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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Home Made Chana Bhatura

close class bhature

There are some Indian dishes which I  assumed would be impossible to recreate at home unless you’ve spent half your life sitting behind a giant karhai somewhere in Old Delhi.  One of these is Chana Bhatura, that meltingly more-ish chick pea and deep fried bread combo that can make me weak with longing.

Then I met cookery teacher Anita Dhanda, who runs a class at the American School here in Delhi.  Over the course of 10 weeks she unlocks the mysteries of  parantha, palak paneer, halwa, kheer, keema, dal makhani and much more.

One of the many splendid things about Anita, apart from her winning pinny and kurta combos, is her ability to make it all look so simple. She was also generous with her time-tested family recipes including this, her mother’s recipe for Chana Bhatura.  I’ve made this a few times at home and it’s a winner and I’m always instantly transported back to  Sita Ram Diwan Chand – the only thing  missing is the flies.

So here is Anita’s  mum’s easy peasy, home kitchen-friendly, 100% pukka Chana Bhatura – guaranteed to make you feel as if you’re sitting cross-legged at a kharai:

anita

Chana Pindi

Ingredients

1 and half cups chick peas (chana)

1 tbs chopped ginger

1tsp each coriander powder, roasted cumin powder, red chilli powder, garam masala, mango or ground pomegranate seed (anardana) powder, cumin seeds

2tbs ghee

salt, bay leaf,bicarbonate of soda.

Method

Wash and soak the chick peas overnight.  Drain then add 5-6 cups fresh water.  Add the bicarbonate of soda,  bay and ginger and boil, covered, until very soft. When the chick peas are ready – this will vary according to the freshness of the peas – add coriander, chilli, garam masala, mango or anardana powder, and roast ground cumin powder. Bring back to the boil and stir well to blend all the spices.

chaunk

chaunk

In a small pan or ‘chaunk’*, melt the ghee until smoking. Add the cumin seeds and let them crackle for a few seconds. then pour over the chick peas.  Cook for 5-10 minutes.  If the mixture is too watery, mash some of the chick peas into the liquid to thicken. Check seasonings, add a few pieces of cooked potato if desired. This next bit  requires restraint but the Chana is even better if left for a few hours to let the flavours meld before devouring greedily with fresh  bhatura.

*My ‘Chaunk’, also known as a ‘Tarka’, is  a new favourite piece of kitchen equipment.  It’s like a small frying-pan on the end of a long handle  and is used for  ‘tempering’, just before a dish is served: oil or ghee is melted until smoking then spices like whole cumin, or mustard seeds are added and left to sizzle for  a few seconds.  It fills the kitchen with the most intensely inviting smells before adding that final flourish to a dish.  According to Anita, it’s a process which many modern cooks  don’t bother with but I’m a convert – it gives the food a freshness and pep it wouldn’t otherwise have.

The Bhatura is a little trickier and you may not get that magnificent balloon shape first time, but the ones in the picture were made by us first-timers in the cookery class and they tasted delicious.

Purists be warned – Anita’s recipe contains non-traditional mashed potato.  She says her mum always puts it in for extra crunch.

class bhatureBhatura

Ingredients

1 cup plain flour (maida)

1 cup semolina (sooji)

1 potato boiled and mashed

2 tbs yogurt

2 tsp oil

half tsp salt

extra oil for deep frying

Method

Mix all the ingredients together and bind to a soft dough with water. Leave to ferment for 5-6 hours.  Break off pieces of dough and roll into balls.  Dip each ball into oil then roll out thinly.  Heat oil in a karhai until really hot – to test if the oil is hot enough, drop in a small amount of dough – it should instantly rise to the top. Carefully put in one of the rolled out discs. With a metal slotted spoon, press the bhatura down in the centre of the oil and it should instantly puff up.  Quickly remove the bhatura to drain on kitchen roll. The cooking process takes only a few seconds.  If your first bhatura is very oily, it means the oil wasn’t hot enough.

As well as slices of onions, Anita had also prepared a ‘Sonth’, a sweet and sour dip which complemented the other savoury dishes perfectly

Sonth

Ingredients

1 tbsp dried mango powder (amchur)

3 tbsp sugar

half tsp roasted cumin powder

quarter tsp each of red chilli powder, salt, garam masala

quarter cup water

Method

Mix all ingredients and cook on low flame till thick and syrupy

‘Sonth’ is also good with snacks like samosas and pakoras

Chana Bhatura at Sita Ram Diwan Chand

chana

When conniving Mughal upstart Aurangzeb imprisoned his father, Emperor Shah Jehan, in Agra Fort in 1657, he told him he could choose just one thing to eat every day for the rest of his life. The old man chose chick peas because the prison cook told him he would be able to make something different every day of the year.

Until recently, I would have snorted in disbelief in this  – chick peas?  Synonymous with hairy hippies in bedsits and tubs of slimy supermarket hummous?  Then came ‘Chana  Bhatura’ and I discovered  I could actively crave something involving chick peas.

There are very few deep-fried foods I can resist and I admit what first attracted me to this dish, in places like Evergreen in Green Park and Nathus in Bengali Market, were the magnificent balloon-sized puffed-up ‘bhatura’.  In the early days the  accompanying chana was just a sloppy, sludge-coloured distraction.  I used to dip the bread but I’m ashamed to admit the chick peas often went back to the kitchen barely touched.

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