There is something I love almost more than eating. Yes, I know – big claim! I love, love, love when someone gives me a recipe. Especially when it’s one of those recipes that you don’t find in any cookbook – the true family recipes passed down from generation to generation. And when the holder of the knowledge invites me into the kitchen for a masterclass, well I’m pretty much hyperventilating with excitement.
Last weekend, I was privileged to be able to experience all of this as I watched my friend Siddhartha’s Mum Anju Singh make short work of Bedmi Aloo and a Pumpkin Sabzi, a dish that’s eaten enthusiastically all over north India and one of my absolute favourites.
Before we arrived, Siddhartha had started writing down the ingredients and quantities – the first time Anju’s Bedmi Aloo had been chronicled in this way – his Mum always cooks by instinct rather than by slavishly following Nigella, Jamie and Anjun like me. Anju confessed it was extremely hard to start thinking in precise quantities after a lifetime of ‘a bit of this, a bit of that’!
First up was a dal-based filling for the Bedmi, the gorgeous, puffed, deep-fried bread that has been my downfall since I came to India. Most of the food prep had happened earlier, TV cook-style, so there was already a bowl of course-ground (to make sure there’s a bit of crunch in the finished bedmi) Ural Dal (200g soaked overnight then a pinch of Hing/Asafoetida added in the morning) ready to use.
Then the thick paste has to be fried in about 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a non-stick or heavy karahi You have to keep stirring furiously because the paste will stick to the pan, adding more oil if necessary. While stirring, add the spice mix: 1 T ginger paste, chopped green chilli and red chilli powder to taste along with the following, dry-roasted and ground: 1 T fennel seeds, 1T coriander seeds, 1 and a half t cumin seeds, half T peppercorns, 10 cloves, 4 whole black cardamom. Keep stirring until the mixture looks sandy with powdery, separated grains. Stir in 2T chopped fresh coriander.
While this was going on, with her other hand Anju was effortlessly rustling up the ‘Aloo ki Jhol’ (literally ‘potatoes in liquid’). Into 2T sunflower oil heat 1t cumin seeds, half t fenugreek/methi seeds, 2t each of ginger and garlic paste, one whole dried red chilli crumbled, 2t turmeric. Give the mixture a good stir then add 2 finely chopped tomatoes then 1t saabzi (vegetable) masala. Saabzi masala is simply a basic garam masala to which has been added turmeric, coriander and red chilli. Cook for about 10 minutes by which time the tomatoes will have completely broken down then add about three quarters kg of chopped, boiled potatoes and about 2 cups of water along with half a cup of chopped coriander. Bring to the boil and cook for about 5 minutes (or to 1 whistle of the pressure cooker if you’re that way inclined)
By the way, things were moving so fast I struggled to keep up with photos and now realise I have no shots of the potato!
I think Anju has at least two pairs of hands because she was also making a pumpkin dish at the same time. For this she defied the health police (I’m always all for that!) and tempered some spices in mustard oil – in 1T of oil she fried a pinch of hing/asafoetida, heaped half t of methi/fenugreek seed, 1 and a half t of cumin seeds and 20 small garlic cloves, chopped. Fry for a couple of minutes until the garlic starts to brown then add 2 dried red chillies, 2 medium onions chopped. To this add about one and a half kg of pumpkin chopped into small pieces. Anju’s pumpkin, she called it ‘kumhada’, was a lovely creamy yellow colour, definitely what I’d call a pumpkin rather than a squash. With salt to taste, the pumpkin is left to cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until completely tender. Stir in 1t of dried mango powder (amchoor) then mash slightly.
Now it was time for the Bedmi to be assembled and fried.
In a karahi, about 3 cm sunflower oil was heated. The dough had been made earlier with 2 and a half cups of wholemeal flour (atta), half t of salt and 1 and a half T sunflower oil and enough water to make a firm dough. Anju’s hands were a blur as she broke off nimbu-sized pieces and rolled them into smooth balls. She then pushed them into a cup shape with her thumbs and inserted about 2t of the urad dal mixture. she then brought the sides of the dough up over the dal to enclose it then rolled them out flat.
Interestingly, Anju called her ‘Bedmi’, ‘Kachori’ which I know as the smaller, harder deep fried breads. Actually, when it came to frying, I could see that these breads were a little on the kachori side of the spectrum, cooked slower and longer than I associate with the instant puffing up of bhature or puri.
Each bedmi was oiled then slipped into the hot oil. Turn the bedmi over after about one minute and keep turning until a rich golden brown then drain on kitchen roll.
Needless to say, the resulting feast was amazing – I’m still reliving it daily – the crispy, spicy bread; the soft comforting potato and the surprising sweet pumpkin made for a meal I’ll remember for a very long time.
Thank you so much to all of the Singh family, the afternoon was an absolute delight. But most of all, huge gratitude to Anju for sharing her family recipes and letting me invade her kitchen and watch a master at work!
By the way, if this all sounds like an invitation to bombard me with family recipes – great! Bring it on!