Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jumaelay Halo! Kutchi Bhatia Cuisine Excerpts from an article I wrote in 2005.

A journey into the history of an unknown community and their food-ways …

Food is essential for human life. However, humans view food as much more than basic sustenance. With sustenance we also apply great significance to the foodways we grew up with. India plays home to myriad religions, cultures and communities, each of them with their own foodways, One such unknown community is the Kutchi Bhatia Community. Descended from a warrior race, Kutchi Bhatias are today largely engaged in trade and commerce, a field in which they have done immensely well. The food they eat is unique in its simplicity and fresh flavor. It is often also hidden under the classification of Gujarati food.

The Kutchi Bhatia Community has a very interesting history. While legend tells of their having descended from Lord Krishna himself, closer in history tangible evidence pinpoints a period some time in the 6th century, when a Raja Bhoopat ruled Lahore. Famous for his valour, courage and administrative shrewdness, the dynasty he founded came to be known as the Bhatti or Bhati dynasty from which the word Bhatia is derived. The Bhatias successively founded Tannot, Deraval and Jaisalmer in A.D. 1156 and ruled successfully until the reign of Raja Mulraj (1316) when the Bhatia race was threatened with extinction.

The Jaisalmer fort had been under siege for a year and with his resources dwindling, Raja Mulraj was forced to take a decision that changed the future course of the Bhatia community. The aged and the young were secreted out of the fort while the king and his army launched a bloody do-or-die offensive! They lost, however, their women choosing death over the dishonor of capture. The remnants of the Bhatias that had escaped the fort, eventually made their way to Punjab. They changed their occupations from that of Kshatriyas or soldiers to Vaisyas and took to trade or agriculture.

Over time they spread out into areas of Rajasthan, MP, Halar and Kutch. Time and Geographical distance factored in and the community fragmented. The root culture was the same but marked albeit subtle differences in the lifestyle, language and larger changes in food habits - due to diet being adapted to locally available ingredients - made themselves apparent. Eventually it was the Bhatias that settled in Kutch that earned the name “Kutchi Bhatia”.

While Kutchi Bhatia food is classified under Gujarati food, there is a marked difference in the cuisines. It does not manifest itself in the names of the dishes; in fact there are a lot of dishes common to both Gujerati and Kutchi Bhatia food. The difference is noticeable in the style of preparation of dishes. Where Gujarati food tends to be oily and leans towards sweet heavily spiced fried foods, Kutchi Bhatia food happens to be one of the healthiest Indian communal cuisines today.

Food is cooked with fresh seasonal ingredients and comes to the table, steaming hot, and straight of the flame. The use of oil is minimal and flavorings lean toward the Surti style with a predominance of leelo masallo (or fresh green masalla), usually a combination of Ginger and Green chilies. The use of garam masalla is minimal and spicing is used to compliment the dish being cooked, at no point overwhelming the natural flavor of the food. Unlike Gujarati food, the sweetness quotient of gur or sugar is selectively used. Gur or Sugar are only added in dishes where a balance of flavors needs to be achieved like in the yoghurt based Kadhi or Khatta Mug (whole mung cooked in yoghurt) or tomato based dishes where there is a need to alleviate the acidity of the tomatoes.

The other difference lies in the inherent ability to innovate of the Kutchi housewife. She will try and vary the menu at each meal, ensuring that along with a new vegetable the Daal is also alternated, either with different Daals or with other preparations like Gol Kokum ji kadhi or Osaman. Rotis might also be alternated with Jowar or Bajra rotis, in which the dough for each roti is mixed individually and flattened by hand.

Some of the most traditional meals of the Kutchi Bhatias aside from the classic Jowar and bajra rotis served with lehsun Chutney are Chutti Khichdi and Osaman – Unlike normal khichdi, Chutti Khichdi made by cooking the daal and rice separately. The daal is cooked in extra water till it splits, the water is then drained and reserved, and meanwhile rice is added to the daal and cooked to a khichdi consistency. The reserved water is then spiced, and made into a Rassam-like Osaman, light, delicate, fragrant with Coriander and Curry leaves and tender coconut. Osaaman may also be made of Dal alone, in which case it is served alongside Lachko Dal in which the  solid dal left after straining out the cooking liquid is temopered with ghee and asafeotida.  

Another classic meal is Khara and Mitha Chavda. Khara Chavda are spicy besan panckaes and Mitha chavda are fermented wheat pancakes that are are sweetened with gur. The spic and sweet pancakes are usually served together.

