Cooking the Book: Recipes from Korma Kheer and Kismet – 1. Sita Ram Diwan Chand’s Chana Bhatura

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While I wait  for my editor to put her red pen through the manuscript for Korma, Kheer and Kismet,  I’ve finally found time to  test the book’s recipes. Even though it isn’t a cook book – more of an Old Delhi street food memoir –  each chapter contains one or two recipes.  Some of them were given to me by street food vendors, others are my own versions based on watching the cooks at work.

First to be tested was one of north India’s favourite comfort foods: Chana Bhatura, specifically the version made by  Sita Ram Diwan Chand.  They have been making their magnificent dish in Paharganj since their ancestors arrived in the area after Partition and I once was lucky enough to spend the morning with the shop’s owner Pran Kohli.  He patiently showed how they make all the various elements, the chickpeas, bhatura, pickled carrot and tamarind chutney.  I blogged about it in 2009 and it has been the most popular post on Eat and Dust ever since but somehow I never got round to making it myself. (although I do frequently make my friend Anita Dhanda’s extremely easy and delicious recipe for Chana Bhatura).

I  was right to feel daunted by their incredibly detailed recipes and can finally testify that Sita Ram’s recipe is not for the fainthearted cook – it took me about a day and a half to complete – but it turned out to be well worth the effort.  As well as being very time-consuming, the recipe is also  very nuanced  – from the careful spicing of the chick peas and potatoes to the subtle accompaniments like the pickled carrots, paneer-stuffed bhatura, and tamarind sauce, every element of the dish has a vital role to play in producing an astounding range of flavours and textures. We’ve been happily gorging on it for days.

So here it is, a (rather lengthy)  sneak peek of one of the recipes that will appear in Korma, Kheer and Kismet. It’s been thoroughly tested and somewhat amended from my original scribbled notes from Pran Kohli of Sita Ram Diwan Chand.  Of course it’s not as good as his – after all they’ve been practising since 1947 – but it’s still an outstanding dish to make at home.

SITA RAM DIWAN CHAND’S CHANA BHATURA

Serves 6-8

Chana

500g chickpeas

1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 cassia leaf

½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

150g chopped onion

100g yoghurt

100g peeled and chopped tomatoes

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 heaped tablespoon anardana (pomegranate seed) powder

1 tablespoon garam masala

½ – 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or to taste)

Spiced Potatoes

2 medium potatoes, boiled until cooked with skin on

½ onion, finely chopped

1 tomato, peeled and chopped

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon red chilli powder

½ teaspoon anardana powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

  1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in cold water.  In the morning, drain then put the chickpeas in a large pan with the ginger, cassia leaf, bicarbonate of soda and about 2 ½ litres of cold water.  Boil the chickpeas until they are tender but not mushy – about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, melt a tablespoon of oil or ghee and brown the onion.  Add the yogurt, chopped tomatoes and turmeric.  Stir well and cook on a low heat until the mixture is a deep reddish brown then remove from the heat.
  3. When the chickpeas are ready (retain the cooking liquid which will be much reduced) add the onion/tomato mixture and stir well.  Add salt, pepper, anardana, garam masala and red chilli powder and stir well.  Continue cooking until the gravy has thickened then take off the heat.
  4. To make the spiced potatoes, peel the boiled potatoes and chop into 2cm cubes.  Heat a tablespoon oil in a pan, add the chopped onion and tomato cook until browned.  Add the turmeric, salt, black pepper, red chilli powder, anardana powder and garam masala.  Cook for a few minutes until the spices are roasted.  Add the potato cubes then stir well to coat them in the spiced mixture. Stir the potato cubes into the chickpea mixture.

