Sunday, February 19, 2017

Gatte Ki curry - "padhaaro mahre des re" for a vegetable free vegetarian curry

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity - Simone Weil

"गाडी रोको ड्राइवर, चलो नीचे उतरो वीरेन और इस धरती पे माथा टेकर आशीर्वाद लो" (stop the car driver, get out of the car Viren and get the blessings of this land by touching your forehead to the ground) so says the graceful and gorgeous Waheeda Rehman to a young Anil Kapoor in the film Lamhe. There is no saying no to Daayeeja (nanny) and he gets out of the airconditioned car, quickly puts his forehead to the hot, sweltering ground and runs back into the sanctuary of the cool car. Though there are many indian movies made with a backdrop of Rajasthan, for me Lamhe holds a special place in heart as I learnt about the fascinating land through the movie. And bollywood has this power to paint images in your mind that you don't even know you were capable of. If romancing with a place is possible, I do have a romantic relationship with Rajasthan :-) Until recently, Rajasthan was part of this fertile imagination in my head that included a mystical desert land full of warrior princes, beautiful girls in colorful lehengas wearing bangles all the way up the arms, splendid havelis, picturesque locales, cold romantic nights and food beyond comparison. Having visited part of Rajasthan recently, I can say that most of the imagery still continues to live on though there are no princes riding horses or camels any more, atleast it is not a daily sight in the cities :-). The place lived up to my bollywood fed imagination and didn't let me down in any way. But there is a whole lot more to the place than what Bollywood lets you imagine which can only be found when you visit and become part of that rich culture and the colorful canvass.
Our India visits have always been about visiting family and so we end up spending the time in the same radius of cities that we always do :-). But this trip we decided to build in a week of vacation before landing in the midst of family. When you have a busy work life through out the year and 3 schedules that wax and wane at different times during the year, vacations are hard to come by and precious. So getting away for a week as part of the india trip was a proposal that none of us wanted to say no to :-). Visiting Rajasthan was on bucket list for a long time and though we started with an elaborate visit plan that included Jaipur to Jaiselmer and everything in-between, time was not on our side to do justice to such a trip. We had to skip touching the desert border and make peace with Jaipur and Udaipur. No regrets though, both cities offer a wide range of rich heritage, unparalleled hospitality and an experience of the colorful Rajasthani culture. So we basked in the offerings of the lake city and the pink city. Jaiselmer is back on the bucket list for another time :-)

