A timeless ritual: Ghugni

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During my childhood years, there were many practices that were religiously followed at home. As we grew up, moved places, these rituals kept evolving and eventually there were a few such rituals which stood the test of time. One such ritual was that of an evening snack called Ghugni. It is a ritual which is still in place and practiced at least once a week in my parents home.

You may find it strange that I call this Ghugni and the picture shows dried black chickpeas. This is Ghugni as it is known in Bihar. It is different from the Ghugni I have posted previously. The previous one is made using dried peas with tamarind as the souring agent. This one is  made using dried Black Chickpeas or Sookha Kaala Chana, simply known as kaala chana. Besides using different key ingredients, the two ghugnis are meant for the same purpose: snack / street food. However, they differ in their taste, texture as well as method of preparation.

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Ma prepares for this Ghugni the night before. She soaks a generous amount of the Kaala Chana in water. The next morning she pressure cooks these soaked dried chickpeas with some salt. These cooked chickpeas are then ready to be cooked in some spices to make it into what is known in Bihar as “Ghugni”. This version of ghugni is usually had with some “chooda ka bhuja” or roasted/fried and spiced flattened rice (poha / chooda / chidva).

The good news is that Kala Chana has a number of health benefits. They are high in dietary fibre. They serve as a good source of proteins for vegetarians. Therefore, this is one of those snacks where you can eat as much, almost guilt free.

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I find the Ghugni self sufficient as a snack. It definitely tastes much better the following day as the spices get sufficient time to infuse their flavours with the cooked chickpeas. It becomes a little dry with time so before serving, you will need to add some warm water and adjust the seasoning in order to suit your taste.

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Bihari Ghugni Recipe: To print the recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4
Preparation time: 8 hours soaking + 15 mins preparation [Mis en Place]
Cooking time: Up to 1.5 hours including boiling the chickpeas.
A healthy vegetarian snack though it does require a little bit of advance planning.

Ingredients:

Black dried Chickpeas [Sookha Kaala Chana]: 1 cup
Ginger: 1 medium slice for boiling and 1 tbsp finely chopped for the masala
Garlic: 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion: 1 cup finely chopped
Oil: 1 ½ tbsp. [I used Mustard oil as that is used traditionally and I like it’s pungent smell and taste. You can use your regular cooking oil if you prefer]
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon stick: 1 inch,
Bay leaf (dried): 1, medium sized
Dried red chilli: 1-2 (as per your tolerance).
Red onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Dry Mango powder (Aamchoor): 2 ½ tsp

Ingredients for the spice paste:

Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp or a generous pinch
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing:

Onions: 1, finely chopped
Green chillies: 4-5, finely chopped
Lime: 1-2, cut anyway to squeeze the juice on the cooked ghugni.

How I did it:

  1. Wash and soak the Sookha Kaala Chana overnight or for about 8 hours in water.
  2. Wash it again. In a pressure cooker, add the Kaala chana, sufficient water making to cover the chickpeas as well as extra to make sure there is enough room for the chickpeas to expand in volume, a pinch of salt & a slice of ginger. Start the pressure cooker on high heat. After the steam builds up [first whistle], lower the heat to cook for another 15 mins. If using an open pot, make sure the chickpeas are cooked through – You should be able to crush them if you press them between two fingers. They should retain their shape and not be mushy at all. Allow the steam to release on it’s own. Discard the slice of ginger. Strain the mix, reserving the liquid for cooking.
  3. In a deep bottomed pot or a wok / Kadhai, heat 1 tbsp mustard oil. Bring it to a smoking point, and then let it cool down. If using regular oil, simply heat the oil and move on to the next additions. Add cumin seeds, dry red chilli, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Let the aroma release in the oil. Reduce heat if necessary, making sure the spices do not burn.
  4. Next, add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Fry for about 2 mins on low heat.
  5. Add the finely chopped onions and a pinch of salt to season the masala. Fry on low-medium heat stirring continuously for about 7-8 mins until almost done. This is also called bhuno, a term used in Indian cooking which means to cook the spices slowly to ensure the maximum flavours are released and the raw smell from the spices and ingredients no longer exists. Doing this step right is essential to maximise the flavour of any dish.
  6. While the onions are frying, mix together all the ingredients listed under ‘Spice Mix’ and add next.
  7. Continue to cook the masala for another 2-3 mins until there is no raw smell of any masala.
  8. Next add dry mango powder (aamchoor) & the drained and boiled Kaala Chana
  9. Increase heat to high and continue to stir making sure the masala sticks to the kaala chana.
  10. Keep adding 2-3 ladles of the reserved boiling liquid and continue cooking on low-medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the Chana. The liquid additions should be enough to make sure the Chana has some extra liquid. The idea is to slowly infuse all the flavour from the liquid into the Chana while cooking the spices.
  11. Repeat this process until all or most of the liquid is used up. Remember that the cooking liquid already contains salt. Taste often to adjust the salt if needed.
  12. If serving later, heat up the chana, adding a little water to make it moist. We don’t want this to be too dry. If adding water, adjust the level of salt.
  13. Serve in bowls or a plate, garnished with chopped onions, green chillies and lime. Traditionally, this is served with chooda ka bhooja or lightly spiced and roasted beaten rice. I find this tastes great on it’s own too.

