Sunday, June 8, 2014

Misal/Usal Pav - A chat from the state of Maharashtra that sets your tongue on fire but has you craving for more :-)

How many of you love chats? I do, I am an addict, can have it any time of the day. How many of you love spicy chats :-)?, I do, spicier the better for me. Every region in India has its own specialty chats and ultimately they are all tangy, sweet, spicy, salt, crunchy with loads of texture and flavors intertwined together. The best part about chats is that it is assembled per individual taste and you can make it to suit your own palate.

Usal/Misal is a popular chat from the state of Maharashtra in Western India. If I were to de-synthesize this chat for the uninitiated, it would be a dal/legume curry made with spices and served with pav (bread). Does that sound interesting or even remotely 'chat-ey' to you? Precisely the reason why one shouldn't translate everything in life, some things are best left in their original form, shape and language and some imagination. But here is the thing about this seemingly humble combination of dal & bread, it is set miles apart from any dal & bread you may have had so far by the special spices that go in to the preparation and the way it is served. If I were to stick to the dal-bread combination, I would say this is the best ever dal-bread I have had.
The first time I had this chat was (where else but) in Mumbai. That trip was a first in many respects, I had ventured out of the comfort zone of Mysore for the first time, had made an overnight train journey all by myself for the first time and was excited beyond words to be in the mahanagar (Metro). I had an older cousin who was married a few years back, settled and become a full fledged Mumbaikar (or Bombayite as she would be called then) who was my care taker for the 4 days I stayed and took it upon herself to show me the place once my exams were over (the very reason I had to go there :-)). So the second day we went out with another lady friend of hers and my little, toddler nephew to see the sights and do some shopping. I don't remember buying anything big, I was just getting out of college, didn't have much money on me but I very vividly remember being awestruck by the hustle bustle of the city. It was on the opposite spectrum of activity compared to my charming, quaint Mysore. The city didn't seem to sleep at all in contrast to Mysore which wakes up in slow motion every morning. The rains would wash over you abruptly in short bursts in Bombay which nobody seemed to mind compared to the predictable down pours in Mysore always preceded by the warning dark clouds. Everything from the crowded chawls (apartments) where people easily shared lives with neighbors to the busy streets where people just went about their lives without even acknowledging those next to them was in contrast to everything I had seen in Mysore for almost 2 decades of my life :-).

Off we went to some mandatory beach visits and shopping where my cousin proved her recently acquired skills of haggling with the vendors and reducing the price to half of what was quoted originally :-). After a long day of moving around we were all tired and hungry and she took me to a small store for some Mumbai specials. Since I had not even heard the names of more than half of the offerings there, she picked a bhel puri and and a misal pav for me to try. While bhel puri was something I liked and had experienced with, it was the misal pav I was blown away with totally. Once I knew how to bring the ingredients together to make a perfect spoonful there was just no stopping me from cleaning up that bowl of fiery hot, spicy misal garnished with crunchy farsan (meddly of deep fried snack), yumm!
Since then, I have looked out on the menu of many places I have visited to have that experience again. I found a joint in California once which claimed they had misal pav but when ordered it was so lifeless from what I always remembered and total disappointment that I stopped going to that place. The guy had absolutely no idea how to make a misal pav. When I discovered the online blogs a few years back, that was one of the first recipes I looked up and came across many variations and I picked and combined two from here and here that seemed authentic to me (blogs written by people from Maharashtra) and was pleasantly surprised to recreate the magic at home. Here is my recipe of this favorite chat and to give you the full experience while eating it, here is a cute song showing a Bombay of the 1970s from one of my favorite Basu Chatterji movie.

Making the misal pav is a multi step process and is slightly laborious. But if you sequence and plan your activities in advance, the ingredients are reused multiple times and you will end up with a great chat experience. Also, since this uses sprouted beans, you have to start the process atleast 3 days in advance depending on your climate and allow enough time for the beans to sprout. Or alternatively, you can use store bought sprouts if they are easily available. I will try and lay out the process and indicate what can be done ahead of time since this can be made in bulk and is a great party pleaser recipe and you can score some brownie points at your next get together :-). While there are slight variations of the misal pav across regions in the state, the basic concept is the same and the Kolhapuri misal tops the chart both for the taste and the spiciness.  Usal is the drier version of the recipe and misal has the gravy. You can prepare it either way according to your preference. I like it to have some gravy and then top it with the spicy Kat or cutt, the misal pav essential curry. Since this is a long procedure and I have pictures to go with it, I will cut down on my non essential chatting for now and lead you over to the world of spicy, delicious misal pav.
The entire process can be divided into:
1. Soak the beans and let them sprout
2. Make Kolhapuri chutney (which is a dry chutney hence also called Kolhapuri masala)
3. Prepare Kat/cutt/spicy curry
4. Prepare Misal
5. Assemble Misal & serve with Pav.
What do you need to make misal pav? 
Serves 4-5 people
For the Kolhapuri masala/chutney
2 Tbsp Coriander seeds
1 Tsp sesame seeds (I used white)
1 inch piece of cinnamon
1/2 Tsp black pepper
2 cloves
1/4 Tsp fennel seeds
2 Tbsp grated dry coconut (Kobbari/copra)
1/3 cup red chili powder (This is the primary cause of spice, adjust to taste)
1/4 cups thinly sliced onion
2 garlic cloves (increase per your tolerance) - chopped small
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro - washed and patted dry
1 Tbsp oil
How do you make Kolhapuri masala/chutney? - Make it the previous day
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium heat and dry roast all 7 ingredients from the top (up to dry coconut) until fragrant, takes 3-5 minutes. 
  • Take it aside on to a plate and let cool. 
  • Add oil to the pan, add onion, garlic and chopped cilantro until they turn brown. Keep aside to cool. 
  • Once cool, blend all of them together to a semi dry paste without adding any water (start the blender on pulse mode until they come together and then blend them)
  • Add the red chili powder and blend it once more. 
  • Take this aside into a dry container and keep it covered until ready to use.
For the Kat/cutt
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped tomato
2 Tbsp grated coconut (fresh/frozen)
2 piecs of kokum or a small gooseberry sized tamarind
1/2 Tsp Turmeric powder
1/4 Tsp Asafoetida
1/2 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
2 Tbsp Kolhapuri masala/chutney
3 Tbsp oil - divided use

