Recipe – Himachali Chana Madra


A few friends have been asking me for the recipes of the dishes I had been cooking during the lockdown. I am wondering if a separate food blog is needed to catalog all the recipes but till I decided that I will use this space to share them. Excuse me for the photos. I hadn’t thought of blog post while clicking. Will add more later. 

I have been thinking of the hills and our road trips, my trekking years and the local food eaten in homes or local eateries of Himachal and Uttarakhand.

Light and aromatic yogurt based gravies are summer’s soul food. Desi khana or traditional meal made with locally sourced ingredients is something I root for even though I love to explore other cuisines. Summer is also season for nostalgic eating.

I first had madra at the home of a local in kangra during a road trip. A family from the village had a small tea stall and provided meals if possible. Though not as part of the menu. It all depended on what’s available and we were lucky to get madra, kale chane ka khatta and rice.

The slow cooked scrumptious Chana Madra is not just quintessential part of authentic Himachali Dham but also of the wedding menu. The whole and ground spices, creamy tangy curd and the buttery chickpeas fill the dish with melange of flavours. Madra is made with Rajma too. The Chamba rajmah tastes delicious in madra but I love the Kangra version with chickpeas.

Today’s thali had one dish each from a few parts of india to which I belong in some way. Aamras from Maharashtra (Mother’s side), old vintage nimbu pickle from Uttarpradesh ( father’s side), madra from Himachal ( In-law’s side) and kelya upkari from Konkan ( nani’s maternal side). Comfort and love in every bite. I’m thinking of making a few more dishes that are close to my heart in the coming days.

Ingredients :

Kabuli Chana / Chickpeas ( Soaked overnight and boiled) – 2 Cup ( can use canned chickpeas too)

Asafoetida – 2 pinch

Cloves – 3-4

Cinnamon – 1/2 inch stick

Black Cardamom – 2-3

Green Cardamom Powder – 1/4 tsp

Sugar – 1/4 tsp

Black Peppercorn – 3-4

Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp

Coriander Powder – 2 tsp

Turmeric Powder – 1 tsp

Salt – as required

Raisins – 3 tsp ( soaked and drained)

Thick whipped curd – 2 cups

Ghee/ clarified butter or Mustard Oil – 2 tbs

For the Rice Paste –

¼ cup raw white rice

1 cup water

1-2 pods of green cardamom

Soak  ¼ cup rice in 1 cup of water and cardamom. Grind this mixture and set aside.

Method –

In a heavy bottom pan heat mustard oil to the smoking point and then reduce the heat. ( For ghee you just need to warm it)

Add asafoetida, black cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick

Stir and add cumin seeds. When they crackle add coriander and turmeric powder and stir. Make sure the masala doesn’t burn.

Add boiled chickpeas and stir properly.

Add the whisked yogurt and keep stirring continuously. Keep the lame low or the yogurt will curdle. Add salt and green cardamom powder.

Cook on medium heat for 10-15 minute. Stir occasionally.

Once the mixture comes to a boil add he rice paste water and mix well.

Continue to stir and cook for another 20-25 minutes.

I usually add a tablespoon or two of hot homemade ghee on top, stir and let it simmer for another ten minutes thicken the gravy.

Turn off the heat, add chopped fresh coriander greens and mix.

Serve with plain boiled / steamed rice or roti.

