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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

Excerpt: Jasmine & Jinns by Sadia Dehlvi

Sadia Dehlvi’s memoir includes wonderful recipes of traditional Delhi dishes. In keeping with the season, here’s a selection of delicacies made during the monsoon

books Updated: Jul 28, 2017 23:11 IST
Sadia Dehlvi
Sadia Dehlvi
Hindustan Times
The season for pakoras and steaming tea: Delhi, lovely in the rains.
The season for pakoras and steaming tea: Delhi, lovely in the rains.(Ravi Choudhary/HT PHOTO)

Monsoon in Delhi has forever been associated with romance, swinging from trees, kite flying and picnics. For Dilliwalas, visiting Mehrauli’s open spaces for picnics or for a few days during the monsoons is an old tradition. Amma told us stories of how families would travel in camel drawn carriages to Mehrauli. These carriages were carpeted and cushioned. Families began their journey at night and reached their destination the next morning. The sexes were segregated in different carriages, the zenana and mardana. Much like modern farmhouses today, many rich families in yesteryears owned houses in Mehrauli. They extended invitations to friends and relatives to stay in their homes. These retreats were stocked with kitchen provisions for the guests. The Chunnamals, whose famous haveli still stands in Chandni Chowk, were among those families who had a summer home in Mehrauli.

Daddy often recalls his trips to Mehrauli when four or five families travelled together. They hired camel carriages from the stand near Lahori Gate, where the Shradhanand market is today Some families travelled in lorries that provided for intercity travel. Other modes of transport in the old city were horse-drawn tongas and trams. Lorries can be described as a cruder version of today’s buses. They were higher, and getting inside was not easy. Although they had seats, they had a door at the back, which the conductor opened to allow access into the lorry. Passengers had to place one leg inside the lorry and jump in. Buses were introduced in Delhi after India attained freedom.


Abba had rented a home in Mehrauli for some years to help his wife regain her health. Amma had been unwell and the hakim advised the fresh air of Mehrauli. Those days my father travelled daily from Mehrauli to his school in the old city in a lorry.

Ammi has childhood memories of picnics in the monsoon amongst the ruins of Hauz Khas. Delhi’s various monuments once made for wonderful picnic spots. Ammi recounts lazing with friends inside the arches of the monuments as rain lashed the area. When the showers stopped, the girls dyed colourful dupattas, long scarves, sprinkled with silvery abrak. These dupattas were exchanged as friendship tokens, similar to the friendship bands exchanged by youngsters these days.

In the tradition of Amma and Ammi, I too tell my son monsoon stories. With the arrival of the first showers, I remember Amma preparing for a family picnic to Mehrauli. Stoves, cooking cauldrons, food items, gramophone, records, ropes and other requirements were stacked in one corner of the house. Amma and Apa Saeeda made monsoon specialties such as dal bhari roti, that is, roti with dal stuffing, and hari mirch ka qeema, mincemeat cooked with large green chillies.

We drove in our cherry red Dodge convertible car that had a sunroof, which could be drawn fully open. Although meant for seating five, at least ten of us kids would somehow manage to sit inside the car.

On reaching Mehrauli and finding the ideal picnic spot, the elders helped us make jhoola, swings, on the trees. We carried the ropes and blocks of wood from home. We sang songs while swinging from the tree branches. Sprawled out on durries amidst the green landscape, the elders played film songs on a gramophone. We looked for khirni trees to pluck the small yellow coloured fruit. Mehrauli also had plenty of gondni, an orange berry-like fruit, and ber bushes. We relished these delights and carried some of the fruit home.

Watch: In conversation with Sadia Dehlvi

Amma busied herself supervising the food and frying of pakora and gul gule, made with wheat and sugar. Mangoes were cooled in iron tubs full of ice. Mango-eating competitions were held. The one who managed to eat the largest number of mangoes won. We never stayed overnight in Mehrauli, that tradition ended with the Partition.

Eating and distributing suhaal, a mithai, amongst families and friends was a monsoon tradition. Andarsey ki goliyan, small round fried cookies made with rice flour and sprinkled with sesame seeds, is another monsoon specialty. Come the monsoon, I send someone to the old city to get us these delights.

Dilliwalas remain choosy about their mangoes. We don’t eat early croppers and prefer to wait for varieties such as dussehri, langra, sarauli, chausa and rataul. Abba loved rataul, preferring it to alphonso, and delighted in distributing them to friends.

He had a small contribution in taking rataul to Pakistan. On a train trip to Pakistan during the year 1948, he carried 150 saplings of rataul for friends. Rataul originally comes from the district of Rataul near Baghpat in Uttar Pradesh. Apparently Anwar, one of the brothers who owned a rataul orchard, migrated to Pakistan. He began growing rataul mangoes in Pakistan that came to be known as anwar rataul. It now grows there in abundance and is one of their best mangoes. In Delhi, this variety is no longer easily available, and one has to request fruit sellers to organize some boxes.

At Shama Kothi, mangoes came in tons of kilos. These were left in a store room to mature. Aam ki paal, was the phrase used for this method of storing. Amma checked the lot daily, handpicking the mangoes that had ripened organically. Nowadays mangoes are mostly matured with the use of chemicals that reduce the flavour and taste.

Aam Chutney
Aam Chutney ( Omar Adam Khan )

Heaps of mangoes were placed in iron tubs or buckets with ice for a few hours before consumption. Amma said that this neutralized the garam taseer of the mangoes. On my mother’s insistence, I still place mangoes in a bucket of water for a few hours before stacking them in the fridge.

