The recipes that I am sharing today reflect the characteristic “Brahmin” cooking style from my native state in India – Maharashtra. The traditional cooking emphasizes on creating uncomplicated dishes in which the veggies or legumes are delicately spiced and cooked by using simple methods like sautéing or braising. I believe it is these culinary techniques that preserve the true flavor of the food and give this cuisine it’s intricate flavors, intoxicating aromas and succulent textures of home-style Indian food.

Being a Maharashtrian, it’s no surprise that these and many such authentic dishes are on the list of my “constant cravings”. Time and again, I find myself cooking this food and relishing every bite of it!

Mix ‘n’ match or pair them with steamed basmati rice or any kind of Indian breads for a well-balanced meal!

Laal Maathachi Bhaji

(Maharashtrian-style sautéed Leafy Greens)

Around the globe, the popularity of healthful eating is steadily rising and greens seem to be on everybody’s must-have lists for the grocery store! Arugula, beet greens, collard greens, dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, spinach, chard … I could go on and on. While consuming them in the form of salads might seem to be one of the simplest means to get your greens, cooking them isn’t too hard. Here’s my strategy – pan sauté coarsely chopped leaves with some onion and garlic along with a few spices and you have a delicious side dish ready in minutes. Try my technique of cooking your greens and see how they make a regular appearance at your dining table.

Growing up in India, I ate all kinds of greens – the common one, spinach and a few other regional varieties like methi (fenugreek), ambadi a.k.a. gongura (sour greens) and laal maath a.k.a poohi (reddish greens). Even today, I enjoy the rather unusual flavors of these indigenous greens by getting them from the Indian grocery stores.

Serves 2

a bunch (about 1 lb) of leafy greens (I made this with Laal Maath or Poohi that is available in Indian stores but I have tried the recipe with Red Chard too and it works perfect!)

1 small or ½ medium yellow or red onion, diced

1 large garlic clove, sliced

1-2 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, corn, vegetable)

½ tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

½ tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 pinch asafoetida (hing) (See concoctions 101 for more info)

salt, to taste

1 tsp cayenne pepper or red chilli powder (use ½ tsp if you don’t like it that hot)

1 pinch sugar (for a Maharashtrian touch)

Separate the leaves from stems and wash the leaves thoroughly to remove any dirt. *When sautéing greens, it is good to work with just-washed greens. The water helps with wilting and releasing bitterness.

Chop the greens into bite-sized pieces by stacking the washed leaves to make efficient, uniform cuts.

Heat oil in a pan or kadhai over medium flame. Add mustard and cumin seeds along with the turmeric powder and pinch of asafoetida. When the seeds splutter, add the onion and garlic. Sauté for a few of minutes and place the chopped leaves in it. Season with salt, red chilli powder and a pinch of sugar. Traditional Maharashtrian cooking calls for a little sugar in all savory recipes to bring out the flavors.

Continue sautéing for 10-15 mins on medium high heat, stirring every now and then to make sure the leaves wilt down and cook well.

Serve hot with rotis, hot off the flame!

Kaanda Varan

(Split Pigeon Peas Stew with Raw Onion)

Kaanda Varan is a dressed-up version of the everyday varan. Varan is simply a stew of yellow split pigeon peas or the toor daal and is made by pressure cooking it or boiling it over a stove with a pinch of turmeric and hing (asafoetida). When cooked, the daal is mashed up and mixed well to a pulp-like consistency, seasoned with salt and a tiny bit of sugar or even jaggery (that’s again very Maharashtrian!) and is simmered over the stove till ready to be served.

I believe this is one of our family’s recipe that has been passed on through generations! My grandmother (dad’s mother, to be specific) originally came up with it and shared it with my mom, who passed it on to me.  The original recipe calls for tempering the varan with hot oil that has been seasoned with a couple of spices and then it is allowed to simmer for a few minutes till all the flavors marry in. Then just before serving, a handful of diced sweet red onion are added along with a lot of fresh cilantro. This just adds a whole new dimension of flavor to the dish that is simply out of this world. Try it, I bet it’ll be your family’s favorite too!

Serves 2

½ cup toor daal

1½ cups water (See ratios and proportions)

½  tsp turmeric powder (haldi)

1 pinch asofoetida (hing)

1 tsp sugar/jaggery (See Concoctions 101)

1-2 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, corn, vegetable) or ghee (clarified butter)

½ tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

1-2 small green chillies

1 small onion, diced

salt

fresh cilantro/coriander (dhania), finely chopped

Wash and drain the toor daal in a stainless steel pressure cooker vessel. Add the water, turmeric, asofoetida, salt and place it inside the pressure cooker. Cover the lid and bring the cooker to a full pressure, letting it whistle for 3-4 times, then reduce to low heat and simmer for 10 – 15 mins. Toor daal needs more cooking time as its a little tougher as compared to other daals.