Monday Memories – 20 – Hot Tandoori Food On Delhi Winter Nights


Some years back I did a post on Dhaba food  which is an essential part of North Indian culinary culture.  Today while looking at some old posts I remembered the roadside tandoor, a two feet by three feet hole dug out in the ground and plastered with clay, where at least once a week I would go and get fresh tandoori rotis made. An old woman owned this roadside tandoor and one had to keep the container of whole wheat dough in a line and wait for our turn. The tandoor remained covered with an  old tin sheet throughout the day and as the sun went behind the buildings the old woman took her seat on a patched rug beside it and people poured in with or without the dough to take the rotis for dinner. One roti costed 10 paisa if you got your own dough and 20 paisa if you took it from the her. Mostly people got their own dough as hers was mainly a mix of whole wheat and  all-purpose flour (maida). Some even made balls for the roti (the size of a tennis ball) to save time,  keeping in mind the number of rotis consumed by each person in the family. Many bachelors or students staying alone just came and told amma ( as she was lovingly called) the number of rotis they wanted and then sat on the small charpai near the shed while leisurely waited for their chance. Warmed by the heat of the tandoor they exchanged news, the events of the day or just relaxed. New associations were made over tea bought from the nearby tea stall which did a brisk business along with the tandoor.

Amma was very particular about her rules. Those who had rolled out the dough into ball came first in the line, then came the turn of those with plain dough and then the rest.

She would prepare the tandoor by lining it with charcoal and once it was lit and reached the right temperature she would wet her hands, cut the dough expertly in neat sections and roll them into smooth balls,  flatten the ball a bit, dust it with dry flour,  clap the flattened ball between her hands like a skillful artist  turning it around to get the prefered  thickness, dust some more flour to avoid sticking and place it on a small cushion and slap it gently to the inner side wall of the hot tandoor. She would quickly make more rotis and place them one by one in the tandoor.  In a few minutes the smouldering embers and the heat retained by thick dry walls made the  upper side of  roti brown and air pockets began to form. At this moment she would take a makeshift skewer , a thin iron rod hooked from one end to lift the roti from the tandoor, and flung the roti straight into the clay surface surrounding the tandoor. She would count the rotis, pack them in the container brought by the customer and take the money. This process went on till about ten in the night and then the tandoor would close for the day.

Some days the crowd was less and on such days she indulged her clients by making small talks or sometimes throwing tantrums about the consistency of the dough etc.  Most of the time she remained chirpy and warmed by the heat of the hot tandoor her wrinkled face glowed with happiness. There were times when the slightly burnt or extra roties were given out to poor children who waited patiently for the business to close for the day so they could get their share.

On special Sundays one would get the lip smacking dal too. The split gram dal cooked to perfection on slow fire could beat any dal makhani served in hotels or even roadside Dhabas. One could either take the plain dal or get famous panjabi dal fry or dal tadka ( tempered with seasoning of onions, green chilli and tomatoes) . The very aroma of freshly cooked dal and hot rotis made me drool. It was the best food one could have. We had to take a container for dal which she sold on a fixed per plate rate. The simmering dal was kept at the side of the tandoor in a huge aluminium pot. Those who wanted seasoned dal had to wait till the delivery of rotis was complete. Once done amma would hold the frying pan blackened from outside due to constant use, add a spoonful of oil, toss chopped onion, green chillies and tomato , add a dash of some secret masala (spice mix) she kept in a small box and give it a quick stir. The flames would sometimes flambé the seasoning and as the aroma would begin to fill the air she would add a ladel ful of dal in the sizzling pan and then pour the dal in the container. As a garnish sometimes she even put freshly chopped coriander but this was only for those who ordered in large amount.

I would wait eagerly for Sundays to relish this sumptuous meal. As we usually made Maharashtra or UP food at home this Panjabi tadka was a much awaited treat. I was in my pre-teens at that time and learning to cook. Urad dal dhaba style was one of the first things I learned to make. For two years we enjoyed the delicious food made by amma. Simple dal and roti whose memory still lingers in my mind. As i write I can feel the taste of the meal cooked with love and passion. She was a frail old woman, maybe in her early sixties, but the energy with which she worked on the tandoor was amazing. A true artist, experienced and adept at her art of cooking. We didn’t know where she lived or if she had any family but the shopkeepers and even the policemen on duty respected her and she never faced any issues with her clients.

I had seen her putting an extra roti or an extra ladle of dal for the students who came everyday to take food. A generous person even though she lived on her everyday earning.  She even believed in ‘ladies first’ or “ladkiyan pehle” as she mentioned before starting the work. The men had to wait it out till all the women were gone. Slowly I noticed that more and more  little girls began to come with their containers. The older women hardly came unless there was no one else to fetch.