When returning from boarding school for our summer holidays, one of the things we looked forward to was mangoes. Amma made jugs of hand-beaten aamdoodh, mango shake, each morning and sent it to our bedrooms. She used sarauli mangoes, best for mango shake. Sarauli mangoes are also perfect for making fresh mango chutney.

As a young girl, I loved the small yellow safeda mangoes that are fibreless and can be sucked. I always made such a mess that Ammi regularly dunked me in the bathtub with loads of safeda. Agreed that sucking mangoes is an activity not conducive to table manners, but it’s difficult to forgive Ammi for this one! Much like the rataul and sarauli varieties, safeda mangoes are not commonly available. These are not to be confused with banganapalli mangoes from southern India often sold as safeda in Delhi.

In Delhi, the arrival of the monsoon is celebrated with pakora and tea. Hari mirch ka qeema with besani roti is another monsoon must. It is served with fresh mango chutney.

Kadhi is made often during the rains, and so are other besan dishes such as khandviyan, that are made in a batter that is left to set and later cut into diamond shapes. These are then cooked in a gravy made with curd, onion and masala. Khandviyan are tricky and need some practice to get right. Although I watched Apa Saeeda and Amma making these during my childhood, I don’t know how to make them.

Hari Mirch Qeema
Hari Mirch Qeema ( Omar Adam Khan )

Hari Mirch Qeema – Green Chilli Mince

10-12 long, thick green chillies

½ kg mincemeat

200 gm curd, lightly beaten

2 tsp coriander powder

¼ tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp garlic paste

¾ tsp ginger paste

4-5 medium-sized onions, golden fried

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ cup oil

Salt to taste

Slice half of the green chillies into two or three pieces and leave the other half whole. Keep these aside.

Heat oil and add the onions along with garlic and ginger paste, coriander powder, chilli powder and salt. Fry for a minute or two and then add the mincemeat. Once the water released by the mince has dried and the oil separates, add a cup of water to ensure that the mincemeat does not burn. When it is half done, add all the green chillies. After 5-10 minutes add the curd. Leave on low flame till done and dry the excess water if any. Garnish with shredded ginger strips.

Shimla Mirch Qeema – Green Capsicum Mince

½ kg capsicum

½ kg mincemeat

Prepare shimla mirch qeema with the same recipe as for hari mirch qeema. Simply replace the large green chillies with capsicums cut into one inch pieces. Garinsh with shredded ginger strips.

Dal Bhari Roti

¼ kilo chana dal

2-3 onions, finely chopped

¼ tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp red chilli powder

Green chillies, finely chopped

Mint leaves, finely chopped

Salt to taste

Boil the dal with a little salt and turmeric. Add just enough water to let the dal remain whole. Be careful not to make it watery. Then mash the dal, add onions, chilli powder and mint leaves to the dal and stuff the roti with this mixture. The easiest way is to make two rotis, layer the stuffing on one and place the other over it. Prepare these like a regular parantha on a flat tawa. The roti is best enjoyed with fresh mango chutney and hari mirch qeema.

Aam Chutney – Fresh Mango Chutney

3 ripe mangoes, peeled and pulped

¼ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp crushed cumin seeds

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

Few mint leaves, chopped

Few drops of lemon juice (optional)

Salt to taste

Mango chutney is delicious, specially when made with sarauli mango. Since these are not always available, take any good quality mango. Put the pulp in a bowl and add all the remaining ingredients. Aam chutney tastes wonderful with besani roti.

Author Sadia Dehlvi
Author Sadia Dehlvi ( Courtesy Harper Collins )

Besani Roti

250 gm gram flour

250 gm wheat flour

1 tsp desi ghee

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds, whole

½ tsp Nigella seeds (kalonji)

½ cup curd

2 tsp dried mint leaves

3-4 tbsp desi ghee

Salt to taste

The best method to make besani roti is to use wheat and gram flour in equal measure. Use as much curd as needed to prepare the dough. Add desi ghee at the time of kneading. Add the remaining ingredients to the prepared dough and make as parantha. Line the tava with a little desi ghee while making the roti.


Kadhi prepared in our family looks and tastes quite different from the kadhi that I have had elsewhere. We make it spicier and the phulki is large and flat, as opposed to the small, round phulki that is more common.


250 gm gram flour

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

¼ tsp Nigella seeds (kalonji)

1 tsp garlic paste

½ tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed

1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and crushed

2 cups oil for frying

Salt to taste


1 cup gram flour

300-350 gm curd

1 tsp red chilli powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

¼ tsp Nigella seeds (kalonji)

2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped

Salt to taste


10-12 curry leaves (kadhi pata)

6-8 red chillies, whole

¼ cup oil

2 onions, golden fried

Mix the ingredients of the phulki with enough water to make a thick batter. Drop about a tablespoon of the batter by hand in boiling oil. Keep the phulki aside. Now prepare the gravy for the kadhi. Mix the ingredients for the gravy with 4 cups of water and keep stirring on low flame for about half-an-hour. When it turns thick and is done, add the phulki to the gravy.

For the topping, heat oil in a separate pan and add onions, curry leaves and red chillies. Toss around for a minute before pouring it over the kadhi. Garnish with dried mint leaves. Kadhi is served with cumin rice. I add a little salt and a spoonful of cumin seeds are fried in a tablespoon or two of oil before adding the rice with water and leaving it to cook.

First Published: Jul 28, 2017 23:10 IST