Sunday, January 15, 2017

Pindi Chole - A succulent version of chole that can be eaten in many ways

I feel like the little rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, looking at its watch & running down the path, muttering "I am late, I am late" as I head back to blogging in 2017. When I last looked in December, I was sure I had a lot of time to wish you all a happy new year. I had even plans to celebrate Christmas with you all on the blog, make & post new recipes for the holiday season (Who am I kidding? I knew I wouldn't have much time in December as I was travelling :-)). Anyways, here I am 2 weeks after bidding farewell to 2016 & ushering in 2017. So without any further delay, let me wish you all a wonderful, healthy, joyful 2017. May this be the year you get closer to realizing many of your dreams. I love you all for the unflinching faith you place in my rants and recipes.

If I were someone that made new year resolutions (and stuck to them), I would resolve to be more active on the blog, write more often, be more eloquent and relevant :-), respond to all your queries on time and more than anything else be on time with my festival recipes throughout the year. But you see, I am not really the 'make new year resolutions' kind of person nor am I the one to 'stick with the resolutions' if I ever made them. So, apologies in advance for any misses on my part in 2017 but I honestly promise that I will be here often and every time I post, I will bring you something I have loved making/eating and hope you love it too. In all the excitement of the year end, I missed celebrating my blog baby's birthday :-(. So a belated birthday to Sattvaa as the 5 year old now turns 6 and ready for grade school. Every moment of blogging has brought me nothing but immense joy, boosted my confidence in cooking and writing. I couldn't have achieved any of this without your support. So a heartfelt gratitude.
I hope those of you celebrating the harvest festival in January had a wonderful time these past three days with family & friends for Makar Sankranthi/Pongal/Bihu/Lohri. Ours started on Jan 1st in India. Yes, I went on a 3 week trip back home and as always had the time of my life. We celebrated FIL's birthday a few days in advance as we weren't going to be there on the day and started the year off with a warm, nice bonfire in the vacant plot next door. Bonfire is lit on Bhogi (day prior to Sankranthi) to symbolize 'starting afresh/starting anew', to let go of any prejudices as we enter the new year. I think New year's day was a perfect day to do that too. The fire roasted sweet potatoes was the "perfect cherry on the icecream".
It was DD's winter break as well so we turned this into a family trip to India. With the loss & heart ache we went through in late 2016, I was both dying to and extremely fidgety about going back home. In one way, it was probably the most difficult trip I have made since coming here eons ago, it was the first time I went home without either amma or anna to hug me and just take away any aches and bruises I would have had since we last saw each other :-(. BH stood rock solid behind me as I tried to come to terms with a home in India sans parents. Did a few things that was very close to heart and drew strength from the memories, places and events of the past. Not yet reconciled to the fact that my front line defense is gone and I am left raw and open, but I feel confident that they both have given me enough to be strong on my own as well.
We had a great time in India, for the first time we took a holiday in India that was outside of the family town and spent a week in the colorful, historically rich Rajasthan. The foodie in me was so totally singing happy tunes eating meal after meal of the delicious gatte ki sabzi, dal baati & churma, missi roti, bajre ki roti, kadhi, Mirchi bada and on and on and on... . In addition to the dishes I had read and was expecting, I was also treated to local delicacies such as Ker kumti sangri sabzi, gond ki halwa.. Equally mesmerizing was the city tours we took of the idyllic Udaipur and the pink city Jaipur. The very popular Rajasthani bandini prints and block prints are something you would want to see in action, there are industrial areas and stores you can go to and witness block printing being done.
Gatte ki Sabzi from Udaipur
Rajasthan has been on my bucket list for a long time and it was beyond any dreams my feeble mind could conjure up. People are very friendly and honest. The first day, we went around Udaipur in an auto (yep, it is wider and bigger than the autos of Bengaluru & Mysuru, BH tried to explain the difference in the chassis and engine, but I guess I snored through that explanation :-)) and I kept telling the auto driver to stay in the vehicle and look out for our belongings. After a couple of stops, he turned towards me grinning and said, "Didi, aap phikar mat karo, koi nahin le jaata yahan (Sister, don't worry, nobody steals the stuff here)". By that time, I had grown to trust him and also didn't want to disrespect an honest man earning his living because of my prejudices, so didn't say a word. Not sure if we were lucky or such incidences are rare but I wouldn't ever do that in Bengaluru or Chicago because I have lost stuff in both places.
We did spend a perfect albeit short vacation with family in the Mumbai metro as soon as we landed but the traffic on the streets consumed us all. Bad as it is in Bengaluru, traffic in Mumbai is stressful. We sat hours in the car waiting for the traffic to clear. BH's craving for the mumbaiyya bhel puri had to be satisfied in a restaurant rather than his dream location of chowpati beach :-), but the bhel was really delicious. The trip only made me salute the people in Mumbai that brave the traffic every single day and still come out winners in many areas. DD turned out luckier than we were as she went out one morning with a friend and had some yummy Maharastrian delicacies in a snack joint. She was however very considerate to share the pics of the food later with me :-)
Mumbai Bhel
I was inundated with food at Bengaluru but that wasn't the highlight of the visit this time. Early in 2016, I got in touch with my long lost high school friends and ever since checking the group WA messages every day has become an obsession. I was excited with the possibility of being able to meet some of them even before I left from here. We did meet up and though we are no longer the pig tailed, folded up braids girls in green & yellow uniform, it felt like nothing much had changed from the last time we had seen each other. There was so much giggles and happy exchange of news from all corners :-). I guess growing up doesn't have to be growing old after all.. Thanks to and long live WA :-).
The only food callout I want to do from Bengaluru is my visit to Vidyarthi Bhavan. Yes I did go to this iconic dosa place in the south of B and yes it is my first time in life!!
Vidyarthi Bhavan dose
We were there on a weekday afternoon, though the place was full, we didn't have to stand in line or wait for an hour before we got in. Got the masale dose (masala dosa) the joint has got its name for.. Here is my personal opinion about the dose, I apologize in advance if I am going to make some of you hard core VB fans angry. It is not an attempt to undermine your loyalty at all. I thought the dosa was a letdown for all the hype that is built around the place. It was good no doubt but I have seen/made/had better dosas in my time. They have a unique texture of the dose and serve it with a generous pouring of chutney (not the small cup to dip into that you get in most places) but the dosa itself is very greasy and low on flavor if you ask me. It probably is the experience & history of the place more than the taste or quality. For me, it turned out a little overrated. I wish other places served chutney like VB does though, liberally with no holds barred :-). Please don't let my opinion be a deterrent, visit if you must and decide for yourself.

