Pulse fiction: How I fell in love with my legumes all over again

It is that time of the year when dried pulses are making a comeback. Among other things, vegetables have become so dear that it is currently inducing the fiscally wise (yours truly included) to adopt hi-protein legume diets, Atkins or no Atkins (the last I checked, it appeared that it was cheaper to be a fruitarian) Suddenly, the husband’s cold-cuts were paling in cost compared to my tomatoes and cauliflower.

Since it breaks my heart to buy veggies by the quarter of a kilo and since potatoes and onions don’t exactly a wholesome meal make, I began to explore legumes, a produce hitherto neglected by me-with-a-fetish-for-everything-fresh.

For one week, I am going the pulse route, I decided. A world of low fat, high fibre, no cholesterol, low glycemic index, high protein, high nutrients option at a remarkably low cost.

Until recently, my pulse odyssey was limited to rajma and chholey, apart from that great south Indian contribution, adai (but more about that in another article). It took me a while and a lot of minimization to perfect the recipes for the former two, but I finally culled out a simple, but great one for rajma from CY Gopinath’s blog (courtesy Guru da Dhaba in Lokhandwala) and the one for chholey which does not involve a million masalas from my Futura cookbook, an acquisition with my Futura cooker, one of my prized possessions, which hopefully, Re will inherit.

In my week of living with the beans, I also tried a moong kadhi, an olan, hummus, a chickpea and aubergine stew, a rajma salad and various adai mixes.

Of course childhood memories of the mother doling out a regular dose of a chowli-yam-raw banana-eggplant-concoction in tamarind gravy (puli-kutthi-kuttu, she called it) come flashing back. I never really acquired a taste for it, but it was an existential yet wholesome meal, to say the least. I could never tell if it was a main course or an accompaniment—so overwhelming was the veggie to gravy ratio.

My favourite pulse starrer is still the olan (the one with white pumpkin and red beans). It is subtly flavoured, yet satiating, and easy on the palate. I can eat it by itself, although rasam rice goes every well with it.

Hummus (something that Re takes in his tiffin, and people think I’m showing off)

Chickpeas: 200 gms

Juice of two lemons

Olive oil – one tablespoon

Garlic – 6-7 cloves

Tahini paste (optional, and over-rated) one tbsp

Salt to taste

How to make it:

Soak chickpeas overnight, and remove loose skins if any. Pressure cook till soft. Cool. Drain cooking liquid and set aside.

Grind the chickpeas and the chopped garlic to the right level of coarseness, adding the cooking liquid for consistency.

Now, squeeze the juice of the lemons into the ground chickpeas and mix well. Add a dollop of tahini paste (available at gourmet food shops or supermarkets) and mix well, adding salt to taste. Add the olive oil and mix well.

Garnish with chilli flakes or chopped parsley and serve chilled. Can be stored for a week.

(Works well as a dip or a sandwich spread, with lavash, pita bread or even crackers for a quick hunger fix. )

Tip: If you want to make your hummus more exciting, try adding a few pickled jalapenos to the chickpeas while serving.

Moong kadhi

Whole moong: 1 small cup, soaked

Curd

Turmeric powder

Chilli powder

Salt

Sugar

Besan

For the tempering

3-4 cloves of crushed garlic

Method:

Soak the whole moong for half and hour and pressure cook well with a pinch of salt.

In a pan, whisk 250 gm of curd, two teaspoons of besan, a pinch of turmeric, a pinch of chilli powder, salt to taste and a pinch of sugar. Mix well, breaking lumps formed, if any.

Now add the boiled moong to it, and enough water to have a kadhi like consistency and bring to a boil. Switch off gas.

For the tempering: Heat one teaspoon oil and fry the crushed garlic till light brown and pour over the kadhi

Serve hot with rice and papad.

Olan

White pumpkin ¼ kg

Red chowli 100gms

Green chillies – 2

Salt to taste

Coconut oil for garnish

Method:

Skin the white pumpkin and cut into 2’ x 2’’ slices of 1 cm thickness. Wash well.

