Thursday, October 10, 2013

Kadle Kalu Usli a.k.a black chana Sundal a.k.a sauteed black chick peas - easiest offering during Navaratri

Nimellarigu Navaratri Habbada Shubhashayagalau (Wishing everyone a Very Happy Navaratri festival)

Today is the 7th day in the Navaratri series and is typically started off with Saraswati pooje or by praying to the Goddess of knowledge. We had this discussion with kids last weekend at our Balavihar about what kind of knowledge was worth seeking, there were some really enlightening kinds of responses. Any adults up to playing along? Of the nine nights, the first 3 days are dedicated to Goddess Durga who is worshipped to kill the ego within each of us and everything that hinders a path of self realization, the second 3 days are celebrated in the worship of Goddess Lakshmi to provide us with the wealth of tools to seek knowledge and make us equipped to make the journey and the last 3 days are celebrated in the worship of Goddess Saraswati to bless us with the actual knowledge or the self realization. It is the wisdom to realize who I am (for each of you to know who you are :-)). Beautiful, yet very hard to come by. Takes years of practice and quest which we are all on - different paths, stages, speeds and means but same goal.

With that thought on the significance of Navaratri pooja, I will take you to my kitchen to share one of the most commonly prepared offerings during the festivals in the South India. It is popularly known as Sundal in Tamil Nadu while we call it Usli or Usali in Karnataka. Andhra Pradesh has a sibling of this dish called vada pappu but the legumes are uncooked and is more like the kosambari but without any garnishing or seasoning. A protein rich dish, easy to put together and is completely saatvik in the traditional form(no onion or garlic is used in these recipes).
There are uslis made from a variety of legumes and dals and you will see these when you visit homes during Navaratri. The basic principle is the same while replacing the star of the dish. Some of the popular varieties of Usli in Karnataka are - Kadle Kalu usli (Chick peas - either black/brown colored or the golden garbanzo), Hesaru kalu usli(whole moong), Alasande kalu usli (cow peas), Hurali kalu usli(horse gram), Kadle bele usli (chana dal), hesaru bele usli(moong dal). You will also find peanut usli, green peas usli, corn usli etc. You get the picture, right? Take a legume, follow a few simple steps and you will end up with a delicious snack. Yes, this can be eaten as a snack, side dish during a festive meal or any time you prefer :-)

Basically, the legume is cooked (how you cook and how much you cook entirely determines the deliciousness and the presentation of this dish), sautéed with herbs, coconut and green chilies. Lemon or lime juice is added for the tartness. That is all there is to it. Now, pick a legume of choice and make this easy usli. The ingredients I have given are the whole traditional nine yards for this dish, but don't panic if you don't have the curry leaves or if you choose to skip green chilies and use red chilies or put less or more coconut than suggested. It will still be a delicious usli. I would strongly recommend asafetida though as that is the flavor I identify a festive usli with :-), it reminds of care free childhood days, nammamma in her kitchen wearing a silk seere and scurrying about to get all the dishes and arrangements ready. Ah, the smells, sounds, taste and nostalgia, doesn't take much to transport me to Mysore.
In Mysore, when we went to visit the doll displays around the neighborhood, we would get an equivalent of current day return gift called baagina. Neatly packed in eco friendly cups made from leaves and dried to hold stuff (we call it Donne in Kannada) and sometimes put inside another small pouch, the baagina would be different for adult women and little girls which I thought was very unjust. So the moment we were out of a friend's house, I would grab nammamma's packet and compare notes. Anything interesting would shift to my packet while all uninteresting stuff would stay in hers :-). And here is a very important discovery based on facts that this is not just a childish gesture but a gene with a very definite marking and gets transferred from generation to generation. I saw DD do the same thing last weekend when we went to a friend's house as her bag didn't have the usli in it :-). Obviously, she has not seen me do it and I am usually pretty careful sharing the not-so-proud moments of my childhood with her :-). By the time we reached home, the usli packet had journeyed involuntarily into her bag and thus became rightfully hers.