We also went to a temple town in the heart of Malenadu (Malnadu) and the tranquility and peace I experienced there is not something I can describe. It felt so good to just sit there and not think about anything else. The drive from Bengaluru through the western ghats is a nature lover's dream come true especially this season when everything is rich green. I found a store within the temple premises that was selling some authentic Malenadu spices and condiments and it was like finding a heaven within a heaven :-). I grabbed many bags of spices (especially the ones which I don't have easy access to) along with a few varieties of papads, pickles and the like :-).
The one particular item I fell in love with is the fresh asafoetida, it is so potent and aromatic that I had to wrap it in multiple layers of papers to avoid the smell from reaching its neighbors in the suitcase or worse still from making my clothes smell like asafoetida. This is a spice (can I call asafoetida a spice? Not sure, will find out) I love in my kitchen and am known to liberally use it just like nammamma did. So my sister keeps a big box reserved as soon as I let her know my travel plans, I had already grabbed that and when I found some more fresh ones in the store, couldn't resist buying another package. What I got is the wet one and not the powdery stuff we usually get in stores everywhere. Like I said, it was finding my own piece of spice heaven.. Back home, I am storing them diligently and carefully and hoping to extend their natural shelf life. Any suggestions on storing spices are welcome.
A 3 week trip home is not something I can talk about in one blog post. I will reserve the remaining details to future posts. I am glad I made the trip, it is like a lifeline that needs to be refreshed and hydrated every couple of years before I can become active and lively again :-).

Talking of spices (and I should stop talking now because the post has already gone too long), I am bringing a recipe today that is so flavor rich that you will burst into a happy jig eating it. It is a very simple recipe in terms of the work involved. Pindi chole gets it name from the place of its origination (Rawal Pindi). Pindi chole by definition is loaded with spices and made fragrant, it is not watery and there is no gravy per say in this dish. It is rather a very softly cooked chole with lot of flavorful spices and scooped up with the leavened bread Batura or had as a snack by itself garnished with finely chopped onion, cilantro and a dash of lemon. For my Telugu acclimatized brain, pindi means powder and I like to think of this recipe as made with a lot of powders :-) just to make sense of the name. You can completely ignore me on this one as I was trying some association games and ended up associating a Rawalpindi chole with a chole of powders. Mind games are not always what they are meant to be.
When I wanted to try the pindi chole, I looked for an authentic version all over but authentic versions are very elusive :-), each of us have an authentic version of the dishes we make at home. I saw everything from freshly made pindi masala to 'throw in the powders' and make the pindi chole recipes. I took my lessons from 2 high profile chefs (Vikas khanna & Kunal kapoor), made it my own by adjusting the ingredients and repeating a few times. Key to a good pindi chole is to use fresh spices that are rich in their fragrance and flavor. This recipe will also show you the trick to get the soft, melt-in-the-mouth (without breaking apart) texture for the beans that get flavored every step of the way. I am going to focus on the technique rather than the list of ingredients and leave the measurements somewhat vague so you can adjust them to be perfect for your taste buds. Isn't that the beauty of creative cooking? Check out the tips at the bottom of the post for dishing out an out of the world pindi chole in your own kitchen. I have made chole before and one of my favorite versions is here if you are looking to make the powder at home. And I absolutely put the new asafoetida to good use with this recipe, don't skimp on it as it reduces the side effects of the beans :-)
Anxiety extinguisher: List of ingredients is long but if you do Indian cooking on a regular basis most of these are common staples in your pantry.

