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A Maharashtra food trail: Travel through Khandesh with Kunal Vijayakar

In the first of a series, Maska Maarke offers a sampling of the state’s most fiery cuisine. The good news: Kaala Masala curries are available near you too.

mumbai Updated: Nov 23, 2018 17:53 IST
Kunal Vijayakar
Kunal Vijayakar
Hindustan Times
Food,Foodie,Kunal Vijayakar
Khandeshi Shev Bhaaji is spicy sev cooked in a gravy of coconut, onion and Khandeshi kaala masala. I believe the dish has its roots in Gujarat, just across the border. Seen above, the Khandeshi Shev Bhaaji with Patodi or Patrel (besan rolls stuffed with roasted coconut and poppy seeds), at Kath N Ghat restaurant, Thane. (Dhiraj Bramhankar / Peddler Films)

A lot of Mumbaiites seem to think that the entirety of Maharashtrian cuisine hails from two places — a small fishing port town in the Konkan region of Maharashtra called Malwan (population 18,700) and a small Maharashtrian eatery in Dadar called Aaswad (population 25).

Ask about Maharashtrian snacks, and the most common answer is two words: Vada Pav. For the slightly more evolved, it’s Vada Pav and Misal Pav, and maybe Kothimbir Vadi and Thalipeeth. Often the list pretty much ends right there.

I don’t want to make anyone feel inadequate, but that’s just… nescient. Unfortunately, no man’s knowledge can go beyond his experience, and that’s exactly what I am hoping to change in a very small way through these lines.

Over the next few weeks I’d like to share with you my experiences with food from all over Maharashtra. Forget Malwani food and Vada Pav for a while and think places like Nashik, Jalgaon and Malegaon in the north-western regions of the state; the Deccan Plateau along our borders with Karnataka; Nagpur in the Vidarbha region; communities like the CKPs (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus). There is a treasure trove of cuisines in this one state that deserve to be explored and acknowledged, and I’m hoping you’ll come along and enjoy the ride. This week I want to talk about the land of combustible and fiery curries: Khandesh.

Khandeshi-style Bharli Vangi. Maharashtrians are fond of stuffed brinjal and you will see versions in the cuisines of most communities in the state. (Dhiraj Bramhankar / Peddler Films)

Khandesh is in northwestern Maharashtra, part of it in Nashik district. Jalgaon is the big city there. You must be well prepared and carry a small napkin or a boxful of tissues while eating a meal in Jalgaon. The food is so spicy that water flows from every pore of your body, the eyes, nose, forehead and elsewhere. Yes, Khandeshi cuisine is reputedly the hottest cuisine of Maharashtra.

The flavours of this cuisine all stem from peanut oil, dry coconut and the extensive use of the small, hot Lavangi chilli. The violently spicy things are chopped up and added to everything cooked in the area; that and the time-honoured Kaala (Black) Masala.

No Khandeshi meal is complete without an intense Khandeshi Mutton Curry (cooked with the chillies and Kaala Masala). This mutton can only be described as hot-tempered. Exactly like a good Rogan Josh or Korma, the meat dishes, as well as the lentil dishes, can be identified by the blazing red oil (tarri) that floats to the top of the vessel after the meat or daal is cooked.

If the Khandeshis like their mutton, they like their eggplant even better. They make a variety of dishes with this soft, nearly meat-like vegetable. Ghotleli Bhaaji is a spicy preparation with mashed brinjal; then there’s the Khandeshi-style Vangyacha Bharit (Baingan ka Bharta, with Khandeshi masalas). Maharashtrians are fond of stuffed brinjals and you will see versions of Bharli Vangi and Vangyacha Bharit in the cuisines of most communities in the state.

The Kaala Masala makes an appearance again in the Kaalya Masalyachi Aamti with Patoday. An unusual dish, here patoday or patrel (besan rolls stuffed with roasted coconut and poppy seeds) are cooked in a spicy black-masala curry.

There is another unusual bhaaji made here that I am sure has its roots in Gujarat, considering the district is on our borders with that state. Khandeshi Shev Bhaaji is hot, spicy, thick and deep-fried sev cooked in a gravy of dry coconut, onion, garam masala, coriander powder and the omnipresent Khandeshi Kaala Masala. You can either let the sev soak in all the gravy and get soggy, or add the sev into the gravy just before serving, so that you get a bit of a crunch. The Shev Bhaaji, obviously, is the genesis of the Misal Pav.

The pièce de résistance of Khandeshi cuisine is the Dubuk Vadi. Dubuk literally means drowned. Dumplings made of besan, green chillies and coriander are drowned in an onion and dry coconut curry spiced with garlic, ginger, chilli powder, turmeric and the Kaala Masala.

When you sit down to a Khandeshi meal and the thali is served, the Khandeshi Mutton Curry and Shev Bhaaji are to be devoured with hot Jowar Bhakri. The Aamti with steamed rice. And the Bharit and Zhunka with all the condiments.

How could I forget the condiments? The soul of Khandeshi food is its thechas and chutneys. Green Chilli Garlic Thecha (hot and huffy Lavangi chillies just plain pounded with garlic); Lasnachi Chutney (made of spicy garlic and dry coconut). Khurasnichi Chutney (made from Niger seed or Khurasni, kala til, ramtil and sesame seeds). All this can be washed down with a big bowl of Khichdi with dollops of hot ghee, curd or butter. Better still a glass full of Khandeshi Chaas (curd churned up with garlic, ginger, coconut and turmeric and channa dal). If that is not enough to soothe your senses, then what you need is a big Jalebi or Puran Poli.

Next week, we travel to another part of this cuisine-rich state. Until then, Jai Maharashtra!

First Published: Nov 23, 2018 17:53 IST