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This batter is always light, has no egg and. . .

. . .it certainly has no baking soda [powder],  and definitely no chemicals!!

But before we make this batter, which is made from chickpea [garbanzo] flour and is used for making the most popular ‘tea time’ snack in India, let me tell you how I learnt to make this superb batter using a simple, but effective, technique.

At the Taj Residency Hotel in Bangalore, back in the 80s, we were one of the very few 5 star hotels to have an in-house halwai, or Indian sweetmaker.

Not many hotels got into making such sweets as making Indian sweets is a highly skilled, time-consuming and frankly, thankless task.

Just imagine, after hours of ‘slow cooking’ milk and then reducing it without letting it stick to the bottom of the pan, you get ‘thickened milk’, also called khoya, which is something most hotels prefer to buy.

This dense milk forms the base to most sweets and along with chaina, which is unset paneer, will almost certainly be the ‘beginning and the end’ of Indian sweets, well, with some of the most popular ones at least!!

Now, at the Taj when the hotel was new and work was well, just Fun (capital “F’), we made our own chaina and certainly our own khoya!!

The man responsible for making all these milky bases, and more, was one Mr Mitthan Lal.

Lal had been raised a halwai and his family was seriously into making sweets and savoury snacks in Gwalior which is where Mitthan hails from.

When the dacoits of Chambal looted their village, Mitthan and his three younger brothers escaped with very little personal belongings.

As he was leaving the house, quickly hiding under a pile of hay in a bullock cart, his elderly father handed him two small matkas, or earthenware pots, covered with a red cloth. The young Mitthan Lal held on to these matkas and the hands of his little siblings, in turn, till he reached an unfamiliar territory called Bangalore. The unfamiliarity was compounded as no one spoke his ‘language’ either and so it seemed like a totally foreign land.

However, undeterred, on arrival he quickly found a small place where he and his brothers could get shelter and he also managed to place the two matkas in a water bath. Refrigeration was, of course, out of the question and with four hungry mouths to feed a simple alternative had to be found, quickly, so a water bath was the next best, and essential, thing to keep the matkas fresh.

Anyway, after a struggle to find a job, Mitthan Lal finally got his break and landed a job as a commis in a 5 star hotel.

Always one to seize an advantage, once in the job Mitthan made his moves and quickly established himself as a halwai even though there was no mithai [sweet] making section in that hotel.

He made some basic sweets with whatever resources the hotel provided. In spite of the lack of provisions, word spread quickly that finally there was a proper halwai in Bangalore who could make decent sweets, more than just the ubiquitous gulab jamoons and gajar ka halwa.

The Taj offered Mitthan Lal a job as a senior commis, which he gladly accepted, and he moved to a place called Ulsoor which was near the hotel.

It was here that he started a small shop or, as we call it in India, a mithai ki dukan for his brothers to run while he stirred the kadhais at the Taj. Work progressed at the hotel and Mitthan’s sweet shop also advanced.

In 1986 the Taj Residency made a record 3500 kg of sweets for Diwali which was a record that year for the company back then!!

It was during this mithai making process that I learned more about Mitthan Lal and his matkas. He told me how he would change the water in the ‘water bath’ (which kept the original two matkas that he had brought from Gwalior).

He performed this act for a few months till he got his first job in the 5 star hotel. He then transferred the pots to a fridge when the economy of the house improved and he could afford such ‘luxuries’.

Mitthan finally told me what the contents of the two pots were when I visited his mithai ki dukan.

“Chef Ji,” he said (he always called me Chef Ji), “They contain khamiri [or culture]. The one on the left is for making a savoury snack called pakora.” And he’d point to the left pot kept in the fridge in his mithai ki dukan.

The khamiri for pakora makes the batter light without the addition of any “soda” (baking soda) as Mitthan called it.

Well, that’s good enough for me and let’s get on with the making of this batter.

So, to show you just how well it works I am going to make the most popular ‘tea time’ snack of India, the pakora following Mitthan’s instructions.

However, my pakoras have a good twist too, as they’re filled with paneer-stuffed chillies!!

So, let’s get started folks!

Ingredients:

1. 2 cups chickpea [garbanzo] flour or besan

2.  1 teaspoon salt

3.  1 teaspoon ajwain or carrom seeds

4.  1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

5.  1 cup (approx.) water, or more if required

ingredients, from left to right: vegetable oil, salt, ajwain seeds, chickpea flour (besan) & water

To make the batter:

1.  Place the chickpea flour in a medium-sized bowl, add the salt and mix to remove any lumps.

add the salt to the chickpea flour

2.  Add the ajwain seeds and mix.

add the ajwain seeds

mix well

3. Heat the oil in a pan until it starts smoking, then immediately pour the hot oil into the seasoned flour.

heat oil in a pan

add hot oil to the flour

the oil should “bubble” due to its heat!