I have eaten at many roadside eateries and dhabas but the memory of those meals is unforgettable. There is a certain pleasure in simple things.  A simple smile, a simple word or even a simple meal cooked with love.

We left that government colony when mom got transferred to new place and amma was missed sorely. I don’t know how long she continued serving hot rotis and dal at such low-cost or if she was able to sustain her little means of livelihood in the midst of growing number of food joints and rising coal prices but where ever she is I want her to know someone in a corner of world remembers her fondly.

I miss those roadside tandoors. One hardly sees them in the city anymore espcially in the area I live in but I make it a point to go eat at a dhaba once in while just to keep the tradition alive. Eating out on Delhi winter nights is incpmplete without dhaba food and I encourage all of you visiting Delhi is experience it at least once.

Monday Memories 3 – Memories From A Distant Meal Or One Moment In Time (Part 2)


I promised to bring some sizzle with this post but you know I am a wimp when it comes to divulging such details.  Though I can assure you some nice leisurely Monday reading  that will make you nostalgic about those good old times when life cruised along at snail’s pace and we had time to smell the flowers and watch the sunsets and of course savor good food morsel by morsel.

Indian highways are dotted with Dhabas and theka’s (liquor stores) that sell “child(chilled) beer” . When you are on National Highway and you  know your dhabas  then only you can call yourself a true blue traveler. They can be one of those famous ones like Puran Singh Da Dhaba at Ambala, Sukhdev Da Dhaba near Karnal, Chaupal near Ambala, Pahalwan Dhaba at Murthal (vegetarian)  and if you are traveling in the blistering summer heat then 1-2 kms after Modinagar to Meerut, is Jain Shikanji  where you get amazing lip smacking shikanji (lemonade) and to-die-for paneer pakodas with tangy chutney. Anyone who has driven on NH-58 will tell you about this awesome joint.

Be it NH-58 or NH-1 we discovered some lesser known dhabas which serve food that makes you yearn for them. They may not feature in Travel blogs, Food shows or magazines but still they are on the list of all those zipping past on these highways.

We took NH-24 very often for our trips to Uttarakhand and every time visited some new dhabha  to satisfy our hunger for fresh , wholesome meal but the Amritsariya Dhaba just ahead of Rudrapur became our favorite stop. The place is owned by an old sardarji who became an integral part of all our journeys. It wasn’t just the delicious food that he served or the charm of the rustic ambiance the place offered but the unconditional love with which he always welcomed us. Sometimes all it takes it a nurturing, caring attitude to end all your troubles, all your stress and tiredness. There was a special magic in his thin wrinkled fingers, in his trembling voice, in those  delicate lines on the face and in the eyes that lit up when he saw our car approach to a halt.  Each visit gave us a sense of homecoming. As he artistically spun the dough for those soft, aromatic tandoori rotis he would as us about our journey, Adi’s hostel stay and the remarkable thing was that he never forgot anything we had earlier mentioned to him. There was a joy in the simple things he did.

The aroma of the Dal Tadka and the chicken gravy that he made with a secret spice mix still lingers in my mind. He never allowed his staff to prepare Rotis or Parathas for us. He would roll up his sleeves and do the honors himself. If you have ever eaten food in Dhaba set in the midst of fields of rice with the fresh water hand-pump gushing out clean chilled water then you will know what I am talking about. Most of the time the tea would be complimentary and so would be the packed food. He always packed us some food on our trips to Adi’s hostel in Ranikhet. A gesture that warmed our hearts. He even gave me a packet of freshly made “secret” masala for his chicken gravy and always called me “Puttar ji” (a loving word for daughter).

I know this is a food post but food is made special by those who cook it with love and passion. We recommended the place to many and everyone came with similar tales of love and caring. They all told us how much the old man missed us. A bond made over authentic rural food, sweet sugary milky tea and big glasses of sweet or salted lassi / shikanji  in summer. A bond that warms our hearts across miles that stretch between us.

