A peep into a new book about underrated Maharashtrian cuisine.
Maharashtrian cuisine has long been neglected by both gourmets and writers. There is a perception that the cuisine has nothing in it to interest the serious gourmand. The Essential Marathi Cookbook (Penguin, Rs 350) by Kaumudi Marathe tries to redress this lacuna. The book is at times more a collaboration than a showcase for the author’s knowledge of the cuisine, even though she herself is Maharashtrian. Marathe is aware of the pitfalls of sounding like an expert. In the foreword she makes clear that “no one can write a ‘complete’ or exhaustive book about any cuisine”.
Flipping the pages, the reader, thus forewarned, isn’t too fussy about what Marathe misses even as she includes dishes from some sub-genres like Maharashtrian Muslims and East Indian Christians. Within the Hindu Maharashtrian community, too, there are several castes where different dishes are made, as well as variations to some common dishes, all of which Marathe tries to capture. By her own admission, Marathe steers clear of some communities like the tribals of the region as well as Bene Israeli Jews.
Considering that Maharashtrian cuisine is still only known in and loved by the community and by a few outsiders, this narrow focus of the book is a good idea. That also seems to have driven Marathe to include some very basic recipes like dahi bhat (essentially curd rice, which is much loved in most Maharashtrian households but isn’t exactly rocket science to make) and kande-batate pohe (literally means poha made with onion and potatoes, something that is now routinely eaten at breakfast in non-Maharashtrian households) in the book.
There are few surprises in the book, with the exception of the East Indian Christian recipes that Marathe has added. Marathe also tries to infuse the book with personal stories. As a card-carrying member of the community, I can relate fully. Maharashtrians of a certain socio-economic stratum seem to have carbon-copy lives no matter where they lived in the 1970s and 1980s. But I am not entirely sure how a non-Maharashtrian would take to the stories, because urban Maharastrian lives are somewhat humdrum.
The book is an honest attempt at rectifying a situation in which a rich cuisine has long been ignored not because it lacks vim and vigour but because the community behind it doesn’t have the flash and dash to shout its merits from the rooftops. We give you one recipe from the book which is worth a try.
For the filling:
2 cups chana dal
3 green cardamoms, powdered
½ of a freshly grated nutmeg
A few saffron threads
For the dough:
2 cups maida
¼ cup vegetable oil
A pinch of salt
A few saffron strands, soaked in ½ tsp warm milk
Prepare the filling a day earlier. Pressure cook the chana dal in five cups of water for 10-15 minutes after the cooker reaches full pressure (three to four whistles) or on the stovetop for 45-60 minutes, till tender. Drain gram. Grind gram into a thick paste. Mix in sweetener and spices. Cook paste in a heavy-bottomed pan for 40-60 minutes, stirring often, till moist but thick enough to form a ball. Cool thoroughly. Shape into 1½-inch balls (15-20 balls) for immediate use. (Refrigerate for later use for up to two or three days. Bring puran to room temperature before proceeding.)
Place the flour in a parat or mixing platter. Make a well in the centre. Add a quarter-cup of oil and salt. Rub them into the flour thoroughly. Add saffron and its soaking liquid. Adding up to three quarters of a cup of water very slowly, make a soft, white, very elastic dough. Knead very thoroughly for five to seven minutes. Spread oil liberally over it and leave covered for at least 30 minutes.
Make as many even-sized balls of dough as there are balls of filling. Stretch out dough, patting it with the fingers of one hand into the palm of the other. Place the filling in the centre and gently seal it completely within the dough. Make sure there are no gaps or the fillings will squeeze out.
Form all the balls similarly, keeping them covered with a slightly damp cloth to prevent drying. Lightly flour a rolling board. Gently and uniformly roll a stuffed dough ball into a thin eight-inch disc. Rolling out this pliable dough, made even more delicate by the filling, is more demanding than rolling out other polya. Use flour sparingly and make sure no filling oozes out as you roll.
Meanwhile heat a griddle well. Reduce heat slightly. Gently place the poli on it, roasting for two to four minutes on each side till golden. Roll and roast all polya this way. Cool them in a parat before stacking and wrapping them in a muslin cloth. Store in an airtight container for up to 10 days.