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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

Corn on the top

Prachi Raturi Misra , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, July 30, 2011
First Published: 16:44 IST(29/7/2011) | Last Updated: 20:21 IST(30/7/2011)
It isn’t just umbrellas that pop up on the roads at the sign of the first showers of the monsoon. Stalls selling bhutta can also be seen everywhere and anywhere – selling the one snack that is most associated with the rains. It is impossible to walk past a steaming bhutta stall on a rainy day, and not have your mouth water at the sight of fresh corn just waiting to be roasted, smeared with masala and handed over, hot and piping, to you.

Ever wondered what makes bhutta so irresistible in the rain? It’s the perfect combination of something hot, something spicy, and for the health-conscious, something very healthy. And of course, this street food, like most others, tastes best when had from a roadside stall. No matter how well you roast corn and flavour it with chaat masala at home, it will never have the taste and flavour of roadside bhutta.

That, say corn sellers in Delhi, is because of the unique masalas they mix to go along with the bhutta. Sharif, one such vendor, has a simple explanation backed by his knowledge of the ‘family business’ – six bhutta stalls in Delhi for about 25 years. He says, “The masala is the trick. No matter what you do, you can never make it like us. After all this is our work.”

Sharif, his father and uncles, run the stalls that he says are huge crowd-pullers, especially in the monsoon. Ask him what goes into the masala and he says he doesn’t want to give away his trade secret. “All I can tell you is that we buy 16 kinds of khada (whole) masala and then grind it. That is what we have been doing for years,” explains Sharif.

What makes their ‘family business’ special is also the chutney they use. Boiled bhutta is first doused with a generous heap of ground masala; then chutney made from tomatoes and tamarind is poured over it. Five seconds later, when the masala and chutney have made their way into the grooves, a little bit of lemon and rock salt finishes the delicious steaming maize for you.

If your mouth has stopped watering, we’ll take you through more masala trails. If you like your bhutta roasted rather than boiled, the masala is usually a little different. Shankar, who has been selling roasted maize in Panchsheel Park for four years now, swears by his wife’s skills with the masala. “She mixes rock salt, jeera and chaat masala to make a yummy masala, which makes my customers love my bhuttas,” he says with a smile, fanning the bhuttas, their magical smell floating in the monsoon air.

According to Shankar, the three months from July to September are when maize sells well, thanks to the rain. Another vendor, Meera, reveals why this is so. “Mostly when it rains, people like to have something warm,” she smiles. Meera, however, does not mix her own masala - she picks it up from the Azadpur Mandi in Delhi when she picks up her stock of maize for the day.

A trip to this mandi, considered the largest vegetable and fruit market in Asia, is a memorable one on our masala trail. Shaukat, who sits at the entrance of the maize corner in the mandi, selling packets of masala he picks from a local supplier in the area, says as many as 25 truckloads of maize make it out of the mandi in the monsoon. “I’ve been here for a decade and the monsoon is definitely the time when people love having bhutta,” he smiles, handing me a pinch of the masala to taste.

The taste of the tangy masala still in my mouth, I finally make it to the popular masala shop in Azadpur Mandi that supplies bhutta masala to maize sellers in the mandi. Run by Shri Prakash Charan Sharma for 28 years, the shop is known for its bhutta masala, besides other spices. Sharma’s young son Rajeev sits behind heaps of masalas – chaat masala to bhutta masala to chilly to coriander powder and garam masala, he has it all.

Ask him what goes into the bhutta masala and he explains patiently, “Ajwain, kachri, dhania, kala namak, kali mirch, lal mirch, haldi and kaccha jeera.” Ask him how it’s different from his chaat masala and he says, “This has turmeric, which gives it a nice colour and yes, the jeera is not roasted. Roasted jeera can make the masala look darker, something that will not make the bhutta look so appealing.”Some masala trail we say.

Apple & fennel  salad with corn
Serves: 4
Ingredients
250 gm green apples 
100 gm tomatoes, diced
150 gm fennel bulbs  100 gm corn kernels  250 gm lollo rosso lettuce 250 gm iceberg lettuce
100 ml balsamic dressing 50 gm walnuts  
5 gm black pepper 5 gm parsley  
5 gm ginger  
7 gm lemon  
5 gm salt   

For the balsamic dressing: 
Blend together 75 ml of extra virgin olive oil with 25 ml balsamic vinegar. Add a pinch of salt to taste.

Method:
Cut the fennel and apple finely into a bowl. Add the corn, walnuts and diced tomatoes. Drizzle the dressings over the salad. Mix it lightly. Garnish with parsley and sprinkle cracked pepper. 
(Recipe courtesy Alain Coumont, Founder, Le Pain Quotidien)

Tilnaaz makai aur kumb
Ingredients: 
200 gm baby corn
5 gm sesame seeds  
50 gm mushrooms
20 gm bell peppers, diced
10 gm curd  
5 gm jeera powder  
5 gm red chilli powder
5 gm ginger-garlic paste
12 gm salt (1 tsp)  
4 satay sticks
20 gm desi ghee  

Method:
Beat the curd and add the salt, red chilli powder, jeera powder and ginger-garlic paste to it.On a satay stick, arrange the baby corn, mushroom and bell peppers. Mix the above masala into it, then roll on white sesame seeds and grill till done. 
(Recipe courtesy, Baluchi – Intercontinental the Lalit, Mumbai)

Makai vadi
Ingredients: 
1 cup yellow corn
kernels, crushed
1 cup coriander leaves (kothimbir)
1 cup gram flour
1 tbsp rice flour
1 tbsp ginger-chilli paste
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp asafetida
1/4 tsp sodium
bicarbonate (soda)
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

Method:
Chop coriander leaves finely. Mix the gram flour and rice flour. Add ginger-chilli paste, sesame seeds, lemon juice, turmeric powder, asafoetida and salt to the above mixture. Add some water to make a thick batter (dosa batter consistency) and mix well to remove any lumps. Grease a flat vessel approx 8" x 8". Pour the batter into the vessel.
In a pressure cooker, steam this for about 25 minutes, or grease a microwavable container and pour the batter into it. Microwave cook the batter for 5-7 minutes (microwave settings may vary). Remove and insert a needle into it to check if it is done. Allow it to cool and cut into triangles. Heat oil in a pan and deep-fry in hot oil. Remove when golden brown and crisp. Serve with green chutney.
(Recipe courtesy, SOAM, Babulnath – Tel: 23698080)

“Children disregard their mothers’ concerns and get drenched. Watching the curtain of rain outside, families sit contentedly and sip chai, and eat pakoras and freshly roasted bhuttas and succulent jamuns. It is festival time”
Pavan K Verma on Jan 1, 2011, in his column Hyde Park Corner, exclusively for HindustanTimes.com

“When the kernels had changed colour and before they could turn black, he would take the bhutta off the coals and ask how spicy I wanted it. My answer was always the same: as spicy as possible. So, the bhuttawallah would take a wedge of lemon, dunk it into a mass of chilli powder and other spices and then smear my bhutta with a delicious chilli-lime mixture”
Vir Sanghvi in Rude Food :‘Tracking the bhutta story’, April 15, 2007

“During the monsoons, I pine for roasted bhutta. I remember a lady at a Delhi market who used to sell bhuttas. Of course, her corn was tasty. She was also a pleasure to look at. And that was also the reason why I would frequent her shop. Imagine my surprise when one day, she asked me for an autograph for her daughter!”
The late M F Husain in an October 2009 interview to Calcutta Times

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From HT Brunch, July 31

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