In Gujarat, where I grew up, the din-ner menu was almost always the same: kadhi—a yogurt soup, and khichadi—a porridge-like dish made with brown rice and mung beans, or with a thick millet bread and a cooked seasonal vegetable if  one was avail-able. They also happen to be unprocessed, healthy foods. In fact, the oldest man in my village attributed his longevity to a daily diet of kadhi and khichadi.

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Kadhi, the yogurt soup, provides es-sential hydration and is good for digestion. Khichadi, made with rice and beans, pairs two complimentary amino acids and there-fore provides an ample amount of protein.  Kadhi is  also considered to be medicinal, and is served at any time to anyone feeling low-energy or perhaps coming down with a cold. Today, in my home in the United States, kadhi and khichadi are still comfort foods; when there is sniffling going around in the family, I reach out for my kadhi!

Ola, a roasted eggplant dish, is another traditional Gujarati village food, now often served in upscale Gujarati restaurants that attempt to “bring the village to the city.” A north Indian version of Ola, slightly differ-ent, is known as Baingan Bhartha.  Here is a recipe for a traditonal Gujarati Ola, and the North Indian variation—Baingan Bhartha. Enjoy!!

Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is manager and co-owner of Other Avenues, a health-food store.


Khichadi 

Ingredients

3½ cup water
1 tsp salt
1 cup short-grain brown rice, rinsed thoroughly and drained completely ½ to 1/3 cup mung dal with skins 1 tbsp butter or oil (optional)

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Method

In a heavy-bottomed pot bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the rice and beans and stir. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer gently, covered for 30-40 minutes. Uncover and check to see if both grains are done. Un-like traditional cooked rice, which is done when it is tender and fluffy, kichadi should be mushy; both the rice and the beans should be cooked until very soft. If necessary, add a few tbsps of water, cover and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes. Uncover, add the optional butter or oil, cover, and keep the pot cov-ered for a few minutes before serving. Serve Kichadi with Kadhi and a vegetable dish and/or a flat bread.

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Ola—Roasted Eggplant Dish from Gujarat

The roasted eggplant recipe featured here is known in Gujarat as Olo or Ola. In Punjab and other Northern Indian states a similar dish is called Baingan Bharta. This dish has a unique smokey flavor and is traditionally cooked outdoors on an open fire, or in a tandoor (a pit oven) at dhabas or roadside diners that are found all over India serving food to travelers.

Small Japanese eggplants are more suit-able for this dish than larger ones because they are easier to turn while roasting on an open fire or stove-top burner. They also cook faster than the big global variety. Smaller eggplants are less seedy and tastier than the big ones.

Ingredients

4 to 5 small Japanese eggplants
½ cup yogurt blended with 2 tbsps water Or, for a vegan alternative, ¼ cup water blended with 2 tbsps of lemon juice
2 tbsps safflower or olive oil
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ tsp whole cumin seeds
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced after removing seeds and inner veins
Or ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp powdered coriander
1 tsp salt or to taste
2 tbsp fresh, chopped cilantro leaves

Method

Wash and dry the eggplants. Then roast them on an open flame, one or two at a time, turning frequently with tongs so that they cook evenly on all sides. This can be done easily on a gas burner or on an electric stove top. After roasting the eggplants for ten min-utes, their skins will char and they will begin to soften. Check with a fork to see that they are cooked through and soft inside. Set them on a platter to cool.

When the roasted eggplants are cool, cut off the ends and peel off the charred skin using a table knife. Do not soak or rinse them in water as this will remove the desired smokey flavor. Next, with a knife or two forks, chop the eggplant into small pieces, but do not use a blender or a food processor for this. Place the eggplant in a bowl with the yogurt and water mixture (or the lemon juice and water mixture). Stir to blend and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the minced garlic. Cook for a minute or two, until fragrant, and add the cumin seeds. Add the eggplant/yogurt mixture (or egg-plant/lemon juice/water mixture) and stir-fry for just a few minutes. Add the rest of the spices and salt, and stir-fry just until the liq-uids have evaporated. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with cilantro.

Variation: Punjabi Baingan Bhartha

In the north Indian version of Ola the roasted eggplant is cooked with tomatoes instead of yogurt (or lemon juice). In addi-tion, chopped onion and minced ginger are included with minced garlic.

Follow the directions for the recipe above, but prepare 4-6 finely chopped toma-toes (about 1 ½ cups) in place of the yogurt and water mixture. Just before adding garlic to the hot oil in the frying pan, add a finely chopped small onion and two teaspoons of minced ginger. Next add the garlic and fol-low the rest of the method as described.


Kadhi Connection

The dark cold winters in my col-lege dorm in Coimbatore often made me crave a bowl of my
mom’s spicy Molagu Vellum along with a piece of crispy fried papad and steam-ing hot rice. Comfort food is food that provides you “consolation or a feeling of well-being” and what you think about when you think of “home.” For me it has always been Molagu Vellum (molagu is pepper and vellum is water), which is a simpler version of Kadhi and, just like in Gujarat, an antidote to colds, coughs and stom-ach ailments. Mor Kuzhambu (Tamil Nadu) and Kaalan (Kerala) are Kadhis enriched with coconut and green chil-lies and vegetables. Just as in the past, I still seek the connection to home in my Kadhi dishes during winters here in California.

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the SF Bay Area. She also blogs about cooking at rocketbites.com.

Molagu Vellum, Kadhi from Kerala

Ingredients

1 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 dry red chilli peppers broken into half
a pinch of asafoetida
3-4 curry leaves
1 cup of whipped yogurt
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp cayenne salt to taste
½ cup water

Method

Heat ghee in a sauce pan and add the mustard seeds. Once it splutters, add the fenugreek seeds, dry red peppers, asafoetida and curry leaves. Lower the heat and add the yogurt, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne and water. Season with salt. Stir on low heat, until the yogurt is warm. Make sure that the yogurt does not boil as it can split apart and become thready.

Kadhi from Gujarat

My Gujarati friends have taught me to make this sweeter  kadhi and its my all time favorite.

Ingredients

2 cups yogurt
2 tbsps chickpea flour
1 tbsp ginger paste
2-3 green chillies
2 tbsps jaggery
a pinch turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1½  cups of water
1 tsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1-2 dry red chilli peppers broken 1 inch cinnamon stick
2-3 cloves
a pinch asafoetida
cilantro leaves (optional)

Method

Whisk the yogurt with chickpea flour, ginger paste, green chillies, jaggery, turmeric and salt. Heat the ghee in a saucepan and add the mustard seeds. Once it splutters add cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, dry red chilli pepper, cinnamon stick, cloves and asafoetida. Lower the heat and add the yogurt mixture with water. Stir carefully, to  make sure that the yogurt does not boil and break. Check seasoning. Garnish with cilan-tro. Serve warm.

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