Rajasthan – the name conjures up images of pink stone palaces rising like phoenixes out of the stark, arid desert; camels and bejeweled belles in colorful lehngas (wide bottomed gathered skirts) and veiled women dancing gracefully to soulful music. But most importantly for me it also brings to mind Ghevar, Pyaz ki kachori, Ker Sangri, Methi ki Sabzi, Bajra ki Roti with Kachri ki Chutney or fiery hot Lassun ki Chutney and Dal Bhati Churma not forgetting non-vegetarian delights like Lal Maas, Safed Maas, spicy Banjara Murg… the list is long and I have to get back to the recipe at hand.
In 1984, Rajeev was posted to an ecological battalion in the middle of the desert just 50 kms outside the Rajasthani city of Bikaner. I was given accommodation in Bikaner and lived there with my sons for three years. During this period I was closely associated with the local Rajasthani cuisine through Shobha Singh who still remains a good friend. She is now a Zila Pramukh, a district administrator of sorts, carrying out several projects for the betterment of Rajasthan’s rural areas. We met Shobha and her husband P.P. Singh (now a retired district and sessions judge) at a party and grew to like them immensely. Having traversed the length and breadth of Rajasthan in their company I have no words to describe the generosity of spirit that characterizes their hospitality.
Rajeev’s location (simply named RD 710) was another world of wonder. The Army ex-servicemen from Rajasthan, who comprised the battalion worked hard to transform the desert into an oasis with not only trees and shrubs but crops too. I recall one and a half inch long groundnuts and zinnias the size of sunflowers. Huts had been built to accommodate the officers and men. These were made of long dried grass, perfectly sculpted and fitted with modern amenities to make life easier. On weekends the children and I used to climb on to a three ton military truck along with our dogs and drive off into the desert to visit Rajeev. There, the children learnt to swim in the Indira Gandhi Canal which flowed a short distance away. Midnight picnics on starry moonlit dunes, fishing in the canal and cooking the fish on makeshift fires, drinking milk directly from the udders of a goat or catching a glimpse of the beautiful gray eyes of a veiled banjaran (gypsy woman) who fed us huge bajra rotis with fiery red chutney and raw onions, everything was wondrous and beautiful. The children were exposed to raw nature as never before and all that they experienced formed an indelible, unforgettable element of their childhood.
Rajasthani food is characterized by its simple ingredients and easy procedures. The recipe below uses no onions or garlic.
For the koftas you will need
- ½ kg Lauki / Bottle gourd
- 2 tbsp Besan / Chickpea flour
- 2 tsp Coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp Green chilies, finely chopped
- Salt to taste
- Oil for frying
For the gravy you will need
- 1 tsp Cumin seeds
- 1 Red chili, whole, broken into four pieces
- ½ tsp Asafetida
- 1 cup Yoghurt, thick
- 1 tsp Besan / Chickpea flour
- 1 tsp Coriander powder
- 1 tsp Red chili powder
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- ½ tsp Garam masala powder
- ½ tsp Sugar
- Salt to Taste
- Oil for tempering
- Peel and grate the lauki and keep aside for 5 minutes after applying a sprinkling of salt. Squeeze until all the liquid in the lauki has been removed. Reserve the liquid for later use.
- Add the chickpea flour, coriander leaves, salt and green chilies to the lauki and form into round balls. These are Koftas or dumplings. Fry them in hot oil until golden brown and set aside.
- Beat the yogurt until smooth and add to it chickpea flour, chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, sugar and salt. Be careful about the amount of salt as the liquid from the squeezed lauki also has salt. Mix well.
- Now heat oil in a wok and add the cumin seeds, whole red chili and asafetida. Lower the heat and immediately add the yogurt mixture to it.
- Stir vigorously, bring to a boil and add the liquid from the squeezed lauki.
- Boil once again and let it simmer for five minutes. If the gravy is too thick add some more water and boil so that the koftas have liquid to absorb.
- Add the fried koftas to the gravy after you take it off the fire.
- Sprinkle with garam masala and coriander leaves before serving with hot phulkas.
Ed: The front page picture is from http://is.gd/VfYG7k.