4.  Now add the water gradually and fold till it forms a smooth paste [or ‘dropping-like’ consistency].

add water

fold well, adding more water if required

the batter should be smooth & without lumps

fold till it reaches dropping-like consistency

the batter is ready!

cover with cling wrap & set aside in a warm place

5. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and set aside in a warm place for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the batter rises.

 Whilst the batter is resting, you can prepare the chillies.

Ingredients:

3 large & 3 medium-sized [banana] chillies

Ingredients for the chilli filling:

1.  100 g fresh paneer

2. 1/2 bunch fresh coriander

3.  Salt, to taste

ingredients, from left to right: chillies, fresh coriander, salt & paneer

Method:

Preparing the chillies:

1.  Wipe the chillies with a tea towel, then slit lengthways and remove the seeds, but do not discard. Set aside.

cut the stem of the banana chillies

core & reserve the seeds for the filling

slit chillies lengthways

keep the stem on the small chillies, just slit lengthways

reserve the seeds for the filling

Preparing the filling:

1.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, roughly tear the fresh coriander.

tear the coriander

2.  Add the roughly crumbled paneer and mix.

add the crumbled paneer

3.  Then add some salt, to taste.

add salt

4.  Add the chilli seeds.

scrape the seeds from the core of the banana chillies & add

do the same for the small chillies

5.  Mix all the ingredients so they are well combined and set aside

mix well

6.  Now fill each chilli with the paneer filling.

take the stuffing and shape it into an oval shape so it fits into the chilli

stuff the chilli!!

stuffed chilli

do the same for the banana chillies

stuffing the banana chillies

voila, stuffed chillies now ready for the batter

To make the pakora stuffed chillies:

1.  Take the batter and set set aside 1 teaspoon in a small bowl, cover with cling wrap and replace in the refrigerator. [This process is extremely important as this batter will become your khamiri [culture] for your next batch of batter!]

the batter after it has “rested”

keep some aside for the next time for the “khamiri”

2.  Heat 3–4 cups vegetable oil in a pan to fry the chillies.

3.  Dip each stuffed chilli in the batter and fry in the hot oil, till crisp.

dip the stuffed chilli in the batter

coat evenly with the batter

shake off any excess batter

add chillies to the hot oil, a couple at a time

frying the chillies until golden!

remove from oil & drain on paper towels

drain any excess oil

4.  Serve your batter fried chillies with a tamarind chutney.

cut in half & arrange on a plate

bhare mirchi ke pakode or stuffed chillies!!

So, what is the big deal about this khamiri, since I have not used it in my recipe?

Well, if I had had the khamiri in my refrigerator as my ‘starter’ some positives would have been evident in my batter:

Firstly, the batter would have risen in about 1/2 an hour, or even less. (But then we must start somewhere and now I’ve got a small bowl of khamiri now sitting in my refrigerator, ready for the next time!)

Secondly, the batter would have been consistent in texture to the previous batch and therefore it would have a consistent taste.

Well, that brings me to the end of the khamiri process.

But before I go, if you’re curious about what was in the second matka in Mitthan Lal’s refrigerator it was a khamiri for making paneer.

These were his family ‘secrets’ that were passed on from one generation to the next. It was the equivalent of passing down grandmother’s jewels and Mitthan was the sole custodian!!

Well done, Mitthan, not bad for a guy who never went to school and thanks to you for sharing your family’s well-cherished recipe!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

One dish, one name, many versions, all authentic . . . welcome to Indian food!!

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about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

a simple soup, or a starter, for Mother's Day buffet at nilgiri's !!

Its time for Mother’s Day and, as always, there is a lot happening at nilgiri’s.

It’s hectic!

Srinivas, my Hyderabadi and kebab chef is returning to India, after two years with us, to be with his family. He will spend Mother’s Day in Hyderabad. He has been planning this for some (well, quite a long) time now, to be with his daughter, and son and his beloved wife . . . I am sure he will have a great time! Enjoy your holiday mate!! See you in July!!

Srinivas' family: daughter Anisha, wife Aish and son Asif

But for now, as well as farewelling a friend and colleague, my mind is focusing on getting organised for Mother’s Day!

What do we need for this special day?

Well, we need a menu and we need a theme and we need it ‘now’.

Every single year, since we moved into the present premises, we have had a special theme whether it’s celebrating something like Mother’s Day or just celebrating our food!

For example, one year we focused on the ‘coastal food of India’, then another year we did a buffet and called it ‘roadside stalls of India’.