Black Chana Ghugni

Notes:

  • Chop the ingredients for garnishing just before serving. The freshness of the onions, green chilli and lime will elevate your snack to another level.
  • I spend a lot of time cooking this ghugni slowly. It helps to infuse flavours to these chickpeas and I find it totally worth the time and effort.

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Street food: Ghugni [Spicy Dried Peas] and hawker memories

A bunch of tired and restless kids wait patiently. Or at least, appear to. After what seems like an endless wait, the moment arrives. School bells ring intensely thereby declaring the end of a long day. Silence gives way to the cacophony of ecstatic children. Like honey bees, we come out buzzing from every corner of the school. As we make our way out of the school gate, street food hawkers greet us with big smiles, some freshly prepared food and a lot of enthusiasm! Some call out to us by our first name. They are all set to make their daily sale and we are more than happy to oblige!

It is extremely difficult to resist such wide variety of street food. We were faced with a moral dilemma – to snack or not to snack. No amount of hygiene education on the part of our parents or teachers helped, ever! Undoubtedly, snacking on street food was the unanimous choice! When you have aromatic chaats, savory and spicy delights tempting you, you can’t possibly walk away from it! I couldn’t. Not then.

One such snack was ghugni (dried peas soaked in water, boiled and then cooked with spices, garnished with onions, green chillies, coriander leaves and a blend of spices). The combination of tangy and spicy is what makes it extremely desirable!

“Sankara” was THE man who introduced me to ghugni during my school days. A small-built, modest man, with a striking long moustache – that’s how he looked like as far as I can remember. He didn’t, by any means, sell the best ghugni but he was definitely one of the most popular ones probably because his ghugni was the most conveniently available! It was available at the right time and right place for street-food-starved children who were waiting to dive into all that junk as soon as we were out of school boundaries. I can confidently say that generations have grown up on his ghugni and will never be able to forget him for that experience. Sankara has become a legend in my eyes and probably in the eyes of most of most of my school mates.

Ghugni is a very popular snack from the Eastern part of India. It’s made in many different ways using dried green peas, dried yellow peas, chickpeas (chhole), black chickpeas (kala chana) and fresh peas. I have made it with dried green peas. Feel free to use any other type of peas but bear in mind that the soaking and cooking time for each of the above is different.

To print the recipe, click ghugni.

Ingredients for cooking the ghugni:

Dried Green Peas: 1 Cup
Red Onions: 1 large or 1 ½ medium sized, finely chopped. (about 1 ½ cups chopped onions)
Cinnamon stick (dalchini): a thin 2” stick
Dried Bay leaves (tejpatta): 2 small
Cooking oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Garlic paste: 1 tsp
Tamarind pulp: roughly equivalent to 1 tbsp dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water.
Garam Masala Powder: 1/4 tsp
Salt: to taste
Hot water: 2 cups for soaking the dried peas. More water may be needed depending on the consistency of your ghugni.