How do you make Kat/cutt? - Make it the previous day
  • Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a pan and add the kolhapuri masala and roast on low heat for 30 secs to a minute untill the raw smell is gone. Take care not to burn it. 
  • Add the finely chopped onion and tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes on low heat until they turn limp. 
  • Add the grated coconut and continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes until you see oil popping around the edges. I don't use much oil and hence this step is not critical for me, I look for roasting the ingredients well and removing any raw smell. 
  • Switch off, cool the mixture and grind it to a smooth paste using 1/2 cup of water. 
  • Heat the remaining oil in the pan, add asafoetida and turmeric powder and the paste from above. Add about 1 cup of water to thin it down. 
  • Add the kokum or tamarind juice, salt, taste and adjust. 
  • Let the mixture boil for a few minutes. 
  • Switch off and set aside. 
For the Misal 
1 cup dry matki or moth beans (you can mix moong/whole green gram with it)
1 medium sized potato
1 large onion onion - divided use
2 kokum pieces or a small gooseberry sized tamarind
1 Tsp jaggery (adjust to taste)
1 Tsp salt (adjust to taste)
1 heaped Tbsp Kolhapuri masala
2 Tbsp grated coconut (fresh/frozen)
3 Tbsp oil
1 Tsp mustard
1 Tsp cumin
1/4 Tsp Asafoetida
a few curry leaves

How do you make Usal/Misal? - Start the process 2-3 days in advance
  • Pick any dirt or stones from the beans, wash them a couple of times and soak them in 2-3 times of water overnight. 
  • Next morning, drain all the water, wash and transfer the soaked beans to a dish cloth. 
  • Bring the edges of the cloth together to cover it, place it in a bowl and keep it covered in a dark, warm place (a closed oven works best). 
  • Sprinkle a spoon of water on top of the cloth a couple of times to keep the beans moist.
  • Let it stay put for 30-48 hours for the sprouts to be ready. 
  • Heat a Tbsp of oil, add 1/2 cup of chopped onion and fry until it is translucent. 
  • Add the Kolhapuri masala and the grated coconut and roast for a couple of minutes. 
  • Cool and grind to a smooth paste with 1/4 cup of water.
  • Heat the remaining oil in the pan and add the seasoning ingredients one by one, let the mustard pop. 
  • Add the remaining chopped onion and fry until they sweat. 
  • Add the sprouts, cubed potatoes, ground masala paste and salt. 
  • Mix well to homogenize the masala. 
  • Add 4-5 cups of water, cover and cook until the sprouts are tender and potatoes are cooked. It takes about an hour if you cook it in open, instead you can transfer the contents to a pressure cooker at this point and cook fro 2-3 whistles. 
  • Once the sprouts are cooked soft, add the kokum/tamarind juice, adjust taste as needed and let it boil once. 
  • You can make this dry (Usal) or with gravy (Misal), adjust the consistency with water. 
How do you eat Misal Pav? 
finely chopped onion
finely chopped tomato
finely chopped cilantro
Bowl of crunchy, crispy farsan or your favorite fried mixture
handful of roasted peanuts
1/4 cup of whisked yogurt
Lemon juice
Pav or bread slices
To assemble, take a bowl and ladle out the prepared misal. Add a spoon of Kat all over the top of misal. Add yogurt, finely chopped onion, tomato, cilantro. Top it with farsan/mixture. Add lemon juice on top. Keep Kat in a bowl on the side. Serve it with pav. 

To eat, break a slice of pav, dip it in the spicy Kat, use this piece to scoop up the assembled misal and put it in the mouth. Don't forget to play the song in the background to get the full experience :-). It is an explosion of flavors in the mouth that you will never forget. 
  • As I have found, the Kolhapuri masala/chutney is very versatile, add a small spoon of it to your curries or dry subzis to enhance flavor. Due to the addition of onion, garlic and cilantro this masala has a short shelf life, preserve it in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Roast the ingredients until they are well browned but not burnt. 
  • I always end up with more Kat than we can consume with the misal but find it easy to use in other curries. 
  • Kolhapuri masala or chutney is the lifeline of this dish, go ahead and prepare a fresh batch when you need for the ultimate taste. 


kitchen queen said...

delicious finger licking recipe.

Anonymous said...

Amazing presentation! Drooling here

NamsVeni Pothas said...

very nice recipe mouth watering. the video is good. nice presentation with beautiful pictures