When the cooker cools down, remove the vessel and mash the cooked daal using the back of the ladle or a whisk to a pulp-like consistency. Transfer it to a medium sized pot, add some water if needed and season it with salt and sugar or jaggery. Simmer for 10 – 15 mins.

While the daal is simmering, heat the oil/ghee in a small frying pan. Add mustard seeds along with the green chillies. When the seeds splutter and the chillies are slightly fried (just about a min or so), remove from heat and pour over the simmering daal. Stir and continue to simmer.

Stir in fresh cilantro, diced onion and serve hot.

*A shout out to my friend, Fatema, for getting this colorful bowl from India, especially for me and my Signature Concoctions!

Vaangi Masale Bhaat

(Maharashtrian Spicy Rice Pilaf with Eggplant)

Vaangi Masale Bhaat is quite simply the masale bhaat made with slices of baby eggplants. If I’m in the mood for some masale bhaat, I make it plain, mix in sliced onions or cauliflower, peas, cabbage, gherkins, any vegetable that’s easy to find in the refrigerator drawers. This time, it was a couple of baby eggplants!

Serves 2

2-3 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, corn, vegetable)

½  tsp mustard seeds (rai/mori)

½  tsp cumin seeds (jeera)

1 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)

1-2 pinches asofoetida (hing)

2 baby egg plants, sliced in quarters (or any of the veggies mentioned above) (If you can’t find baby eggplants, you can use about ½ cup of diced regular or Japanese eggplants)

1 cup Basmati rice

2 ½  cups water

salt, to taste

½  tsp red chilli powder

1½ tsp Maharashtrian Goda/Kala Masala (Some Indian stores in the US carry this masala. If you just can’t find it, you can use the regular Garam Masala)

grated coconut, fresh or frozen thawed (optional for garnishing)

fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped for garnishing

ghee (clarified butter optional)

Rinse the basmati rice in water and set aside.

Heat oil in a large pot and add mustard and cumin seeds along with the turmeric powder and pinch of aesofoetida.

When the seeds splutter, add the eggplant and sauté for a min. Add the rice and sauté for another min or so.

Season with salt, goda/kala masala and red chilli powder. Add water, mix well and cook covered for 15-20 mins on medium-low heat, stirring once in a while, till the rice soaks up all the water and is well cooked.

Serve steaming hot with a teaspoon of melted ghee.

Mirchiche Bharit

(Roasted Green Pepper Raita)

Most of the time, my koshimbirs i.e Maharashtrian raitas are pretty rustic. There are the usual contenders – cucumbers, carrots or tomatoes tossed in with salt, sugar, a couple of green chillies sliced, a splash of lemon juice and lots of fresh cilantro. However, once in a while, I think of some other variations, like this bharit and serve it along side of a rice preparation like the masale bhaat or khichadi.

This unique raita gets its characteristic smoky and mildly bitter flavor from the roasted green peppers that go in it as the main ingredient. To offset the bitterness, the traditional recipe also calls for a little amount of sweet red onion, mixed in with the cool yogurt. A small sliced green chile adds a hint of spiciness and ground roasted peanuts give it a little crunch.

Serves 2

1 medium green pepper

1-2 green chillies, sliced

1 cup yogurt (any kind)

salt, to taste

1/2 tsp sugar

2-3 tbsp ground roasted peanuts (See Concoctions 101)

fresh cilantro/coriander, finely chopped for garnishing

Roast the green pepper on stove top by placing it whole directly on the flame with highest setting. Turn frequently with the help of tongs and continue to roast till the outer skin is blackened or charred. (Refer to Concoctions 101 for techniques of roasting peppers)

Set aside and let it cool completely. (If you prefer to peel the charred skin off, place the peppers in a bowl right after roasting, cover it with a plastic wrap and let it sit for about 1/2 hr or so till it cools down completely)

Once cooled, pull out the stems and slice them open.  You could use a spoon or a fork to remove the white membranes and the seeds inside. Dice the main part of the pepper along with the charred skin.

Add green chillies, yogurt, salt, sugar and ground roasted peanuts to the mixing bowl and mix gently so that the yogurt coats all the ingredients evenly.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve on the side of rotis with subzi or khichadi or pulav or even parathas.

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