Now soak the red chowli for half an hour and pressure cook it with a pinch of salt till well done, but still whole and not mashed

In a kadhai, transfer the white pumpkin add some water, salt to taste and cook on a slow flame.

Crush two green chillies and add them to the pumpkin, mixing well.

When the pumpkin is nearly cooked, add the cooked chowli into it, stirring well.

Drizzle some fresh coconut oil over the olan for the authentic south Indian touch(optional)

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No, I am not a white broccoli

One of the things I told Re when he turned four was that the cauliflower was not a white broccoli. I thought it was about time the cauliflower earned its own identity, although I nodded vigorously when Re designated it thus two years ago. Broccoli was then an object of affection, and I figured, anything goes, as far as more vegetables enter his repertoire. But now that the cauliflower has assumed a place of its own in Re’s life, I thought it was time to tell the truth. It went well, I am happy to report.

To be born a cauliflower is an elegant thing in itself—it’s like what can possibly go wrong with a Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie offspring? It will have the looks, the body, and of course the bite to go with it.

Having said that, the cauliflower’s natural beauty is perhaps one thing that gets in the way while trying to cook it. Mutilating it like the South Indians do in their poduthuvals is close to criminal, dousing it with coconut, chilli and garlic gravy like the Maharashtrians do is sacrilege. I for one always have issues about ‘deflowering’ this thing of beauty, rendering it leafless, almost bald. With such reservations, transforming it into an out-of-world experience is a daunting task. As Aamir Khan said in Dil Chahta hai, “Perfection ko kaun improve kar sakta hai?” (how can you improve perfection?)

I must say the north Indians have cracked this. Like they have totally figured out that only-ginger-no-garlic is the way to go for this flower. Or that less is more (so roasted and crushed jeera and a whole chilli are perhaps the only things that pass muster). They have also figured out the slow cooking is the only way to get your gobhi right, even if takes close to an hour. And that there is a colour palette while frying onions that moves from white to pink to green to brown and that green is the shade we want. As someone with limited patience, exaggerated by the inability to stand over a flame and watch something cook for more than five minutes, I am definitely not the candidate.

I have had the most simple, yet most amazing aloo-gobhis at my childhood friend Tina’s house, where her mother, Mrs Sahni, served them up for us with hot rotis wrapped in a towel, and released just before they reached your plate.

Recently, at a dinner table conversation with a Punjab-da-puttar, my interest in this species of vegetable was rekindled all over again. It’s been a while since I ate a good aloo-gobhi and Tina has moved to San Francisco and evolved into a shockingly bad cook, while her mother is nestled somewhere in Greater Kailash II in Delhi. So right now, the Punjab da puttar my only hope and I do hope he reads this and invites me for a meal soon.

I attempted doing it the Punjabi way, but my patience wore out, so now, I do the occasional cauliflower soup (which I am good at), throw it into a vegetable stew (it works) or make a quickie pulao with chunky pieces of it in a tomato and ginger-garlic gravy. But I still yearn for a good gobhi-matter or aloo-gobhi or just plain gobhi-ki-sabzi.

And then, one fine day, I learnt this recipe from my buddy Deepa (an amazing cook and equally fun to be with) in which she just buttered a whole cauliflower, dunked it into an oven and garnished it with pepper. It was the most divine one-pot meal I had ever eaten.

Baked cauliflower with thyme and pepper

1 medium sized cauliflower

Salted butter

Crushed pepper

Dried thyme

Method:

1.Wash and clean cauliflower if necessary and wipe dry (avoid buying the slightly mottled ones)

2. Take a dollop of butter (as much as you are permitted to have or dare to) and slather it all over the cauliflower, making sure you smear enough in the grooves and hidden parts.

3. Now sprinkle some thyme and pepper (just pepper will also do if you don’t particularly fancy thyme) all over (don’t forget the parts between the florets) and dunk it into a microwave for 4-6 minutes (850W) or bake in a regular oven for 20 min at 180 degrees.

4. Mop up the excess butter in the dish with a baguette, and dig into the whole cauliflower with a fork and knife. Or just tear it to shreds if you give two hoots about elegance.