The other story comes from ancient picturesque town of  Bhagsunag in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. It is place I have visited many times and each visit became memorable for more than one reasons but one thing that remained forever etched in memory is the variety of delicious food from Tibetan to Israeli to Mexican and the list goes on.

It was a beautiful summer night when we decided to dine at the German Bakery. I have eaten in may German Bakeries all over Himachal Pradesh and never tasted such good food anywhere. It was managed by two young men from Goa and between them they churned out the some of my favorite dishes. Be it lamb steak or baked beans on toast,variety of grilled and plain sandwiches, freshly made burgers, pastas, pizzas that left you longing for more, authentic Israeli dishes like shwarmas, falafel, crepes,sabih etc with accompaniments , two types of English breakfast,  mouth-watering apple crumble and apple and walnut pies to name a few things.

That one last night was made special by the crescent moon that lazily trailed holding a hem of cottony clouds.  It was a rather nippy night warmed by dark rum that we had carried with us. A chess board spread across the table, notes from guitar and hushed laughter filling the night, an orgasmic blend of aroma rising from the joints the hippies were smoking in the corner table, low lights just enough to spot what one was eating.. it was heaven on earth.

The boys had to go to bed and were whisked away by their dad to the hotel but I decided to stay back with a friend who has accompanied us.  Some times are made memorable just by sheer magic of the place and words often fall short when one tried to capture those feelings much later in life. We played a few games that stretched for hours but neither of us had our heart in the game of chess. After finishing our food we just sat there gazing at the beautiful night and entranced by what surrounded us.

The owner, a friendly chap,  brought us some more snacks, this time on the house. We thanked him and settled down for a midnight feast of delicate flavors and tender bites over coffee shots and dark rum. It was amazing to find traditional pies done to perfection. Each bite was  full of crispy pie and hot apple chunks flavored by spices. Unforgettable to say the least.

Around 2 o’clock in the night we took leave from the friends who had made our stay in Bhangsu so special and headed for the hotel. Fingers linked together we maneuvered the narrow winding lane and walked on the moonlit path leading to the hotel. The rest of the gang was snoring to glory and we, still intoxicated by the sumptuous food and drinks, sat on the terrace till the clouds took over the little town and it began to drizzle.  Among all my travel food memories I cherish this one a lot. I somehow never managed to go back and now as I write this my heart is yearning to escape to those lovely hills. My room seems full of those aromas from the kitchen of that fantabuous German Bakery. Maybe it is time to pay a visit.

I will come back next Monday with some other recollections from the past , till then bon appetit.

 

Monday Memories 2 – Memories From A Distant Meal Or One Moment In Time (Part 1)


I missed writing my Monday post. Too much to do and too little time. I desperately need a break to someplace quiet but that is not always possible so the next best thing I do is sit back and think of all the happy moments from the past.

Do moments from the past taste the same? Yes, sometimes they do. Moments which were like Pinot Noir grapes  turn into mature, vintage wine with time.

Yesterday I was thinking how certain aromas, textures, mouth feels, tastes, flavors bring back memories of people, places, distant meals and the sense of exhilaration associated with them.  It could be your everyday meal, a childhood special treat, a stopover quick brunch on way to some place, a relaxed evening snack during a laid back holiday or a little surprise created specially for you. There is nothing like quietly slipping out of bed at night and secretly eating your favorite food, often with bare hands.No spoons, no knifes. Eating with fingers has a spiritual , therapeutic benefit to which we can talk about some other time. It is also extremely sensuous at times. :p

I believe that like music food too is highly trasnportive. We are suckers for emotions and amazingly sensitive and even a thought of a kala khatta transports me to an evening at the beach in Mumbai or a tender stuffed steak and Merlot can make me year for that particular night in the hills. Nostalgia is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or return of some real or romanticized period or irrecoverable condition or setting in the past” and the best part about it is that it doesn’t discriminate against those dollops of butters, the fiery spices, the oil dripping roadside snacks, the tongue coloring lick lollies and the rest of those magically joyful delights.  Sometimes it is not just about food but it is also about the person or the place and the warmth it that fill you with.

