“Can’t we have rajma or chole or paneer or something instead?”asks the eight-year old daughter of a friend. Why boring bisibele and stuff?”
Her mother is planning the menu for a dinner party and the child in question is of the opinion that South Indian food is… well, boring! Am first horrified, then amused… as I realise that what the kid is objecting to is everyday food. All the North Indian dishes are ‘special’ in her mind because they are eaten mostly in restaurants and not really much at home. The lure of the exotic, the grass being greener on the other side, or in our own more graphic Indian languages poruginti pullakoora/pakkathuveettu pulichakeerai/ghar ki murgi dall barabar – the neighbour’s food is always tastier.
So the poor mother tries to explain that bisibele is a very special dish, made only for festive occasions… but the child is having none of it. The mother gives in and rajma replaces bisibele on the menu! Both are happy – the mom because it lets her off the far greater effort that bisibele takes to make!
On another occasion, have been invited to a North Indian friend’s house for lunch and she’s made the inevitable rajma-chawal (which I love btw!), some aalu, some paneer and then as I compliment her on how good everything is, she says she always finds it tough to plan a menu for vegetarians! I look surprised… she explains… “See when i have to plan a non-veg meal, i just put together a combo of chicken/fish/mutton and a salad and I’m done. With vegetarian food, I can’t think beyond the rajma-chawal, chana-puri combo!”
So then I ask her about stuff like lauki (bottle gourd), tori (ribbed gourd), baingan (eggplant) and the millions of vegetables I can think of. Her turn to look aghast. “But.. but… “, she splutters, “that’s not food“! I collapse with laughter! I guess, in this case, the ghaas-phoos on the other side of this fence was not greener!
As a child, I too definitely preferred the rajma-rice in Neeroo’s house to the sambar in mine! And she the other way around. There were occasions when she’d be tucking away into the sambar at my place while i slurped down her mom’s brilliant rajma at her place! Another Punjabi friend who told me that no matter how hard she tried, her sambar came out tasting wrong – like masala-fied and not unlike rajma!
As a generation though, today, with the very urbanised kitchens we run, I really think we’ve bridged the divide – rajma in my South Indian kitchen tastes like rajma should and not like a masale-wallah sambar! So much so that the quest now is to go back to the villages and discover forgotten grains, pulses, methods of cooking and even cooking vessels, implements and fuels! We’ve come full circle… or maybe that’s just my five decades speaking!
The decades in my bag lead me to get excited about the very traditional stuff like this…
UNDALA MAJJIGA PULUSU OR URUNDAI MOR KOZHAMBU or as the redoubtable Meenakshi Ammal calls it
“Pulse ball buttermilk stew”! ROFL!
- 3/4 cup toor dal + 1/4 cup chane ka dal – soaked for two hours (or just half an hour in the Madras summer!) and drained
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 2 green chilies
- 2 red chilies
- Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
- Coriander – chopped – 1 tbsp
- Jeera/cumin seeds – 1 pinch
- Coconut – 2 tbsp
Grind the soaked dals with the chilies, asafoetida, coconut, cumin, and salt to a coarse paste, adding the curry leaves almost at the end so they break apart but don’t get ground up. Mix in the chopped coriander. Shape into small marble sized balls.
Set two or three balls aside.
Steam the rest for about 10-12 minutes till tender and spongy.
FOR MAJJIGA PULUSU
- Sour yogurt – 2 cups
- Turmeric – 1 tsp
- Coconut – 3 tbsp
- Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Red chilies – 3
- Green chiles – 2
- Asafoetida – 1 pinch
- Jaggery – 1 tsp
Grind all the ingredients except yogurt along with the reserved dal balls to a very smooth paste. Whisk this paste to a smooth mixture with the yogurt adding 2 cups water.
In a large saucepan, cook the yogurt mixture on a low flame till the raw smell of yogurt disappears. Add the steamed ‘undalu’and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes more.
- Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
- Jeera seeds – 1/4 tsp
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
- Coconut or sesame oil – 1 tsp
Heat oil, add mustard. When it splutters, add everything else and fry for a few seconds. Turn off and pour over the pulusu.
Serve with hot rice (or cold in the summer!) and a roast potato or green plantain curry!
And no, I assure you it will NOT taste like rajma or kadhi even! The answer to chicken from this side of the fence!