Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pithale (Spiced Gram Flour Gravy)

Sometime around the time when I was about 9 years, I had this major desire to visit all the forts in Maharashtra, my home state. The inspiration for this came from the history lessons at school where we were learning about Shivaji Maharaj, the valiant 17th century leader who successfully fought the Moghuls and established the Maratha empire.


Shivaji Maharaj is someone who is very popular Maharashtra, for that matter, all over India. In Bombay, his name is all pervasive - you land in an airport re-named after him, you travel on roads that bear his name and take trains out of the city from a railway station again, re-named after him. However, his legacy - the forts that he captured or built - is unfortunately in ruins. Crumbling walls, ugly graffiti, trash; the political parties who re-name public buildings in his memory don't see the need to allocate any funds or resources for the restoration of his true legacy - the forts - to the original glory.


Notwithstanding their poor state, the forts we saw (yes, my parents indulged me my fancy) - Raigad, Pratapgad, Panhalgad and Murud Janjira - are nothing short of spectacular. However, there was this one fort which was very much in our neck of woods, so to speak, but our trips there were forever jinxed.



So, by the time I actually went to Sinhagad, my interest in it as a historical place was long gone. I was in colloge then and Sinhagad to me was more a picnic spot, a place that was very easily accessible and yet far away from the buzz of the city.


In the cold Pune winter, groups of us friends from college would set off on our two wheelers, almost on the spur of the moment, singing tuneless songs, hair flying in the air, munching on hara chana (green chanas). Sinhagad in winters used to be beautiful - if you set off early enough, on some days, the fog would hang low and envelop the fort. Our fingers would be numb from the cold air and hot cups of masala chai and onion bhajis were just the perfect way to beat the chill! A short stroll around the fort, munching on some cucumber slices sprinkled with salt and we'd be hungry again (!), eager to devour the spicy chicken curry and of course, the very famous pithale bhakri.


Come to think of it, there is nothing special about the pithale in Sinhagad per se. I think my mom makes better pithale. However, I have never quite re-captured the magic of eating pithale bhakri as it was at Sinhagad - sitting on straw mats and cracking useless jokes with friends, digging in from each other's plates and eating till our guts would spill out!









Ingredients:


Bengal gram flour (Besan) : 3/4 cup

Buttermilk : 2.5 cups
Water: 1/2 cup


Onion: 1 large, finely chopped
Garlic: 2 cloves, finely minced

Red chilli powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
Salt to taste
Sugar: 1 tsp
Oil


Coriander leaves: 2 tbsps, chopped
Ghee: 1 tbsp, optional


for the tempering:

Cinnamon: 1" stick
Cloves: 4 nos
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Mustard seeds: 1/2 tsp
Curry leaves: 8-10
Dried red chillies: 2, broken into a few pieces
Green chillies: 2, chopped
Asafoetida (hing): 1/4 tsp



Method:


Make a paste of the besan and buttermilk, ensuring that no lumps remain and leave it for about 30 minutes. The idea is to bring the buttermilk to room temperature before cooking.


Heat oil in a thick bottom pan or a kadhai and add the ingredients listed under tempering - in that order. Wait for each ingredient to splutter/change colour before adding in the next one.


Then add the gralic and the onions and saute till the onions turn translucent. Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder, salt and sugar and mix them well.


Lower the heat and add the besan-buttermilk mixture, stirring as you pour it in.


Pithale requires constant stirring, so pull up your sleeves and get stirring! As it cooks, the pithale thickens and bubbles like molten lava - so be careful! The only way to know if the pithale is done is to taste it - if the flour still tastes raw, stir for some more time. Normally, it takes about 15 minutes for the besan to cook.


Add the coriander leaves and the ghee, if using and mix them in.


The ideal combination is to serve them with bhakris - a kind of flat bread made with bajra or ragi or rice flours. I cannot make bhakris and so I have pithale with phulkas/rotis.





Notes:


Pithale can made thicker or thinner as per your wish. I like mine thinner, if you want a thicker pithale, use only 2 cups of buttermilk.


My pithale is quite spicy, adjust and reduce the chillies and the chilli powder to your taste. However, spicier the pithale, the better it tastes.

A slightly drier version of pithale is called jhunka; it is made by adding water instead of buttermilk. Check out this lovely post for some more reminiscences of Pune and the way to make jhunka.

18 comments:

  1. Hey Aqua, I had no idea you lived in Pune-- I so love that city! Your outings to Sinhagad sound like fun. And you're right-- the pithale served there was probably not so great, but the climb and the experience of going there with friends made it extra special. It's also a pity how the old historic buildings in Pune are going to seed-- the last time I was there which was a couple of years ago, we went to Shaniwarwada and it looked like they had done some work to restore it, but the restoration itself was rather tacky.
    Your pithale looks delicious. Thanks for linking to my post.

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  2. I always admire the way u write, enjoyed reading and this gram flour gravy sounds really delicious and easy..

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  3. Slurp! I posted my Pithla Bhakri last week and I am craving again for Pithla after looking at your's. You add even more spices than me, sounds great and looks delicious!:)

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  4. hey AD,
    enjoyed reading ur memoirs :) I enjoy the essence of Indian writing u keep in each of ur posts :)
    I've heard about this dish though havent tasted or prepared it...I am a huge besan fan :) so this recipe would def. make way to my stomach sometime soon :)
    TC

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  5. lovely & comforting Pithale..with all the story wonderland..I m sure its exiting..

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  6. I love history and history places I always feel that they have tons to talk to us!!! Pithale looks so comforting some rice and ghee mmm I'll lick the bowl clean ;D!!!

    http://memoryarchieved.blogspot.com

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  7. Ah! This is very well written. Pithala and bhakri is a great combo.

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  8. Pithale looks delicious! I read your recipe..It so much similar to our North Indian "Punjabi Kadhi"..Only difference is we add some pyaz ke pakore to it!

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  9. Your memories are very crisp and fresh!
    I never tasted this one, u even tempt me saying it is spicy, do u eat with rice or roti?

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  10. Nice clicks dear....Gravy looks creamy and yummy...

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  11. Hi dear,

    Thx for visiting my blog and for those lovely comments!!..U ve a wonderful blog with all yummy recipes..do keep in touch..following u!!

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  12. Hi dear...hope u r doing fine :) Was away for a while and I guess have missed a few posts. Enjoyed reading and this gram flour gravy sounds interesting & yummy!

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  13. 人類最大的悲劇不是死亡,而是沒有掌握有意義的人生 ..................................................

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  14. Nice curry...can be fixed in minutes, sounds very interesting...a must try version for sure:)

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  15. Thanks for bringing back wonderful souvenirs (zunka bahkar at VT station in Bombay)...

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