A few years ago we did food from the ‘North West Frontier Province’, then there was ‘Calcutta Chowringhee Chat’, and. . . Well, this is a new year and we need new ideas so I call a meeting with all the staff, from both the front and back of house, to discuss possible themes, the menu, the pricing, the marketing, and much more besides!

Marketing is Meera’s domain, and with around 7,000 people on the nilgiri’s mailing list her job is quite a ‘cakewalk’, or so we all think! There’s always more to it than meets the eye and at the end of the day we need bu*s on seats and Meera generally delivers!!

So, the menu is the next big challenge but before we start composing that there is the ‘theme’ that we need to come up with and with Mother’s Day around the corner that seems to guide us.

So, we all agree on” maa ki rasoi “ as in ‘mum’s kitchen but with a difference’!

So, with a twist on the usual meaning of that phrase, the staff are going to cook their favourite dish for their mum and not the other way around! It is Mother’s day after all and mum is not cooking, not today!!

We agree that each staff member will come up with a starter and a main dish to feature on the menu. That’s easy! What is challenging is to select a dish and reject another as each staff member has such a vast array of dishes they want to use.

So, my job is to set the emotional part aside and decide from the long list of dishes that have been chosen for gastronomic, fond memories and many other personal reasons, what will work on the day.

I try to keep things very simple, as always. If it sounds good and looks good, well, it’s on the list!! After all, we are all professionals and we know what mum will like even if we have to discard a dish that our mum used to make us which carries us back to when we were kids!

So, after much deliberation we proudly present our 2012 Mother’s Day Sunday Buffet menu!

I am planning on making a soup for maa ki rasoi. With winter creeping around the corner, particularly mornings and evenings, I am planning on  my soup as a ‘warm’ starter.

The soup could be shorba from the north or a rasam from the south, but I decide on a kadhi that hails from either Maharashtra, Gujarat or Punjab.  It is one of my favourite starters and can be served with or without the dumplings. (Interestingly, the west coast version of this soup is generally served cold and has no yoghurt added, it is called sol kadhi and uses coconut, another one for our vegan friends!)

Anyway, with this soup in mind I ask the staff to come up with a recipe for our own kadhi. I’ve got to focus on other things and letting them get the recipe makes my job ‘easy’, after all I am the chef!

I am absolutely dumbstruck when all the staff come back to me with a recipe for a ‘hot’ kadhi that their mother makes and they all swear that this is the best and most authentic!

So, one by one they come to me with their own personalised version.

Kiran Hariyani, who is part Sindhi, part Punjabi, part Maharashtrian, comes up with a sindhi kadhi that uses tamarind along with yoghurt and she claims, most adamantly, that this is the most authentic version!

She also claims to have a recipe for a Maharashtrian kadhi. I am aware of this version as it is one that uses very little chickpea flour and no turmeric. If you do not trust me, ask my mum!!

Then comes Akhil, who is from Chandigarh, and his recipe includes chopped onions both in the kadhi and in the dumplings.

Durga Prasad – who is a new addition to the team and is probably the only ‘international’ chef in my kitchen, having worked in hotels from Mumbai to Hong Kong to London to Zurich to New York and Sydney – has a kadhi recipe from Benaras (Varanasi in UP) which uses extremely sour yoghurt and has a bay leaf added to it. His recipe also includes dumplings. Most unique!!

Then there’s Nishant Shah, he’s the Gujju Bhai in my team, and he swears that only Gujaratis can make a good kadhi. “Yes Nishant,” I say, “but you add a bit of sugar to yours.” “But chef! That is what makes it a kadhi.” he replies most passionately! He also knows a thing or two about a Rajasthani kadhi which includes cassia, cloves, fennel seeds and kari leaves in the tempering!! Rajasthani kadhi also  includes dumplings.

Parsees also make a kadhi called dahi ni cudhi and this version is one of my favorites.

If you ever get Babu from the Taj Bombay to make it for you you will forget Babu but not his cudhi, it’s just brilliant (remember Babu from the Parsee blog? No? Okay, then click Parsee Food – a beautiful yatra).

Then there is the Bihari version which has no turmeric added but incorporates garam masala in the tempering!! How amazing is that?!!

So, as you can see, a simple (“simple”) starter of a soup, a so-called straightforward kadhi, can be so diverse and intricate with hundreds of localised versions. This sort of thing can only happen with Indian food. This soup (and no, it’s not a cur*y my dear friends) is a staple dish to most Indians in the north just like the rasam is to the people of the south!
Southern Indians have rasam towards the end of the meal with rice whilst the northerners have kadhi for the same reason!!