A proper Kutchi Bhatia meal will consist of a Daal, one or two vegetables, thin ghee dabbed rotlis or Phulkas and some form of salad, all washed down with copious amounts of Chilled Kutchi “beer” or Chaas. There might be a dessert and a farsan preparation to augment the meal if there are guests. It is also the endeavor of the Kutchi Bhatia cook to achieve a balance in flavors. Salty, sweet, spicy and sour, all make their presence felt on your palette at every meal, either through a combination of ingredients or through a combination of dishes i.e. if a dish is characteristically sour it will always be accompanied with a sweet one. A classic example of this is the delicious combination of Kadhi with Puran Polis. (The Kuchi Bhatia Puran Poli is different from its Maharashtrian counterpart in that it is made with tur daal instead of Channa Daal.)

Vegetables served are seasonal, cooked by themselves or in combination with other vegetables or ingredients to best reveal the characteristic flavor of the vegetable. There will be some amount of water added to the vegetable, and it will be cooked to a tender but firm to the touch consistency. Vegetables served are always moist and in light gravy either of the juices released by the vegetable itself or made with onions and tomatoes. Some classic combinations include, Fansi (French beans) cooked with fresh grated coconut, Sambhariyu – assorted vegetables stuffed with spices besan and coconut and cooked in its own juices, Guvar, turiya and Kola – a combination of Guvar, Ridge Gourd and Pumpkin, Doodhi Tameta jo rasavalo shak – white Pumpkin and tomato and Kela Methi jo shak Plantain and Methi subzi. Vegetables are always garnished, some like with fresh green coriander.

Vegetables will also be on the plate in the form of a Salad like the Khaman Kakdi - a refreshing blend of cucumber, crushed peanuts and tender coconut, Kanda Tameta jo Salad – wilted onions and tomato salad, Gajar tameta jo salad – wilted Carrot and tomato salad. There will usually be Chutney and a variety of pickles to pick from as well. The Chutney is usually a fresh one made of Coriander or more seasonal ones like the Raw mango Chutney in which raw mango is ground with cumin and Jaggery.
The pickles made by this community deserve a special mention, in that they are very unusual and delicious. They are also simply made. Some classic pickles are the Methambo – more of a cross between a chutney and a pickle, made of Mango, the Methambo is a combination of sweet jaggery and sour green mangoes that are just beginning to ripen, Davara – a green berry that is made simply by marinating in salt and turmeric and the delicious green pepper pickle in which green pepper is preserved in salt and lemon juice.

The sweet preparations of the Kutchi Bhattias are varied, and a lot of them are common across Gujarati and Rajasthani food but they do have some typical favorites, like the Dudh pak a spiced milk preparation with rice, like a thin Kheer. They also make Srikhand, Mevavati and a host of other sweet dishes. One of the most unusual sweetdishes, that is rare even among the Kutchi Bhatias themselves, is the Tapkhir jo halvo or Arrowroot Halwa. Rarely made today this unique dish is quite delicious and very pretty with the golden translucency of Arrowroot and Saffron.

Today the enterprising Kutchi Bhatia community continues to be an adventurous and enterprising community that comes to the forefront in all their endeavors. Traces of their royal genes are still evident in their tall statures, fair skin and aristocratic appearance. Today the community has spread all over the world and they continue to do well in whatever field the pick and with each step they take, their cuisine travels with them, a link to their illustrious past.

Lachko or Kathan Daal

Time 30 minutes, Serves 4-6

1.5 cup Tur Dal
¼ tsp Turmeric powder
¼ tsp Asafeotida
1” piece Ginger, sliced
1 tbsp Ghee
Salt to taste

Combine the Tur Dal with 9 cups of water, in a cooking pot. 
Add the sliced ginger, and turmeric. Bring it to a boil. Lower flame and leave to simmer.  
When cool strain out the liquid for Osaman and keep aside. 
Heat ghee in a small pan, add asafeotida and let is splutter (30 seconds). Pour this over cooked split gram. Churn the cooked gram to smooth consistency. Return to heat, add salt and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. When it is thickened to a porridge consistency, take it off the gas and serve hot with rice, Kadhi or Osaman.

