“You can have it for lunch with your classic monsoon khichudi; you can have it in the evening with puffed rice [and a dash of mustard oil]; or, you can just munch on it like a snack with a cup of tea while you watch the rains.” Like any Bengali worth her salt, food consultant Iti Misra cannot stop gushing at the mention of beguni.
The batter-fried eggplant fritter is a regional favourite, and — as Iti points out — as popular in home kitchens as it is in streetside shacks. The eggplant preferred is the large, purple variety, but beyond that the requirements for this treat are few. It is one of the beloved trio that Bengalis call tele bhaja (literally meaning fried in oil), along with alu chop (potato cutlet) and piyaji (onion pakora). “Just don’t confuse it with begun bhaja,” she warns.
- 1 large eggplant (preferably the purple variety)
- 4 tbsps besan (Bengal gram flour)
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
- Salt and chilli powder to taste
- Oil for deep frying
- Slice the eggplant length wise into ¼” thick slices and sprinkle a bit of salt. On the eggplant slices and set aside. In the meantime mix the gram flour, oil, salt, chilli powder and poppy seeds in a bowl. Add enough very cold water to make a batter of the consistency of thick cream. Heat about 3” of oil in a karhai. Pat the eggplant slices dry on a kitchen roll. Dip each slice in the batter and deep fry a few pieces at a time. The eggplant should be a golden brown in colour. This will take two to 2.5 minutes. Drain excess oil on paper towels. Sprinkle with black salt or chaat masala.
- Recipe by food consultant Iti Misra
The West coast has its own share of monsoon nibbles. Mumbai-based Chef Aditi Kamat waxes eloquent about kothimbir vadi, that elaborately prepared Puneri treat of gram flower, coriander leaves and spices that some simply steam and others take a step further, into the frying pan.
She readily confirms that it is synonymous with the rains, and adds, “In Maharashtrian households, like in Gujarati ones, there is always an element of farsan when preparing a traditional platter. We usually have kothimbir vadi, or turaichi vadi, or aru vadi. The easiest that can be made at home is the kothimbir vadi. Especially for upvas food, this is preferred as it can be pre-made and kept.”
Radhica Muthappa, who runs Bengaluru-based Curly Sue Pork with her husband, Uttam, grew up in Munnar on a plantation and the rains meant one thing: it was time to whip out the sandwich maker. “It was usually a scrambled egg and cheese sandwich. When pulled pork was made at home, we would add that into the sandwich. That was the treat,” she laughs.
A dish she started making after marriage and moving to Bengaluru was basale soppu fritter. “That is a traditional Kannadiga dish that fries out really crisp. It’s fairly tricky to make because the soppu is leathery and it has a lot of moisture. So, you have to wash it and pat it really dry, dip it in the batter and fry it. You need to be a little careful when preparing it. It’s not rocket science but it does have a procedure.”
Basale soppu bhajji
- 50 grams gram flour or besan
- 1/2 teaspoon ajwain seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
- A pinch of turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Wash and thoroughly dry basale leaves. This step is very important, as the leaves are thick and full of moisture and unless completely dried will result in oil splattering while deep-frying. Make a batter of the above ingredients with a little water, such that when you dip a leaf in it, it should coat it. Enjoy with some coconut chutney or tomato ketchup.
- Recipe by Radhica Muthappa of Curly Sue Pork
For Chef Regi Mathew, culinary director and co-owner of Kappa Chakka Kandhari, the monsoon is synonymous with bananas. “During the monsoon, a lot of bananas would ripen together and many would be getting wasted. So, our mothers would sun-dry these bananas and store it. And during the monsoon, there is nothing to do at home so in the evenings, we would take these bananas, cut them into small pieces, add some coconut and paani (fresh toddy boiled for several hours till it achieves a honey-like consistency). When we didn’t have paani, we would add honey. Our mothers would bring it in a big vessel and serve it in small katoris to everybody.”
