Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Varan-Bhaat & Amti-Bhaat

For most Maharashtrians varan-bhaat is the ultimate comfort food. It nourishes you mind, body, and soul.

At a given time, there are any number of 'You know you are a Maharashtrian if....' lists circulating. The contents of these lists keep varying, but one item is bound to figure: 'You know you are a Maharashtrian if you think varan-bhaat is the best food on Earth'. I agree completely.

Varan is cooked toor daal (yellow split peas), mashed, and spiced with a bit of turmeric and asafetida. At times a tiny amount of of jaggery is added as well.

If it is a festive occasion, the bhaat is basmati, other times it is either ambe mohor or ambe mohor-tukda.

Add some homemade toop (ghee), a dash of salt and a squeeze of lemon, and there you have it: varan bhaat.

Varan usually refers to cooked toor daal. If moong daal is used, it is moga-cha-varan. As moong daal is easy to digest, moong-daal and rice is usually the first solid meal given to toddlers.

On the simplicity spectrum if varan is at one end, on the other end is the glorious chincha-goola-chi amti (daal with tamarind and jaggery). In between the two lies the Phodni-Cha Varan.

Phodni-Cha Varan
Phodni is the Marathi word for tadka, tempering.
Toor daal varan with a simple phodni is another satisfying variation on a theme.
This is also referred to as saadhi amti (plain amti). This amti is perfect when you want a daal that is not too spicy but neither do you want just varan.

1 cup cooked toor daal
1 tsp oil (ghee is better)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp asafetida
1-2 mirchis, chopped
5-6 curry leaves
5-6 stalks of cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
salt, to taste

Heat the oil (ghee). When hot add the cumin seeds.
When seeds start changing the colour add the asafetida, then the turmeric.
Next add the mirchi and curry leaves. Let them cook a bit (about a minute).
Add the varan, a cup of water, the salt and sugar.
Bring to a boil.
Adjust the salt and add the corriander leaves.
Enjoy with hot steamed rice.

There are umpteen variations to phodni-cha varan. We like it with tomatoes, spinach, methi (fenugreek) leaves, sauteed onions, or ginger (especially in the winter months).

Chincha-goola-chi Amti (Daal with tamarind and jaggery)

For this amti you have to have goda masala. Sure, substitutions are ok; but what you get is not amti.
Recipes for making goda masala are here and here.

1 cup toor daal, cooked
½ methi (fenugreek) seeds
phodni kit (1 tbsp oil, 1 tsp mustard seeds, pinch of asafetida 1 tsp turmeric )
4-5 curry leaves gul (jaggery)
2 tsp tamarind paste
2 tsp goda masala
4-5 stalks of coriander leaves, chopped salt, to taste

Heat oil, when hot add the methi seeds. Be careful as they burn quickly.
Add the mustard seeds, as they start dancing, add the asafetida, then the turmeric.
Next, add the curry leaves.
Add the cooked daal, the tamarind, jaggery, goda masala, and salt.
Adjust the quantity of water depending on the consistency that you want. Bring to a boil.
Adjust the tamarind and jaggery as per your taste.
Let the amti boil for a couple of minutes.
Garnish with the coriander leaves.
Enjoy with steamed rice and a dollop (or more) of toop (ghee).

As children, we'd also eat amti with poli. Crumble a couple of polis in a bowl, a ladle full of amti and some toop. This can be eaten with a spoon; perfect for those times when you didn't want to get your hands dirty cos you were eating and reading at the same time!

This is another entry from me for RCI-June: Maharashtrian Cuisine.

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