Bhatura

Makes 12

150g plain flour (maida)

150g semolina (sooji)

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons yogurt

150-200 mls water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Bhatura Stuffing

150g paneer, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon garam masala

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

5g chopped fresh coriander

  1. Mix together the flour, semolina, salt, yogurt and 150 mls of water.  Knead well until you have a soft, springy dough.  As the flour and semolina absorb the water, you may need to add more water.  After about 5 minutes of kneading you should have a smooth ball of dough. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover and leave for 4-5 hours.
  2. To make the bhatura stuffing, combine all the ingredients and mix well.
  3. Work a tablespoon of oil into the rested bhatura dough then divide it into 12 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball between your palms.  With your thumb press a large dent in each ball, put a dessertspoonful of the stuffing into the dent then close the dough back up over to cover the stuffing.  The stuffing should be completely enclosed.
  4. Roll each stuffed ball out as thinly as possible.
  5. Heat about 6 cm oil in a kadhai.  When a small piece of dough dropped into the oil rises quickly to the surface, the oil is the right temperature to fry the bhature.  Gently slide in one bhatura, let it cook for a couple of seconds then press it down with a slotted spoon – this helps it to puff up.  Flip the bhatura over and press down again.  When the bhatura is golden brown and puffed up, removed to drain on some kitchen roll.

Pickled Carrot

The pickled carrot needs to be started a few days before you want to serve the chana bhatura.

200g red, ‘desi’ carrots

5g black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

juice of 2 limes

250ml water

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon red chilli powder

  1. Peel and cut the carrot into small batons about ½ cm thick and 6cm long and place them in a clean jam jar.
  2. Mix together the mustard seed, salt, turmeric, lime juice and water.  Pour over the carrot sticks, close the jar and leave the carrots to steep for at least 2 days.
  3. Drain off the pickling liquid, rinse the carrots then mix with ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon red chilli and mix well.  The carrots are now ready to serve.

Tamarind Sauce

1/2 cup tamarind water (imli)

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder

1/2  teaspoon red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Mix together all the ingredients in a small pan, bring to the boil then let it bubble for a few minutes until slightly thickened.

Serve with the chickpeas along with slices of raw onion, pickled carrot, and tamarind chutney.

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Ananda Mela or The Gorging Puja

The festival season is well under way here in Delhi and with so many celebrations overlapping and coinciding, it can be tough to keep up. I’m doing my best – for my book, I’m trying to make sure I  at least catch everything in the Old Delhi calendar – but sometimes it’s hard to know what’s happening when.

So if there’s anything you think I might miss, please drop me a line – for example I hadn’t realised that  the Bengali festival of Durga Puja was celebrated in Old Delhi until new Bengali friend Surya took me in hand.

delhi durga puja samiti

It turns out the Kashmere Gate Durga Puja (also known as the Delhi Durga Puja Samiti) is in fact Delhi’s oldest, dating back to the time many Bengalis came to Delhi to work for the British when the government moved from Calcutta.  In the early days, the Puja was held in the heart of Old Delhi in Nai Sarak, then Fatehpuri.

The Puja’s new home is the Bengali Secondary School on Alipur Road and last night Surya, her husband Sean and I met at Civil Lines metro to check it out. As I frequently find myself lost in Hindu traditions and rituals, Surya first of all sat me down to explain some of the Durga essentials, calling her Mum in Siliguri a couple of times for clarification.

Durga Puja coincides with Navratra, which began last Wednesday, and both are linked to the start of winter and harvest time.   Navratri, which literally means ‘nine nights’, a nine day fasting period for Hindus,  is observed several times a year but the most significant is the Maha Navratra (‘Great Navratra’)  at the beginning of autumn.

The Goddess arrives on an elephant, leaves on a palanquin

The dates of Bengali festivals and pujas are determined by the annual Panjika almanac, compiled by astrologers and priests; it also determines auspicious days for weddings, business ventures etc. according to the lunar cycle.  The Panjika also details how Durga, along with her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh, and Kartik will arrive,  by  horse, palanquin, boat etc.   If she arrives by elephant, as she did this time, it’s going to be a good year ahead. Although not such good news for her departure:  she’s leaving on a palanquin, signifying epidemic.

The Kashmere Gate Durga Puja is a traditional and low-key affair compared to many in Calcutta the Goddess was radiant without being too flashy and the music was ‘Rabindro Sangeet’, the beautiful music and words written by Rabindranath Tagore; songs of ‘love and revolution’ according to Surya. Today is the start of three days of religious rituals then Durga’s earthly visit will be over for another year and she’ll go back to heaven via an immersion  in the Yamuna river on Thursday.