Osaman (Spiced split gram Water)
½ cup Yellow split gram
1 tsp Ginger–chili paste
4-6 pieces Kokum
3-4 tbsp Jaggery
½ tsp Turmeric powder
For Tempering
1 tbsp Ghee
2” piece White radish, thinly sliced
1 Green chili, slit
¼ tsp Fenugreek seeds
¼ tsp Mustard seeds
¼ tsp Cumin seeds
¼ tsp Asafetida
A few curry leaves
To Garnish
Grated coconut and coriander leaves

Pressure-cook the split gram with 8-9 cups of water. When cool, churn well and add ginger-chili paste, kokum, and jaggery and turmeric powder. Boil this for 10-15 minutes. Heat ghee in a small pan; add fenugreek, mustard and cumin seeds. When they splutter, add asafetida, curry leaves, chili and radish. Pour this tempering over Osaman. Simmer it for 10 minutes. Garnish with grated coconut and green coriander leaves. Serve hot with Kathan daal and rice.
Serves 6

Kobi ja Muthia (Cabbage Dumplings)

Time 1 hour 
Serves 4-6

1 cup Wheat flour
½ cup Gram flour
200 gms Shredded cabbage
1 tbsp Ginger and Green chilli paste
1 tbsp Oil
¼ tsp Soda
½ tsp Sugar
¼ cup Yogurt
Asafeotida, a pinch
Salt to taste

For Tempering2 tbsp Oil
1 tsp Mustard seeds
2 tsp Sesame seeds
3-4 pieces (Boria Marcha) Round red chilies
Curry Leaves 2-3 sprigs 
Asafeotida, a pinch

To Garnish
Finely chopped coriander leaves and grated coconut

Mix both the flours and add, oil, salt, sugar, soda and asafetida. Sprinkle a little salt over cabbage and set aside for 10 minutes. Then mix the cabbage and yogurt to the flour mixture. Take a little oil on your palm and bind the dough. Divide it into two. Shape each one in a cylindrical shape and place it on oiled sieve. Steam the Muthias for 15-20 minutes. Remove from sieve and let it cool. Now place them on chopping board and slice them into 2cm. Thick slices. Heat oil in a frying pan, add mustard seeds, when they splutter, add sesame seeds and asafetida. Finally add chilies and curry leaves. Add steamed Muthias to this tempering and mix very gently to coat the tempering to all the pieces properly. Fry them until slightly crisp. Garnish with coriander and coconut and serve with green chutney.

Green Coriander Chutney
Makes 1 cup
1 bunch Coriander leaves, chopped
½ cup Coconut, Freshly grated
1 tbsp Peanuts
1” piece Ginger, chopped
3-4 pieces Green chillies, chopped
1 tsp (each) sugar, salt and cumin seeds
Juice of 1 lemon

Chop coriander leaves coarsely. Put all the ingredients together in a grinder and make a thick paste. Use a little water if necessary. Serve with any savory dish.


paati said...

hi your meth ambo recipe looks easier than the tarla dalal recipe that i have( & yet to try it out).btw i am also a member of the same forum but yet to post a message there!anyway thanks also for the pickle recipes on digital...I have copied down all your pickle recipes in my cookbook!

Rushina said...

Thanks Paati.

I am glad you liked the recipes.


Alexandra said...

I love all your recipes, they're so pretty and very tasty as well. I have a new blog of my own and was wondering, since I made your pomagranate salad shots, if I could put up a picture and short post about it. It would be wonderful if I could!
Thank you very much, and kudos on all the beautiful food!

Rushina said...

Dear Alexandra,

Thank you for your kind compliments. They have made my Sunday morning a little brighter...

Yes, by all means put up a post about my Pomegranate shots recipe. I only ask that you attribute it to me and link your post to mine for the actual recipe.

All the best with the new blog and culinary school!


Minal Khatri, London said...

Can I thank you for putting up some tradtional bhatia recipes. As a bhatiani who has grown up in the UK and who has married out of caste but wants to keep hold of some culinary roots; I was absolutely delighted to see kadhi and osaman recipes.

I have recently just bought a new house with my husband and these recipes will be so welcomed!

I will also try them ou when my mum visits to impress her!

Minal x

Gauri said...

do you have any links for kutchi recipe websites.....? I'm kutchi and can mostly make everything but it was still fun to read your article. g

Rajni said...

hm, it seems this gauri is my daughter. she is a good cook and i love to eat what she prepares,though she admits her lachko dal never turs out like mine! hope your recipe helps her.i learnt from my mother and that basic idea of taste of a particular dish makes you add and improvise till you achieve perfection!anyway, would love to learn some typically rural or rustic recipes which are not so commonly come across in urban food habits. thanks. This is RAJNI ASHAR from MUMBAI.