I have 2 ways of preparing usli - both delicious but slightly different based on who I am serving it to. If there are  a lot of younger kids and people that do not eat spicy food, I follow the easier/milder version and if I am preparing it for people that enjoy a little spice in the dish, I follow the easy/spicy version:-). So here are both ways of making a usli and you get to choose how you will make it for your loved ones.

Enjoy the usli, go out and dance some Garba or Dandiya if you can manage and don't forget to come back as I have lined up a few delicious recipes. See you all soon again.
What do you need to make Kadle kalu usli?
1 cup dry black chick peas (see notes for alternatives)
1/4 cup grated coconut
1/2 Tsp salt
2-3 green chilies
1/2 lemon/lime (equivalent of 1-1.5Tsp juice)
1 Tblsp chopped cilantro
2-3 curry leaves
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1/8 Tsp asafoetida (* very important flavoring agent)

How do you make Kadle kalu usli?
  • Wash, pick over dry kadle kalu and soak it in 3 cups of water over night or atleast till it plumps up and doubles in size (minimum 8-10 hours)
Perspective of dry and soaked chick peas, notice the moistness and size on the right
  • Rinse, wash and pressure cook for 2 whistles with salt and 1.5 cup of water.
  • Let it cool before opening the pressure cooker.
  • Drain the cooked kalu, reserve water to be used as a nutritious stock in soups, rasams and the like.
Easier & Milder version:
  • Remove stems of the green chilies, slit vertically and cut into 2 or 3 pieces horizontally.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard, let it pop, add the green chilies and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Add the asafetida and curry leaves followed by cooked & drained kadle kalu, add grated coconut, chopped cilantro and mix well.
  • Add the lemon/lime juice. Taste test and adjust salt or lemon juice to taste.
  • Switch off, you can serve this hot, warm or cold.
Easy & spicier version:
  • Take the grated coconut, half of cilantro, and the green chilies to a blender and pulse them into a coarse crumble without adding any water preferably.
  • Heat oil in a pan, add mustard and let it pop, add the curry leaves and asafetida followed by cooked & drained kadle kalu.
  • Add the coconut paste, mix it well. Add the lemon/lime juice and the remaining cilantro.
  • Taste test and adjust salt or lemon juice to taste.
  • Switch off, you can serve this hot, warm or cold.
  • You will have to control the cooking time based on the legume you choose, some need the pressure cooker to cook fast and some fall apart if you use pressure cooker. The idea is to cook them soft and juicy but not mushy. For example, I always cook whole moong in an open vessel, takes about 15-20 minutes if you have soaked and plumped the moong before cooking.
  • Soaking the dry legumes not only reduces the cook time but also gives the right texture to it. So plan an evening before and soak it in plenty of water over night.
  • If using canned chick peas (I haven't seen black chick peas in cans though), be careful to choose a brand that doesn't have the peas cooked too soft that they break while sautéing.
  • If using frozen coconut, thaw it and bring it to room temperature.
  • Sautéing green chilies in oil tones the spice down and also spice intolerant people can fish out the big pieces of the chili while eating and avoid the heat.
  • If you have to use a couple of spoons of water to make the coconut paste, increase the heat once you add and let the water evaporate before finishing it up.


Kaveri Venkatesh said...

I too remember grabbing my mother's bag to check what goodies were there for her..and now my daughter does the you said its in the gene...
delicious sundal

NamsVeni Pothas said...

dasara wishes to every body . usili is really wonderful prasadam easy preparation with a healthy recipe. nice photos .

Kannada Cuisine said...

Dasara Habbada Shubhasahyagalu..
I was missing usli this time around :)

Priya Suresh said...

haha, seriously i did the same and my daughter with my bag, its all a game na.. Seriously i love that spice paste, usli looks fabulous and nutritious.