In a small bowl, make a spice paste with the following and keep aside:
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Red Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing :

Red Onion: 1 small-medium sized, finely chopped
Coriander leaves: a bunch, finely chopped
Green chilies: 6, finely chopped
Black salt – to taste (optional)
Chaat Masala – can be bought from any Indian store
Roasted and powdered Cumin Powder (In a pan, on slow heat, dry roast cumin seeds until they become darker. Let it cool. Dry grind it to a powder. I usually make more (about 1/2 cup) and store it for future use).
Roasted and powdered Dry red Chilli (In a pan, on slow heat, dry roast about 10-15 dry red chillies until they turn dark and before they start to burn. Let it cool. Dry grind or pound to make chilli flakes or coarsely grounded red chilli powder. Again, this can be stored for future use).

How I did it:

  1. Wash the dried peas in tap water. Soak them in enough hot water to cover the dried peas. Cover and set aside. At the end of 2 hours, you will notice that the peas swell up in size.
  2. Boil the soaked peas in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt for 10 mins. Check if peas are done and boil uncovered, if needed. They should be soft but not mushy.
  3. In a kadhai or pan, heat the oil. Once hot, add the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Fry for about 30 seconds when the aroma starts to come out
  4. Next add the chopped onions and 1/4 tsp of salt. Fry on medium-high heat until the onions are golden brownish. Keep stirring in between to make sure it does not burn. This may take 6-8 minutes.
  5. Add the ginger and garlic paste. Continue to fry for another minute.
  6. Add the spice paste made above (turmeric, chilli powder and cumin powder in water). Fry for another minute.
  7. Add the boiled peas along with the water left over from boiling into the cooking pot or kadhai. Using a strainer, strain the tamarind juice adding the juice and excluding any seeds or fibres. Rub the tamarind with your fingers to make sure you extract any left over pulp. Stir and check for salt, tangy and spicy flavors. Adjust to suit your liking.
  8. Boil on low heat, covered, for about 7-8 minutes or until the flavors have combined.
  9. Sprinkle garam masala powder and check for salt and spice. Adjust if needed. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the ghugni is done.

To serve:

Take about ¾ cup of hot ghugni in each serving bowl. Sprinkle about 1 tbsp of chopped onions, ¼ tsp green chillies and 1 tsp of chopped coriander leaves. Sprinkle a pinch each of black salt, roasted cumin powder and chaat masala. And it’s ready to eat.

The quantities mentioned in the serving suggestion above are just to give you a rough idea. The beauty of this snack is that you are able to adjust each ingredient to your liking.

Finish the ghugni experience with a hot cup of tea.

Notes:

  • The garnish is a very important part of this snack. So, do not skip or ignore any of the ingredients.
  • Dried Green peas cook very fast once they have been soaked. Do not pressure cook them for more than 10 minutes. Else, they may become really mushy! You can always boil them more later once you have checked.
  • The peas should be soft without losing it’s shape. It should not disintegrate. If you have soaked them for longer than 2 hours in hot water or for more than 4 hours in normal water, boil them for a shorter period in a pressure cooker or boil them in a pan instead of a pressure cooker to make sure it doesn’t get overcooked.
  • If you do not serve it immediately after cooking, you may need to add some hot water and give it a boil before serving to make sure the ghugni is not dry. The peas tend to absorb the curry when left for some time so you may need to add more water just before serving. Check for salt if you have added more water.
  • If you need to add more water once the ghugni is cooked, use hot water to speed up the cooking process.
  • Optional: Green chutney serves as an additional garnish on this dish!
  • Some people like to have it with a bit of yogurt or add tamarind chutney on top.

Spiced Yogurt with Eggplants [Baingan ka Raita]

Regional and authentic cuisine has been a subject of interest amongst historians and foodies alike. As much as I appreciate and treasure a traditional dish for it’s originality and authentic flavors, the next generation and perhaps, to some extent, many of us have contributed in blurring the lines between authentic and fusion food.