The fondest memory is of my maternal grandmother’s home in Pune. I visited her during summer vacations and the sights and sounds, the aromas and tastes still make me hungry. I can visualize her sitting on a low stool churning white butter with almost devotion as if it was some spiritual ritual. I would linger around in the shadows waiting for the cue and land on her lap before she would call my name. I can still taste the softness fresh dollop of plum size butter dripping through her soft plump wrinkled fingers. A love that spread from her face to mine. There was a kind of an energy that passed between us at that moment. Something that even now makes me find strength in weaker moments. The best part was that none of my cousins were ever part of this luxury of love. It made me feel very special.

Travel can be very nostalgic esp if you are travelling by train or by road. As a kid the train travel revolved around incredible food smells and lip smacking tastes. The milky, sugary chai garam  in  mitti ka kullhar ( terracotta cup) n foggy winter days, the garam bajia wrapped in a piece of local newspaper, the unmistakable mouth watering station ki allu – poori ( boiled potato veggie with deep fried Indian bread) , the chana chor garam, the local ice cream which usually you won’t find anywhere else except on stations, local sweets and snacks, the list is as long as the journeys taken. Distinct  flavors  that change at every 50 Kms, region to region, district to district. You can never forget how wonderful the Agra ka petha or the Shrikhand of Gwaliar tasted on those rail journeys. It is an entire world of  authentic cuisine  waiting to be discovered. Many times I try to bring out the same flavor or texture id a particular dish I ate at some quint station but it just doesn’t happen. I guess it is a lot to do with that moment in time .

Have you ever tasted the udderly delicious colostrum milk preparation called Kharvas. I had it for the firs time as  a small girl and can never forget the taste of it. I was woken up early at dawn and rushed to witness the most amazing experience of my lifetime. My cousin showed me the little calf just three days old sitting near its proud jersey mother and other doting females. It was the first time I had fresh milk warm and rich straight from the udders .. it was an unforgettable experience and though I am not a big fan of Milk I thoroughly enjoyed it. My aunt prepared Kharvas that day and I can tell you there is nothing in the whole world that tastes that yummy. Google it 😀

There is a special kind of magic in certain kitchens Some hands dish out the most simple yet unforgettable dishes. Many of them leave you  longing for them even after s many years. Some places have specialties that haunt you to come back  like the neera centers in Lonavala and Pune, the chaat at UPSC in Delhi, the parathas at Murthal and Moolchand flyover (heard the place has shut down), the  idli sambhar of college canteen split 1/2 with bestie, the ripe jackfruit and tangy raw tamarind on a push cart in an old local Pune market, the bun omelette and tea at a roadside stall after a night out, the pot meals cooked with children and their cooking disaster/achievements which were thoroughly enjoyed, mom’s varan bhaaat etc etc..

I knew once I get on to nostalgia food train it will go on forever so the post is in two parts. I still won’t be able to cover all of it I know but will try to share as much as I can.

Though all my travels and time spent in various cities has very fond food memories some of them are special.

Special because of the people who are part of them, special because that time spent together, the fun, laughter and chilled out feeling will never return.

I will take you through that in the next post.

Meanwhile let me tell you there is no such joy as slowly licking chilled a bowlful of smooth delectable saffron freckled shrikhand with your fingers or digging into red juicy watermelons and ripe mangoes , their juices dripping down the corners of your mouth or the insides of your arms. 😀

Some fruits need to be eaten with the passion they require. Of course now in a “civilized ” society one needs to learn the “table manners” but What the Heck… sometimes we can give in to the joys of eating .. can’t we?

Watch out for Part 2 with some sizzle stories next Monday. I will go get my bar of dark chocolate.