Cloudy days, sears and sizzles

Jul 08, 2012, 08:24 IST | Yoshita Sengupta

Yoshita Sengupta sends two homemakers and an expert chef on a walk down the nearly-flooded memory lane to recall monsoon recipes that were passed on to them as part of their food heritage

The first spell of rain that decorates the dusty, parched soil with little puddles never ceases to make people nostalgic. That first smell of wet mud, walking back home drenched with a cricket bat in one hand and a char-grilled corn cob in another, staring out of the window while studying for unit tests, hastily parking the bike and elbowing fellow bikers to get them to make some room under the leaking tin roof of a kirana store — the rain has many memories associated with it.

Rajdeep Kapoor, executive chef at ITC Maratha, prepares Besan Ka Cheela. Pics/Anita Anand

Prominent among these are the smells of certain dishes that our mothers or grandaunts cooked to accompany our wet jaunts on cloudy days. Delhi-based food critic and chef Marut Sikka says, “In the scriptures, the monsoon is called pradhan, which means to give. The rains quenches our thirst and end the parched times. Monsoon foods give us enjoyment, comfort and nourishment. It’s natural that the rains stir a memory of comforting recipes handed down to us by our elders,” he says.

‘Malpua is great with rabri’

1/2 litre milk
1/4 cup maida
1/4 cup rava
1 tsp saunf
3 tbsp sugar

>> Roast the rava till it turns light brown
>> Add the roasted rava to the milk along with maida, saunf and sugar. Make a smooth batter. Ensure that the batter has a smooth consistency and does not have lumps
>> Heat the ghee and transfer the batter into a glass
>> Pour in circular movements into the ghee to form small discs
>> Fry and flip
>> Ensure that the malpua is golden brown and crisp before it is removed from the frying pan

‘Rain is equal to Besan Ka Cheela’
Rajdeep Kapoor, executive chef at ITC Maratha, dishes out gourmet delicacies to customers who visit his restaurant, but till date the monsoons remind him of his childhood in Delhi, where he, along with his family, would indulge in raucous games on the carromboard, with the entire family cheering on and competing with each other as the black and white discs raced across the board.

“The highlights of these evenings were savouring my mother’s impromptu, yet laboured preparations. Pakodas stuffed with onions, potatoes, chillies, or plain paneer, were an absolute must. The rain clouds heralded a large sampling of these crispy batter-fried delicacies. It was nothing but comfort food at its best,” recalls Kapoor. However, his most preferred dish in the monsoon he reveals, is Besan Ka Cheela served with green chutney or yogurt, and malpua, served with large servings of pabdi.

2 cups besan
2 onions
2 green chillies, chopped
A few sprigs of coriander, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ajwain
A pinch of red chilli powder
Water to make a flowing batter
Oil to fry
Salt to taste

>> Mix the ingredients, except water, in a big bowl
>> Start adding small quantities of water to make a smooth batter
>> Add water till it comes to a dropping consistency and keep it aside
>> Heat a non-stick tawa or heavy bottom frying pan on a medium flame. Pour a little oil on the tawa and spread 1 serving spoon of batter evenly on it
>> Cover the tawa with a lid for a minute
>> Remove the lid and apply some more oil on the cheela and flip it
>> Cook till it’s brown and crispy on both sides
>> Serve hot with mint chutney and yogurt

‘East Indians gorge on crabs and Bombil in the rains’
Genevieve D’Souza, 49, mother of one, a homemaker and an active member of the strong East Indian community in Vakola, says that her community looks forward to the rains so they can eat Muthias — crabs found only in the fields and the foothills after the first rains. “When I was young, my family members would go hunting for those crabs in nearby fields. Today, there are only concrete buildings around so we have to buy them from people coming from Kalyan, Uran and Thane,” says D’Souza.

Genevieve D’Souza loves to make Bombil Batata for her family on a rainy day. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

In the olden days, most East Indian men worked in the paddy fields while women stayed at home. “Fish wasn’t easily available in the season and hence would be dried and stored in advance. I remember eating a lot of dried fish curries and chilli fries in the wet season. In March, we would go out and buy kardi — small, dry prawns. These were used to make kolim (balchow),” she says.

Bombil Batata
6 dried Bombay ducks (Bombil)
2 small potatoes with skin,
properly cleaned and chopped
100 ml ground coconut paste or milk
1 big tbsp East Indian bottled masala
1 onion sliced
2 green chillies, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
1 small tamarind ball
Salt to taste

>> Clean and cut each dried Bombil into two pieces. Chop potatoes into medium-sized pieces
>> Heat oil in a pan, add sliced onions. Sauté till translucent, add chillies and stir
>> Add bottle masala and fry well
>> Add coconut milk / paste and stir (ensure the curry isn’t watery)
>> Add Bombil pieces, potatoes and a little water
>> Cook till potatoes are done
>> Add tamarind pulp and salt
>> Cook for a few minutes, ensure the tamarind blends in well with the gravy
>> Serve

‘We make special dishes to sip with tea’
Bimba Nayak grew up in a large joint family in Girgaum, where every meal was a feast. “My grandmother, 11 to 12 older cousins and aunts would get together and make sure we had something interesting to eat with our cup of tea.

Bimba Nayak’s favourite dish is Pangoji, a soft cheese ball-like fritter made using maida. Pic/Satyajit Desai

There would be crispy kanda bhajias, spicy sode batata gravy dish with dried prawns and my favourite, Pangoji, a soft, cheese ball-like fritter made with maida and either prawns or Bombil. Another monsoon favourite was the Bhanavle — a baked pie with cabbage and fresh prawns or Bombil. “I belong to the Pathare Prabhu community and we love our fish,” smiles the Prabhadevi resident, who conducts cooking classes at her residence.


1 cup maida
1 tbsp oil for batter
5 green chillies, chopped
1 tsp jeera
1 tsp methi seeds
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp soda
1/2 cup fresh/dry prawns water
Oil to deep fry

>> Dry roast and grind jeera and methi seeds
>> Mix maida, chillies, salt, soda, oil and roast together with the ground spices. Add water and make a smooth batter thick enough to coat the prawns. Ensure there are no lumps
>> Add prawns to the batter and mix well
>> Keep aside for four hours
>> Deep fry in oil until it puffs up 

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