Having been exposed to various cultures, the food that we eat or cook today at home is influenced by these cultural differences. Over a period of time, these regional recipes have become internalized by families who have adopted it and in due course given it a place in their “family recipe book”. The other effect that is a result of this migration process is a certain loss of identity of the original recipe, other than those documented by historians or food enthusiasts.

The migration of food is not a new phenomenon by any means. However, as the world becomes smaller, recipes are now only about two-clicks away. The evolution and migration of recipes seems much more fast-paced than ever before. A traditional dish from Peru if made with ingredients which are easily available, would very likely make its way to the kitchen of a family living in a remote town in India. In all likelihood, they would have improvised an Indian version of that dish and perhaps that would be a favorite of the youngest member of the family !

Today’s recipe goes back to my roots and has a nostalgic feel to it. A simple yet delectable dish made mostly in this form in Odisha (Orissa) and Bihar : Spiced Yogurt with eggplants or Baingan ka Raita. Having grown up under the influence of both Oriya and Bihari cuisine, Baingan Raita was made at home often and has been one of my favorite ways of having yogurt.

A Raita [pronounced rahy-tuh] is a condiment made with Yogurt as the base with spices and some vegetables. It’s made all over the Indian sub-continent in many different combinations but most commonly with onions, tomatoes and/or cucumbers.

To print the recipe, click here.

Baingan ka Raita (Spiced Yogurt with Eggplants / Brinjals) :

Serves : 3

Ingredients for preparing the Eggplants :
Eggplants (Brinjals) : 1 long, cut into thick rounds and then quartered)
Turmeric: 1/4 tsp
Salt: 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves : about 10
Black mustard seeds : 1/2 tsp
Asofetida (hing) : a pinch
Dry red chillies : 2 (torn in halves)

Ingredients for preparing the Raita :
Natural unsweetened Yogurt (Home made Curd / Dahi) : 1 cup
Low fat Milk (cold or at room temperature) : 1/3 cup
Roasted Cumin powder : 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder : a pinch
Salt : 1/4 tsp (adjust to taste)
Black salt (kala namak) : a pinch (optional)

How I did it :

Wash the eggplants thoroughly. Add turmeric and 1/4 tsp salt and leave aside for 5 mins.
In a Kadhai or frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add hing, mustard seeds and dry red chillies. Wait till mustard seeds pop. Next, add curry leaves. Stir for about 10 seconds and add the Eggplants.

Cook uncovered on medium-low heat until the skin is roasted and the eggplants are cooked but not mushy or breaking. Once done, take it out in a serving bowl and let it cool (5 – 10 mins).

In a bowl, whisk the yogurt using an egg whisker or spoon into a creamy smooth consistency. Add the milk. Mix it together.

Add roasted Cumin powder, Chilli powder, salt (1/4 tsp) as well as Black salt. Mix it into the yogurt.

Once the fried eggplants have cooled off, pour the yogurt mix into the serving bowl. Combine everything together using a spoon (without mashing the eggplants).

Let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 mins (or more) before serving.

Enjoy as a side with any meal.

Destination: Bangkok [Vegetarian Thai fried rice or Khao Pad Chae]

August 1996, New Delhi.

I had left Delhi under very chaotic circumstances. No, Delhi did not get more chaotic, but my life on that day most certainly was! The courier company had screwed up my package with the air tickets. Apparently, they had sent it to Bombay! My dad was in Bangkok at that time and I was to fly to Bangkok at midnight. I could see the world conspiring against me.. It would be meaningless to take the next flight as I was flying just a day before my Uni entrance exams. I retired into my room after a very stressful day of angry phone calls and a never ending wait…

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I woke up rubbing my eyes.. Some one was banging on the door! It’s only 10:30 pm for heaven’s sake! Let me sleep, I mumbled..

I opened the door somewhat pissed off. It was my uncle. He had just returned from work. The tickets had arrived! But, it was 10:30 pm. I hadn’t even packed! I was leaving the country!  This can’t be happening!!