A striking impression for me as a first time visitor to Udaipur was of the friendliness of the people. Everyone from the hotel employees to the rickshaw driver we hired to the folks in the stores seemed genuinely gentle and friendly which just made our day every day spent there. It wasn't just the tourism industry impact but seemed ingrained in them. DD & I smiled at each other every time someone would direct their question or response only to BH and not to us, there was nothing derogatory about it as they were very respectful towards us but the conversation always happened with the man of the family. They would easily make a conversation and always eager to plan our itinerary with helpful tips that only locals would be aware of and we took all the advise that was offered to us. We found the same hospitality in Jaipur as well though it is a bigger and more commercial place and more used to tourists.
The demonetization by Indian government was still fresh when we visited and most people were cash strapped. We didn't realize how bad it was until the bills in the wallet had gone spent soon after we took them from the bank when we landed in Mumbai. The daily ATM withdrawal was 4K and when you are a tourist and need to pay cash for every transaction, you really feel the pinch and quickly too as the money seemed to vanish the moment it came out of the machine. To add to the woes, most ATMs never had cash and we spent quite a bit of our vacation time on the road stopping at every ATM to try our luck. A sunday holiday in the middle of our week there only added to the cash starved tourist plight :-)
What I appreciate most about the human ingenuity is that we have this uncanny ability and strength to dig ourselves out of any mess, imposed on us by others or by ourselves. Our cab driver, knowing that we had limited cash that might eat into what we owed him at the end of the day, would stop at gas stations and let us pay for the diesel in the morning as we set out for the day. Almost all gas stations take your credit cards. This guaranteed that we would have spending money and were also able to pay him when we were done :-). Plastic cards are not as prevalent in India as here and most of the small vendors, artisans and road side hawkers have no ability to accept one. Our cab driver infact loaned us a few hundred bucks as we wanted to catch the light and sound show in the Jaipur palace since they wouldn't take the cards. He literally saved our day :-). Thankfully, banks opened on Monday and we were able to pay him back before leaving. The network of cab drivers is unbelievably strong and a well oiled machine. They send messages to each other on which ATM had cash so the clients could be driven there first thing in the morning and also had the inside track knowledge that the cash limit was higher if you had a non indian bank card. So everything turned out well in the end and we had a dream vacation to remember for a long time to come.
Though I liked everything about Rajasthan, food is on a different pedestal altogether. With its high concentration of people that follow Jainism, the place is a vegetarian foodie's dream come true. More than one person had told me that I would find the food delectable and very different but I still wasn't prepared for the taste until I had my first bite. The variety of ghee laden soft rotis (wheat, bajra, missi) itself is enough to satisfy a foodie but the curries served with it are a different ball game. Rajasthan being the desert, green, fresh vegetables are not easy to come by as in other places and it is no surprise that the enterprising people have found ingredients to make the tastiest of the side dishes without developing an enormous dependency on the vegetables.
Versatile potatoes were found commonly along with okra, however outside of these two vegetables the thali (meal plate) almost entirely made do with dals, lentils, besan to offer a distinctive taste in each of the little servings. Yogurt is the key player not only in the usual kadhi but also in many of the gravy preparations. It was easy to see what was going on in the kitchen since many of the places we went for dinner were outdoors and the kitchen was just in one of the nooks. Dal baati made the center piece in many meals and the one dish that is unique to Rajasthani cuisine is the gatte ki sazi/sabji/curry, a gravy made with gram flour dumplings in a yogurt/tomato sauce. It is tangy, spicy and filling all rolled into a single bowl and makes a great side dish for the fresh, hot off the tawa rotis. The preparation ensures that each ingredient lends its best flavor to the dish. Jain delicacies skip onion and garlic in their preparations and even if you are hard core fan of these two herbs, you will not miss them at all while eating a Jain dish.
I was such a gatte smitten foodie  that I ended up getting it for most of meals during that entire week and the taste was still on the tip of my tongue as I traveled beyond Rajasthan, ate other goodies, wrapped up my India trip, came back home and started eating our regular food :-). This past week was a birthday week at home and we ended up adding gatte ki curry into the celebration menu. BH said it took him back to the Udaipur dinner we had :-) and I take that as a compliment.

