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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

South Asian upbringing: Communal munch

Krisha Hirani details the recipes that make up her 'communal munch'.

“Once upon a dinner time…no that’s cringey, don’t use that. I’ll disown you.”

Tea, dinner, munch, whatever you call it, is better when it’s shared – no matter how cringey it is to admit. Some of the best conversations of my uni life have been over a communal munch – some of my hardest laughs too. In fact, it’s where that classy one liner up top came from.

We eat here like I’d eat with my family at home – just without the dinner table and with the cutlery – and every single time the first question to come about is: oh my god, how did you make this?

So, here’s how I make it.

The first layer of flavour of all Indian cooking will always be dried spices cooked in oil.  It can sometimes be poured on top of the dish after it has finished cooking but making it the foundation means that the flavours will infuse into the dish – especially into the ras (sauce). In Gujarati, we call this spice base the vaghar; in Hindi-Urdu, tadka. (N.B. everything italicised will be in Gujarati, because that’s the language my mum taught me the kitchen in.)

Take 2tsp of oil on a medium flame and add ½ tsp of mustard seeds before covering the pot. If you have curry leaves, toss in a few here. Wait till the seeds start popping before uncovering to add some asafoetida and ½ tsp of cumin seeds. You have about 30 seconds before it all burns, so you’ll want to move quickly here and throw in your green chilli, ginger and garlic paste. If you’re cooking with onions, add them now and cook them off. 

Bhindha nu saak – fried okra

Once you’ve finished the vaghar, throw in the bhinda (okra) and season with salt, red chilli powder, cumin powder and turmeric. Keep mixing on a low heat until the slime is cooked off and the okra are left soft. When they’re half cooked, add in some tomato puree for colour. When they’re three-quarters cooked, add in a shot of lemon juice. 

Chana nu saak – chickpea ‘curry’

It’s the same routine here too – vaghar, tomato tin and seasoning. Cook off the tomatoes for around 7 minutes, until it has bubbled all the way through before throwing in some canned chickpeas. Cook off until the chickpeas are soft, before adding lemon juice and kasuri methi (fenugreek). 

Daar – lentil stew

If we were to be making a daar, which is also a huge crowd winner, we’d start with the same vaghar, tomato tin and seasoning before mixing in some already cooked lentils. To save time, I always pressure cook my lentils – cooking time varies between the types. The cheapest red lentils from Tesco (we look out for our bank accounts here) take 6 minutes in a pressure cooker with a 1:3 ratio of lentil to water.

Laccha Parotha – Layered Flatbread

Now we’ve got the mains, we need something to serve it with. Rice is a staple in Indian cuisine, we always back it up with some kind of flatbread.  

Like all flatbreads, we start by kneading a dough from wheat flour, salt, oil, and water before leaving it to stand for half an hour. Then, make fist-sized dough balls – and make sure they’re all even. 

Take one dough ball into your rolling board, dust it with flour and roll it into a thin disc about 8 inches in diameter before applying some oil onto the surface and sprinkling some more flour on top. From the top edge, start pleating the disc. Roll the pleated dough into a tight circle, flatten it straight down and start rolling it out again.

Once it’s evenly rolled, it’s ready for the tawa (frying pan). Keeping it on medium heat, put the parotha on the tawa to cook the first side, before flipping it after around 7 seconds. This second side should cook completely before you flip it over to the first again. Here, the parotha will rise with some air pockets, which you can gently press down on before removing from the tawa and layering them in some margarine, butter or ghee.

Pista Halvo – Pistachio Dessert

This one might be on the spenny side, so make sure you’re up for the commitment.

Take 1 cup of shelled pistachios and soak them in boiling water for 30 minutes before draining and finely chopping or blending them. Take ¾ cup of semolina into a bowl and mix in the sliced pistachios. 

Melt 1 cup of sugar in some water (with vanilla extract if you want to be extra boujee) and gradually pour the hot syrup into the mix while consistently stirring it until it thickens enough to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Let it cool completely before flipping the bowl onto a chopping board to cut it into pieces and garnish with additional chopped nuts.

Keri nu ras (Mango Pulp) – or Mango Lassi (Mango smoothie)

Peel the mangos and chop them into pieces before blending them into a smooth paste and sieving the mixture – or pick up a kesar mango pulp tin that’s already done it for you. Mix in a can of coconut milk, some cardamom and nutmeg and mix to blend and infuse.

Image Credit: thefoodplace.co.uk, CC BY 2.0

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