitamins such as C, B6, K, saturated fat, thiammin, calcium, iron, magnesium phosphorus and a good source of dietary fibers.

    But I never liked any cabbage recipe other than in noodles.

    This cabbage recipe when I tried at home was not really appreciated by my family but it was really yummy too. Thanks for sharing this delicious preparation. Keep posting wonderful recipes like this.


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