My two sisters and I were reunited in my San Francisco home in the summer of 2000 after 20 years.
Being separated for so long was difficult for us, particularly because we were so close while growing up. We used to do everything together—play, work, fight, and of course, cook! When my sisters came here, they fell in love with my newly redesigned kitchen. They were amused by the culinary gadgets and fascinated by the California summer produce. They could not believe the variety and size of peppers and eggplants available. We shopped at supermarkets, specialty stores, or farmers markets, and they cooked something new every day.
I occasionally cater for small parties but when my sisters were here, I tried to work less so that we could have more time for visiting and sightseeing. But they insisted that I take on some catering jobs so they could help feed wonderful new food to Americans!
One time I had to prepare a vegetarian dinner for 100 people and instead of my sisters helping me, I ended up helping them design and prepare an elaborate menu. Those people still talk about that amazing meal especially the main dish, undhiyu, which is rarely served in restaurants.
Undhiyu is an interesting Gujarati dish not only because it includes a variety of ingredients, but also because of the way it is traditionally prepared. In farms in Gujarat, undhiyu is cooked outdoors in a pit made specifically for this. Stuffed vegetables are placed in an earthenware pot and the top is sealed with flour paste and the pot is placed upside down in the pit with live charcoal all around. The word undhiyu means “upside down.” The pot is covered with wet grass and then the pit is covered with dirt. Since not all Gujaratis live on farms, the method for cooking is modified by city-dwellers. They prepare undhiyu on the stovetop with live coals placed on top of the flat lid of the cooking pot. A modern oven which has heat over, under, and around works great for making undhiyu, but you may miss the farm flavor if you have had the undhiyu in a village.
Stuffed Vegetables Curry
3 Japanese-style eggplants, cut into half lengthwise
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 4 large pieces
2 small zucchinis, cut into halves lengthwise
2 yellow crookneck squashes
2 carrots, cut into big chunks
1 cup cauliflower, cut into big chunks
l cup shelled peas, fresh or thawed
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup besan (garbanzo flour)
¼ cup grated unsweetened coconut
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, crushed or ground
1 teaspoon each turmeric, cumin, coriander and cayenne
2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves
juice of two lemons
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup peanut or corn or canola oil
1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
Wash the vegetables and cut them as described. Set aside.
Prepare the stuffing. Toast the garbanzo flour in a heavy iron skillet without oil for a few minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. When it turns golden brown, transfer it to a mixing bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then mix in all of the ingredients for stuffing listed above except the oil and mustard seeds.
Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the stuffing mixture and blend well. Set the stuffing aside. You will be stuffing the big pieces of vegetables–the eggplants, zucchini, and yellow squashes. Cut big slashes into each piece of eggplant, zucchini and squash. Take a teaspoon of stuffing and fill the slash by holding it open with one hand. Save the remaining stuffing.
In a big saucepan, heat the remaining oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start popping add the stuffed vegetables. Stir fry for 5 minutes and then add the rest of the vegetables. Cook at low heat for few minutes until the vegetables are well coated with oil. Add the remaining stuffing and stir for five minutes. Then add 2 cups of water and mix well.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often to ensure that the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Then transfer the undhiyu to an oven-proof casserole with a tight fitting lid. Preheat the oven to 350º and bake for about an hour until all of the vegetables are well cooked and a thick sauce has formed. While undhiyu is baking check the casserole every 15 minutes and stir the vegetables so that they do not stick but do not mash them while checking. To check if the undhiyu is ready, pierce a big piece of eggplant or other big vegetable piece with a fork. When it is soft the Undhiyu is done. Serve with steamed rice or any type of flat bread.