There are obviously many ways of making gatte ki curry and I found each bowl I ate in 5 different place across Udaipur and Jaipur had subtle differences, this is just the variations from one professional chef to the other not to speak of the umpteen home made versions. There is a Govind gatte subji in which the gattes are stuffed with paneer and additional spices so the culinary experience goes a notch even higher. When I wanted to make gatte ki curry on my own and in my kitchen, here is what I did. Stood in the middle of the kitchen, put on my thinking cap and tried to remember every taste bud  that had tingled when I ate this curry in Rajasthan, then marched over to the pantry to don the apron on self and got to work with the ingredients to reproduce the same, exact feeling at home. Ok, that was just over dramatization of what happened :-). What I have here is a really lip smacking gatte ki curry with a number of tips to get it right even on your first try. I am thrilled I was able to replicate the taste of Rajasthan in my own kitchen and can revisit any time I feel like.
The list of ingredients and procedure looks longish but don't let that deter you. You will find that the ingredients are mostly common between the gatte and the curry and also the procedure is simple enough once you get the hang of it. No complicated grind, chop etc in this one. Go ahead and give it a try, you will be a fan in no time I guarantee you.
What do you need to make Gatte ki curry?
For the gattas: 
1 cup besan/chickpea flour/gram flour
1.5 Tbsp oil
1.5 Tbsp yogurt
3/4 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp red chili powder
1/4 Tsp asafoetida/hing
1 Tsp crushed coriander seeds
1/4 Tsp crushed ajwain/carom seeds
1/2 Tsp Turmeric powder
1/4 Tsp kasoori methi
5 cups water for boiling gattas
2 Tbsp oil for roasting gattas
For the curry: 
2 tomatoes (2 cups when chopped roughly)
3-4 green chilies (adjust to preferred spice tolerance)
1 inch piece ginger
4 cashews soaked for 30 mins (optional and can do without)
1 Tsp cumin
1/4 Tsp asafoetida/hing
1/4 Tsp turmeric powder
1 Tsp red chili powder (adjust to taste) - use a bright colored one for the rich hue
1/2 Tsp coriander powder
1/2 Tsp garam masala powder
1 Tsp besan/chickpea flour/gram flour
2 Tbsp oil
1 cup yogurt
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
How do you make Gatte ki curry? 
Making the gattas: 
  • Take a wide bowl (so you can move your fingers easily), sieve besan into it to remove any small lumps in the dry flour. 
  • Add all the dry ingredients - salt, red chili powder, hing, turmeric powder, crushed coriander, ajwain and kasoori methi. 
  • Mix well with your fingers so hing (especially if you are using the wet variety) doesn't stay in one place. 
  • Add oil and yogurt into the bowl and mixing with your fingers, bring everything together to form a lump. 
  • Add a sprinkle of water if the mixture is very dry (depends on the consistency of your yogurt, I didn't add any water). 
  • scrape everything sticking to your fingers, smear a drop of oil on your hand and continue to bring the mixture together into a hard dough and knead it for a couple of minutes. Taste test and adjust salt, chili powder as needed. 
  • Keep a sauce pan with 5 cups of water on the stove and bring the water to a rolling boil. 
  • Break the dough into 4 equal portions, make a ball and roll it into a log about 1/2inch thickness, smooth the ends. Repeat with all 4 portions.
  • Now take the logs one by one and gently immerse in the boiling water, give about 30secs between each log going in to the water to avoid water temperature from falling. 
  • Boil the logs for 10-12 mins or until a tooth pick comes out clean. After about 5mins, the logs start to rise to the top of the water. 
  • Switch off and strain the water out, reserving it for later use. Let the logs cool down completely before cutting them into bite sized pieces. 
  • Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a flat, non stick pan, add the cooled gatte pieces and roast on medium heat until they get a coating of nice golden color on all sides. switch off and keep aside until ready to use. (Do not start eating them as they can be quite addictive :-))
Making the curry or sauce: 
  • Make a smooth paste of tomatoes, green chilies, ginger and soaked cashews (if using). 
  • Heat oil in a kadai/pan, add cumin seeds and let it splutter. 
  • Add coriander powder, turmeric powder, hing and red chili powder to the hot oil and roast for a minute so the flavors are enhanced. 
  • Add the ground tomato paste and let it cook on medium heat for 8-10 mins or until the paste looks dry and starts to ooze oil from the sides. 
  • At this stage, add whisked yogurt slowly into the pan while stirring constantly. Keep the heat on lowest. 
  • Increase heat to medium and let it come to a gentle boil. 
  • Add a Tsp of besan in a Tbsp of the reserved water and make a slurry. 
  • Add the slurry along with remaining reserved water to the curry and let it boil.  
  • At this stage, taste test the curry and adjust any spices to suit your palate. Add more water if you want the curry to be a thinner. 
  • Add garam masala powder and salt, mix it in and let cook for a minute. 
  • Add the prepared gattas into the curry and switch off. 
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve hot with rotis or steamed rice. 
Notes: 
  • Besan dough is very sticky unlike the wheat flour dough, ensure you do not make a soft dough. When you make a ball of the dough and place it on the plate, it should not spread but hold the same shape as before. 
  • Keep yogurt at room temperature before you start adding it to any hot gravies. This helps to get a smooth texture. 
  • Whisking yogurt is also important to get a smooth texture. 
  • You can add the dry spices in the gravy later but I found that when these are given an opportunity to roast in hot oil, the flavors are enhanced considerably. Garam masala is added at the end for its complex flavor. 
  • These taste best with hot rotis but you can serve it with plain rice or a mildly flavored jeera rice. 
  • You can add onion and garlic in this curry. I do not personally like onion in yogurt based gravies and avoid it. Garlic is not a regular in my kitchen and hence it is omitted. 
  • If you are adding onion, make a paste or grate it and add it before the tomato paste and let it cook for a few minutes to rid of the raw smell. 
  • Gattes are traditionally deep fried after they are boiled to make them richer, crispier and obviously more calorie dense. I chose to shallow fry with a couple Tbsp of oil and I didn't miss the lack of extra oil. 
  • The thickness of the gattes is a personal preference, I though like to think of the log size as 1.5 pencils stacked together. The cooking time may vary based on the thickness. 
  • Keep the water boiling before adding the logs, this prevents them from breaking.