Stating that the pazham nanachathu gives one that “warm, cosy feeling”, he adds, “Every time it rains, I always think to myself that this is what is missing in the evenings.”
Another dish he associates with tea time during the monsoon is unnakkai. “Unnakkai is steamed banana that is stuffed with a coconut and jaggery mix, made into small pods and then deep-fried,” he says.
Here are a few recipes to try out:
¼ cup peanuts, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon garlic, 2 green chillies or 2 teaspoons green chillies, 1 to 2 tbsps water for grinding, 2 cups finely chopped coriander leaves, ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, ¼ teaspoon red chilli powder or cayenne pepper, ½ teaspoon coriander powder (ground coriander), ½ teaspoon cumin powder (ground cumin), 1 pinch asafoetida (hing) – optional, 1 tbsp white sesame seeds, 1 cup besan (gram flour or chickpea flour), ½ teaspoon sugar – optional, salt as required, ½ cup water for batter, 1 to 1.5 cups water for steaming, 3 tbsps oil for frying
Heat a tawa or pan and keep the flame to a low or medium. Add ¼ cup peanuts. Stir at intervals and roast till the peanuts become crunchy. The peanuts’ skin will also have some brown-black spots on them. Transfer them to a plate and let them cool. Rub the peanuts in your palms. This will remove the flaky skin. Now, put the peanuts in a small grinder jar. Grind to a coarse powder. Remove and keep aside. In the same small grinder, add 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon garlic and 2 green chillies (or 2 teaspoons green chillies). Add 1 to 2 tbsps water and grind to a smooth paste. Keep aside. Alternatively, you can even crush the garlic, ginger and green chillies in a mortar-pestle. Rinse coriander leaves very well. Drain the extra water and finely chop them. For the batter, take the coriander leaves in a mixing bowl, add the ginger+garlic+green chilli paste. Now add ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder, ¼ teaspoon red chilli powder, ½ teaspoon coriander powder, ½ teaspoon cumin powder and 1 pinch of hing (optional). Next, add the coarsely ground peanut powder and 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds. Add 1 cup besan (gram flour). Now add ½ teaspoon sugar (optional) and salt as required. Mix everything well. Now add ½ cup water in parts and mix well to make a thick batter. To steam, grease a pan with some oil. Add the batter. Bring to boil 1 to 1.5 cups water in another pan. Lower the flame and holding the pan (in which the batter is there) with tongs, keep it inside the pan with water. Cover with a lid and steam on a low to medium flame. Once done, check with a toothpick: it should come out clean. When the kothimbir mixture is cooled, gently place the entire layer on a plate. With a butter knife, loosen the edges and invert the pan on the plate. Tap the pan and unmold the layer. Now cut in square or diamond-shaped slices.
To pan fry, heat three tablespoons oil in a tawa or pan. Place the steamed kothimbir vadi and pan fry on medium flame. When the base is golden, flip and fry the other side. Flip a couple of times more and fry till the sides are crisp and golden. Place the pan fried kothimbir vadi on kitchen paper towels for extra oil to be absorbed. Serve hot or warm with chutney or sauce of your choice.
Recipe by Chef Aditi Kamat
2 Nendram bananas (medium ripe), 1 cup grated coconut, 1 tbsp ghee, 1/2 tsp cardamom powder, 12 split cashews, 12 raisins, 1 1/2 tbsp sugar, oil to fry
Steam the banana, remove the skin, mash well and keep aside. Heat ghee in a frying pan and sauté the cashewnuts and raisins along with the grated coconut. Add sugar and cardamom powder to the pan and mix well and remove from fire. Apply a touch of ghee on both palms. Divide the mashed bananas into about seven to eight even-sized balls. Press the centre of each ball a little with the help of your thumb and stuff the mixture carefully inside. Make it into a spindle shape. Heat the oil in a kadai and deep-fry the unnakkai to a golden yellow colour. Serve hot.
Recipe by Chef Regi Mathew, culinary director and co-owner of Kappa Chakka Kandhari