What's cooking at this Mazgaon mosque?

Taking the idea of a community feast from the Bohra Thal, Mazgaon's Jamali Masjid is offering a unique service for its Dawoodi Bohra brethren over the past two months -- a wholesome, nutritive meal of Bohra dishes distributed to less privileged members of the community that live in the locality, without charge or expectation of reward

The city is still at 8 am on a Saturday, which makes our drive to Mazgaon's Jamali Masjid peaceful and swift. Taxi drivers are stirring to life in Narialwadi, and cyclists are enjoying the shortlived joy of riding on bare roads.

Shower-capped cooks make Tandoori rotis, Khichda and other Bohra
dishes at Mazgaon's Jamali Masjid for the Niyaz Thali, a tiffin service of
sorts. Pics/ Shadab Khan

Within the trellis-fenced compound of the mosque, shower-capped cooks  are busy making Tandoori rotis and scooping ladles of freshly-prepared Khichda into metal containers, even as a group of men sporting neat white kurtas and delicately embroidered caps, observe them quietly working in the mosque's kitchen.

"Food is revered in our community," Moiz Manasawala explains, stepping out of the group to introduce himself as a close friend of the caterer in charge, Mustafa T Lokhandwala.

"The concept of the Bohra Thal -- wherein eight people, often complete strangers from different income groups and diverse backgrounds, eat out of one platter on auspicious occasions -- is designed to emphasise equity and encourage camaraderie, sharing and humility," says Manasawala.

Taking off from this concept, the mosque introduced a 'tiffin service' from Ramzan this year. By paying Rs 2,100 a month, Dawoodi Bohras can sponsor a Niyaz Thali -- a hygienically-prepared, nutritious meal -- for their brethren. Lokhandwala, who owns a catering service, has undertaken to do this at no cost. The meals too, are distributed to those in need, free of charge.

The quality of these meals is checked by a Mosque committee, which Manasawala is part of. Called the Tanzeem, it consists of volunteers appointed by Janab Aamil Sahab, who recites prayers at the mosque. They ensure that the meals aren't excessively oily, spicy or heavy and are fit for consumption by different age groups.

A survey was conducted in Mazgaon to identify those who qualified to receive these meals before Eid. Intended mostly for the elderly, widows and those who can't make ends meet, the service has expanded since the time it began. On Eid, for instance, 52 tiffins were prepared.

Now, they are making 175. "The immediate need is for over 1,000 sponsored meals a day," says Lokhandwala, whose seven year-old firm, Anmol Caterers, specialises in traditional dishes like Mutton Patwalia, Bohra Kari Chawal (with mutton or chicken) and Channa Boti.

Saturday's lunch box contains a simple yet substantial portion of Khichda, Tandoori Roti and sweet and sour Kachumber, but the menu isn't always limited to Bohra specialties. Sometimes, you'll find Chinese, Continental and North Indian dishes, too.

"We are instructed to ensure that the meals are of the highest quality and there are specific standards of hygiene and nutrition to be met," says Lokhandwala, introducing us to M Zoharbhai Dawoodwala, a businessman who chairs the Niyaaz thali programme.

"Dubbing this a tiffin is the equivalent of calling a Bhajan a song," says Dawoodwala. The meals are sponsored anonymously with no expectation of reward, adds Zoharbhai, a member of the Tanzeem.

"Emperor Akbar used to eat some of the dishes we prepare," Manasawala says light-heartedly, "The sword he swung around weighed over 65 kg, so you can imagine the kind of nourishment he needed."

* Khandela Wheat (not crushed or broken wheat - here, the wheat is pounded to a specific texture with wooden tools. It's readily available at grocery stores in Bhendi Bazar and Mazgaon) 500g
* Moong Dal, Toor Dal and Masoor Dal (soak together in water) 25g each
* White black-eyed-peas  or Chouli (Soak these in water with wheat for approximately 3 hours; then drain) 25 to 30g
* 2 medium-sized onions (chopped)
* Green chillies 30g
* 1 tsp each of fennel seeds (Saunf) and dried ginger powder
* litre milk
* Mutton (washed thoroughly) 500g
* 1 heaped tbsp Green chillies, ginger and garlic paste
* Salt (to taste)
* 1 tbsp crushed garlic, 2 pieces of kadipatta and a pinch of Cumin seeds (Jeera) to top
* Lime, Mint and fried onions for garnishing

In a vessel, boil about 3 litres of water. Add onions and chillies. When the water boils, add the drained wheat-black-eyed-peas mixture.

Add drained dal mixture. Heat till dal is cooked. Add saunf and ginger powder. Ideally, this should be cooked over hot coals to ensure heat is evenly dispersed, but, alternately, lower heat (or turn off the burner altogether), then cover with a metal lid. Place red hot coals on the lid, and cook for 1 hours.

In the meanwhile, boil mutton with green chillies, ginger, garlic and salt.Use ghotna, chopper or blender to mash the meat Add milk to the wheat mixture. Turn in mutton, some of its stock and some salt.

Stir and cook. In a pan, heat some ghee and add 1 tbsp crushed garlic, 2 kadipatta leaves, and a pinch of Jeera. Heat and turn into Khichda. Garnish with fried onions, a halved lime and mint leaves.

To order, call Anmol Caterers on 9223263887

Dal Chawal Palida
* Basmati rice, soaked in water 500 g
* Toor dal, soaked in water 150 g
* 2 medium-sized onions -- sliced
* 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
* to tsp of cumin seeds (jeera)
* 2 curry leaves
* A pinch of turmeric powder (Haldi)

Ingredients for Palida:
* 3 tomatoes (finely chopped)
* Gram Flour (Besan) 200g
* tsp fenugreek seeds (Methi)
* Kokum 25 g
* Coconut powder blended with some water 50g
* A pinch of Haldi
* 4 pieces of chopped drumsticks
* A pinch of red chilli powder
* tsp coriander powder (Dhaniya powder)
* tsp Garam Masala
* 3 pcs of crushed Maggi (Vegetarian or Chicken) Cubes
* 1 tbsp ginger-green chilli and garlic paste
* (And the water earlier used to boil the dal)

Boil the rice and dal separately, with salt. Drain both, and reserve the water from the dal for the Palida. Heat a little ghee in two metal vessels. Heat the boiled dal and rice separately in these. Cover. When a bit of smoke rises, remove both lids and turn off the heat.

In a pan, heat some ghee, and brown the sliced onions in this. Add garlic, jeera, kadipatta and a pinch of haldi. After half a minute of heating, fold this into the rice. Add the dal.  Stir. Remove from heat.

For a smoked flavour: Make a ring with the rice so there's a hole at the centre. Place a piece of foil in the centre, and lay small pieces of red hot coal on it. Drop a dash of ghee on the coal and cover the dish for a minute or two. Remove the coal and foil, garnish with chopped coriander and serve with Palida.

Method for Palida:
Add crushed garlic paste to chopped tomatoes. Heat some oil in a deep metal vessel. Add Methi seeds and heat for a few seconds. Add Besan and heat on slow fire, stirring constantly, till the aroma fills the room.

Turn in tomato mixture and some of the water that the dal was boiled in. Add drumsticks and kokum. When the dish starts heating, stir in the coconut powder-water blend. Add haldi, dhaniya, chilli powder, garam masala and Maggi cubes.

Allow this to cook for half an hour on a slow fire. For a smoked flavour: Float a piece of foil atop the soup and place a piece or two of red-hot coal. Add a teaspoon of ghee and cover till smoke is absorbed.

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