What do you need to make pindi chole? 
2 cups dry garbanzo beans
1/8 Tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp kasoori methi/dry fenugreek leaves
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro chopped
For the Potli (packet) masala: 
1.5 Tsp tea leaves or coarse powder (see notes for alternative)
1 inch cinnamon
4 cloves
3-5 maratha moggu/kapok buds - skip if you don't have
1 black cardamom
2 green cardamom
a small bay leaf
1/4 Tsp javitri/mace
For the spice mix: 
1 heaped Tbsp dry pomogranate seeds/anardaana
3/4 Tbsp chole masala
1/2 Tsp garam masala
1/2 Tsp red chili powder
1 Tsp kitchen king (this is a general purpose powder I usually keep, if you don't have it supplement it with a combination of chole masala and garam masala)
1/2 Tsp dhania powder
1 Tsp amchoor powder
1/2 Tsp kala namak/black salt
1/4 Tsp turmeric
Seasoning: 
1/2 cup oil (you can use ghee here if you are ok with the amount of ghee)
3-4 green chilies
2 inches fresh ginger
1/2 Tsp good quality asafoetida/hing

How do you make pindi chole? 
Preparation steps: 
  • Wash, pick any dirt and soak dry garbanzo overnight. 
  • Next morning, drain the water out and take the beans to a pressure cooker. 
  • Add water (about 4 cups) to about 1 inch from the top of the beans.  
  • Take a small, clean muslin cloth or a thin handkerchief (you won't be able to use it after this :-)) and add the whole spices listed above into the cloth. 
  • Tie a knot to ensure the spices don't spill out while the beans are cooking and drop the potli into the pressure cooker. 
  • Add the baking soda and salt into it, close the cooker and cook the beans until soft. I usually start on medium high, let the first whistle come, simmer the stove down and cook for 20 mins before switching off. This works just perfectly. 
  • Wash, remove stems from the green chilies and slit them vertically. If they are longer than an inch, chop them in half as well. 
  • Wash, peel ginger and chop into small bits.
  • Make a coarse powder of the pomogranate seeds. 
Assembling pindi chole: 
  • Let the cooker cool down on its own, remove the potli and discard. The color from the tea would have stained the beans a dark brown. 
  • Strain the cooked beans and take them into a deep & wide vessel (this is the vessel you would also cook it further, so use one that is stove top friendly). Reserve the water for later. 
  • In a bowl, add all the dry spice powders listed under spice mix and give them a mix to make it homogeneous. 
  • Now spread the spice mix on top of the strained beans in a uniform layer.
  • Add kasoori methi on top of this in a single layer. 
  • Heat a seasoning pan, add oil and let it warm up. 
  • Add the asafoetida, chopped chilies and ginger and let it all sizzle. 
  • Pour the hot seasoning on top of the beans making sure you don't leave any powders dry in the vessel.
  • Immediately cover the vessel and rest for 10-15 minutes. 
  • Add the reserved water, return the vessel to the stove and let the contents come to a gently boil on medium-low heat. keep the vessel covered and stir a couple times to avoid it getting burnt. 
  • Switch off and add chopped cilantro. 
How do you eat pindi chole? 
Option 1: Obviously with golden bature. Make some deep fried, leavened bature, break them into pieces, use the piece to scoop up as much chole as you would like, put the heavenly combination in your mouth, chew slowly and enjoy the explosion of flavors and taste in your mouth. Repeat process until the stomach is full and brain flags error messages as it can't take any more of this ecstasy :-). Or you could skip all the drama and just eat chole with bature and have fun too :-))
Option 2: For the diet conscious in you, forget the oil fried bature, use phulkas or regular rotis or your favorite bread to scoop up the chole. This chole rocks and no matter who is accompanying, it is still satiating and delicious.
Option 3 (my favorite): No bread, serve chole into a bowl, top it with finely chopped onion, a spoonful of cilantro, some lemon juice. You can add a sprinkle of the chat chutneys (tamarind-date and the cilantro-green chili chutneys, garnish with fine sev. Enjoy as a chat. Yummyyyy!!
Tips & notes: 
  • Do yourself a favor and start with dehydrated/dry garbanzo beans. You cannot expect the already cooked, canned beans to absorb all the flavor you want them to. I know, it is a little bit more work and needs you to plan ahead but you will be happy you did that. 
  • Use fresh spices - cinnamon, cloves, cardamom all tend to lose flavor with age, this is one recipe where I cannot emphasize the need to have fresh spices and spice powders. 
  • If you have a teabag, you can use it instead of the tea leaves. Avoid fine dust directly in the potli as it gets into the beans in the vessel. 
  • If you would like, saute finely chopped onion and tomatoes in oil along with other seasoning ingredients and add it in. I wanted to keep it out since onion tends to overwhelm the other ingredients. Same for garlic if you are garlic fan. 
  • Don't start with a very dry gravy, it tends to become solid as it cools so when you boil it with the spices, add enough water to get some juice in it. The end product is not runny but succulent.