Finally, after hearing all these wonderful versions of the same dish I decide it’s time I put my head-chef’s hat on. So, I create a kadhi recipe of my own for Mother’s Day, and tell the staff, “It is my way or the. . .”!

This recipe is in four parts: the soup, the dumplings, the tempering and then combining them all together. However, if you want to see a one-page version of the recipe, please click nilgiri’s kadhi pakodi.

Ingredients for the soup

left to right: yoghurt, buttermilk, thinned down yoghurt, turmeric, salt

Ingredients for the tempering

right to left starting from the 9 o'clock position: oil, black mustard seeds, brown cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, dry red chillies, asafoetida (ground), chilli powder, fresh kari leaves, fresh coriander leaves

Ingredients for the dumplings

left to right: spinach leaves (washed), ginger powder, brown cumin seeds, salt, green chillies, oil, chickpea flour

Utensils required

paper towel steel bowl, slotted spoon or a spider spoon

Part 1 – the soup

Step 1

add yoghurt to a large saucepan and set aside yoghurt container

Step 2

in order to not waste any remaining yoghurt, pour water into yoghurt container, swirl around, and then add to saucepan

Step 3

add buttermilk

Step 4

add thinned down yoghurt – this helps in getting the right consistency, not too thin, not too thick so it's just right!

Step 5

add water and fold if too thick, mixture should be like a thin soup to begin with (before you start cooking)

Step 6

add chickpea flour to water and whisk

Step 7

add turmeric to the chickpea flour mixture and whisk

Step 8

add mixture to saucepan and fold

Step 9

add salt and fold

Step 10

now cook over medium heat and fold regularly till the soup starts to thicken slightly. Do not let boil but slow cook

Part 2 – the dumplings

Step 1

add 2 cups of chickpea flour to a large mixing bowl

Step 2 – preparing the green chillies

lay out the green chillies on a chopping board

remove the stalks by hand

roughly chop green chillies

add chillies to mixing bowl

Step 3

add brown cumin seeds

Step 4

add salt

Step 5

add ginger powder

Step 6

heat plenty of oil in a pan to fry the dumplings – when oil is hot add 2 tablespoons to the dumpling mixture

Step 7

add hot oil to dumpling mixture, this makes the batter light and there is no need to add any baking soda!!

Step 8

add water

Step 9

fold dumpling mixture

Step 10

add torn spinach leaves to dumpling mixture and then add 1 tablespoon of hot oil to temper the leaves

Step 11

fold dumpling mixture

Step 12

don't forget to stir the soup occasionally !

Step 13 – Frying the dumplings

Heat the oil and add the dumplings either by hand or by using a spoon and fork as shown below.

How to add dumplings by hand

adding dumpling mixture by hand

How to add dumplings using a spoon and fork

dunk spoon in water - this will prevent the mixture from sticking

scoop mixture onto spoon

place spoon about 1 inch above oil and scrape off mixture using a fork or spoon

slide mixture into oil - don't let it splash!

Fry dumplings until golden brown

frying dumplings

turn dumplings to ensure they cook evenly

Remove dumplings when golden brown

remove dumplings when golden brown and place on paper towelling

Perfect golden dumplings!

your dumplings will (I hope) look like this!

Part 3 – the tempering

Step 1

add oil to pan and heat until oil starts smoking

Step 2

add black mustard seeds and let crackle

Step 3

add cumin seeds and let crackle

Step 4

add just a few fenugreek seeds and let them pop

Step 5

remove from heat and add coriander seeds

Step 6

and add whole dried chillies

Step 7

then add asafoetida powder

Step 8

and chilli powder

Part 4 – Bringing it all together

Step 1

place kari leaves on top of the hot soup

Step 2

add tempered spices to soup

add soup to pan used for tempering spices, fold, and then pour into soup saucepan - this will minimise waste

Step 3

fold mixture until it thickens, do not let it boil!

Step 4

when soup froths like this, remove from heat. I repeat: do not let it boil!

Step 5

two minutes after turning off the stove, your soup will (again, I hope) look like this

Step 6- Serving suggestions

You can either serve the soup and add dumplings to the plate or you can add dumplings to the soup in the saucepan to infuse them with flavour.

Step 6 A – If adding dumplings to plate

ladle soup into bowl

add dumplings and serve

Step 6B- If adding dumplings to saucepan

add dumplings to saucepan

soak dumplings for 5 minutes

your soup is now ready to serve

kadhi, my favourite soup!!

Well before you disappear into your own ‘rasoi’ , send me a recipe of your favorite ‘kadhi’ and we will publish it in my blogs . How’s that!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

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