In the next 10 minutes, my mother dumped my essentials into a bag and we were on the road. It was a good 30 minutes drive to the airport. I went in to the check-in counter while the rest of my family waited outside the airport. It was closed. I pleaded, I almost cried. It had worked in the past. And, it did, again! A staff came back, opened the counter for me. Before I knew, I was through immigration!

My family was waiting outside the airport not knowing whether I am flying or not.. And I was running inside the airport with no sense of what was going on. I was going where I was meant to go, worried that my family must be waiting outside. In those days, we didn’t have mobile phones. I was desperate to send a message across to my family, that I am flying off.. and a hug.. and a good bye.. In all the rush, I saw an airline staff just before boarding the flight. There was something about her which made me trust her.. or may be I did not have any other option. I asked her if she could page my uncle to let him know that I am flying off. She agreed. I came to know the next day that she did:)

That evening, as the flight took off, I was sad. I was leaving my country for a long long time without saying good bye to my family and close friends…

I was out of the airport in Bangkok, all alone, expecting to see my Dad. But, there was no one. Not for the next 10 minutes. Not for the next 30 minutes. I decided to call him using a public telephone. And suddenly it hit me! I had no money!!! Nothing at all. Not even a coin to make a phone call. In all the mad rush of last night, everyone forgot about money! I asked someone for help, all in sign language. This stranger gave me a coin and told me how to use the phone, all in gestures. I could not have asked for more!!

Thanks to the time difference and chaos, my Dad wasn’t aware that I had eventually boarded the flight last night! In the next 30 minutes, my Dad arrived and I was on the way to my new home…

And now.. for today’s recipe. This one is my mom’s favorite! She is a vegetarian and one that loves all her veges nice and crunchy! If you love your veges, you’ve gotta try this out!

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

String Beans: 2 to 3
Carrot: 1/3 of a medium sized carrot
Capsicum: 1/4th of a big capsicum
Cabbage: roughly 5 to 6 leaves
Thai / Chinese green leaves: 4 to 5 leaves. I used Xiao Ban Cye (you can use any other locally available greens)
Thai Garlic (or any other garlic) – 6pcs if using small Thai garlic. 3 if using the bigger garlic
Thai Chillies: 2 red and 2 green (tone this down if you don’t like it extra spicy)
Lime leaves: 3
A Bowl of cold pre-cooked rice
1/2 medium sized Onion (optional)
Vegetarian oyster sauce – 1 tbsp
Light Soya sauce – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 1/2 tbsp
Wok
Sliced cucumber for garnishing
2 chopped chillies with 3 to 4 tbsp light soya sauce (in case the 4 chillies were not enough like they weren’t for me!)

How I did it:

Cut the long beans, capsicum and carrot into 2″ long pieces. Carrots should be cut into thin and long pieces. Roughly cut the cabbage and green leaves into big chunky leafy pieces. Pound the garlic and chillies together in a mortar and pestle.

In order to make fried rice, as far as possible, use left over rice from the fridge. When freshly cooked rice is used, it does not turn out the same way as freshly cooked rice tends to stick together into lumps.

Heat a wok. Once hot, add the oil. When it gets smoky, add the pounded garlic and chilli mix into the oil. Stir fry for 30 seconds. If using onions, add sliced onions at this point. Let it turn translucent. Next, add the carrots and beans. Continue to stir on high heat. Reduce heat for 1 min to let the beans and carrot cook.

Now add the cabbage, green leaves, capsicum and the torn kaffir lime leaves. Increase heat to high. Add the soya sauce. The smoke adds a nice flavor to this dish. It is important to stir this continuously to avoid the veges from getting burnt. This may take 30 seconds to a minute.

Once the veges are crunchy and cooked, add the bowl of cold rice, basil leaves and vegetarian oyster sauce. Stir continuously and on high heat. Check for salt and add more soya / vegetarian oyster sauce, if needed. Combine all the ingredients (on high heat). This may take up to 1 minute depending on the heat.

Serve with sliced cucumber and chopped chillies with soya sauce. The vegetables lose their crunchiness if kept cooked for long. So enjoy it immediately after cooking! 🙂