Ananda mela: the gorging puja

But of course I was itching to get on with the food side of the things and I had already noticed lots of women pulling stoves, pressure cookers and platters out of bags.   Which could only mean one thing –  the Ananda Mela was about to start. The Ananda Mela is a wonderful tradition of local women sharing their family specialities on the evening before the puja begins (which this year is today).

We tried almost everything on offer: Luchi Chola (chick peas with puri), Jimikand (also known as ‘kochu’ or ‘taro’) Cutlets, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Korma ‘Rashmoni’ Kheer (‘kheer surprise’), Malpua (sweet, fried fritters), and Patishapta (a sweet pancake stuffed with coconut)  and the excitingly-named Bonanza Chilli Chicken with Lemon Rice.  Wonderful, lovingly-cooked homestyle dishes, a grand start to the glorious Delhi eating season.

Our Son Leaves Home and Official: I’m Writing a Book

Suddenly and devastatingly, our big boy, Charlie, has  become big enough to leave home.  How does that happen?  One minute we’re changing nappies and hanging out in the ball pool, the next he’s got himself a bank account and a place at university in Scotland.

After a long summer of goodbyes as his friends here in Delhi left for various corners of the globe, last week it was his turn.  Lots of tears, yes, but also lots of ‘last’ meals. Like the wonderfully comforting garlic pepper chicken prawns at Swagath in Defence Colony – Charlie’s favourite and one of Delhi’s most devour-able dishes. For lunch on his last day Dean and I took him for Delhi’s best sandwiches and cold coffee at Novelty Stores  in Jangpura where he loved the old fashioned stool-at-the-counter vibe.

But his last dinner had to be at home and he asked for his favourite: chicken pie.  I made them in individual tins with everyone’s names on – a bit of a fiddle but it kept my mind off the the very imminent departure.

I packed him off with a recipe notebook  containing  family favourites,  and like a good Indian mummy I padded out his case with  chaat masala ( I actually found myself saying “you might need it for the bland food”), garam masala and enough Five Stars and All Bar Ones to last him till Christmas.

The days since Charlie left have been the saddest we’ve gone through as a family; knowing that our boy is out there on his own and until December we’ll only set 4 places for dinner.

We’re all dealing with it in different ways.  His brother and sister message him constantly, his Dad makes sure the Nelson menfolk are all watching their beloved Tottenham Hotspur at the same time, and I’m sending recipes and reminding him to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day.

The day after he left  I went to Old Delhi.  This increasingly seems to be my cure-all – there’s something about the overwhelming chaos of the place that calms me down and eclipses other concerns, at least for a little while.

Old Delhi will have to work overtime in the next few weeks as I try to get used to Charlie leaving home.

And, as  luck would have it, I will be spending a huge amount of time there over the next year as I’ve just signed a contract with Aleph to write a book. The working title is ‘A Year in Old Delhi’, a portrait of (a love letter to?) a world that has transformed my life over the last few years.  I’ll be exploring the food and  the people who make the food;  peeking into homes and restaurants; collecting stories and recipes.    I’ll be watching the changes in the seasons and the way the food reflects the rhythms of the year.  I’ll be there for all the high days and holidays and plenty of others in between.   And of course, I’ll be blogging as I go.

I’m incredibly excited about the book –  without question, the highlight of my writing life – and to have the opportunity to spend the next few months in what is fast becoming my spiritual home is a huge thrill.  To be working with publisher David Davidar, and agent David Godwin is an enormous,  privileged bonus.

The publishing contract arrived yesterday – probably the most wonderful  letter I’ve ever received but also the scariest.  Apart from all the  daunting ‘hereafters’ and ‘witnesseths’ there are  phrases like ‘in the event of the death of the Author’.

But perhaps the most terrifying of all  is ‘The Author shall deliver the typescript of the Work (of approx 100,000 words) to the Publisher by 31st January 2012 (“Submission Date “).

Yikes! That’s a LOT of words. That’s really SOON.  Better crack on.  Wish me luck.