UsalMy mom died when I was seven, but many of the few memories I have of her have to do with food.You see, she loved to cook. She was a Maharashtrian, and the food she prepared reflected the ingredients and influences of her corner of the world.

Although I never had a chance to learn how to cook from my mom, she left me with an everlasting love for Marathi food. My own style of cooking reflects the many cultures that have influenced my life and the places I’ve lived in or visited, but to this day it is Marathi food that appeals the most to my tastebuds: in other words, it is my comfort food.

Growing up in Bombay, it wasn’t hard to find Maharashtrian food. The ubiquitous but delicious vada-pav, the lip-smacking misal and the earthy zunka-bhakar are all part of the diverse smorgasbord that is Bombay street food. At my Marathi relatives’ homes I’d eat everyday homecooked delicacies like whisper-soft polis (chapatis), the ethereal varan (a simple tuvar dal preparation) and the mouthwatering bharli vangi (stuffed eggplants).

When I started cooking on my own, I gravitated, quite naturally, to Marathi cuisine, learning largely through cookbooks and from memory. In recent years, I was lucky to find precious resources on Marathi food on the Web, like Nupur’s One Hot Stove which, as many of you already know, is a treasure-trove of Maharashtrian (and other) recipes.

My recipe for today, Usal, is one of my favorites because it was one of the first Marathi dishes I learned to cook well– yes, that’s how simple it is.

I have eaten drier versions of this dish, but I like my usal with plenty of gravy that I can soak up with chapatis. I also made some modifications necessitated by the lack of ingredients in my temperamental pantry. For instance, usal uses goda (sweet) masala, which has a lot of the same ingredients as garam masala but also coconut and sesame seeds. I didn’t have any prepared goda masala on hand, nor any grated coconut, so I made the goda masala minus the coconut and just added some extra coconut milk to the recipe.

One quick note for those not completely familiar with Indian cuisine on the matki or moth beans that are used traditionally for usal: these look like cute little brown capsules and cook up in a relatively short time, making this dish a heaven-sent for busy cooks.

So here it is, my version of usal: classic Marathi comfort food. Enjoy!

Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 8
  • 1 cup matki or moth beans, soaked and sprouted
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 large potato, diced into tiny bits
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • ½ tsp turmeric (optional)
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • For the goda masala:
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon bark
  • 2 dry bay leaves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • ¼ cup coconut shreds
  1. Roast the masala ingredients in a dry skillet until lightly brown and fragrant. Fry the coconut last and keep a close eye on it because it can burn in an instant. Cool, powder in a spice grinder, and reserve.
  2. Heat the oil in a saucepan.
  3. Add the onions and sugar and saute until browned at the edges, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and stir for a minute.
  5. Add the tomato, the powdered masala, and chili and turmeric powders.
  6. Let this cook, stirring a few times, until the tomatoes start to express the oil.
  7. Add the potatoes and stir in.
  8. Add the matki beans, about 3 cups of water, and half the coconut milk.
  9. Cover and simmer on a medium heat about 20-30 minutes, until the matki beans have cooked and are tender but not mushy.
  10. Add the remaining coconut milk, garnish with coriander and some raw onions and lemon, if desired.
  11. Serve piping hot.

Meera pointed me to the wonderful Jihva for Love event being hosted by Prathibha and Jigyasa at A Tribute To Pedatha, and I am sending in this tribute to my mom. Jihva for Ingredients is a monthly event started by Indira at Mahanandi.

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

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  1. says

    I loved to eat the usal at those small eateries in BB Dadar! Just got a packet of goda masala, so am going to make this in the evening…

    I lost my Mom when I was 5 and I have just faint memories of an egg curry and a tomato raita – nothing beyond that – I feel my blog is a way I can pass on my love for cooking to my daughter….

  2. says

    i am really sorry to read abt ur mom. its heartening to see u keep her lovely memory alive by posting the recipes which u cherish. thank you for sharing these recipes with us. and the usal looks lip-smacking delicious:)

  3. says

    matki or moth beans, I have no idea what it is.
    But the dish looks so delicious and i like that you make it with plenty of gravy as you said one can soak up with roti.
    I lost my dad whan i was four years old

  4. says

    Evolvingtastes, Annu, Shankari: Thanks, ladies!

    Richa, You’re so right- I make moong usal too, but matki is truly special.

    Srivalli, Thanks. I will definitely send you a dosa entry- I just learned a very nice recipe from my visiting sis-in-law and can’t wait to try it out!

    Dhivya, Uma, Anjali: Thanks.

    Lavi: You are very kind- and right. I do think of my love for cooking as a tribute to my mom.

    Cham, thanks for your comforting words.

    Saswati, Thanks, I do hope you’ll try it.

    Seena, thanks. I do think of her every day and especially when I cook.

    Miri, I am so sorry about your mom- it is certainly very tough to lose a parent at that age. The worst part is not having enough memories- I often wish I could remember more about my mom, and it’s frustrating. But it’s lovely that you are passing on your love for cooking to your daughter, and I am sure she will really cherish it one day.

    Arundati, Thanks. I do hope you’ll try it sometime.

    Sia, smn: Thanks for your kind words,ladies.

    Happy cook: moth beans are available at most Indian grocery stores. They are tiny and brown and quite nuttily delicious. If you haven’t tried them, I’d really encourage you to.
    Sorry to hear about your father- that must’ve been really hard on a four-year-old child.

    Bee: Thanks!

    Meera: Thanks, and thanks also for pointing me to the Pedatha event which was a perfect fit- I have sent in the recipe.

    Shriya, Thanks for your kind words.

  5. says

    Wow….looks great! I have not tried making it yet but used to love the way my friends mom made it! Have to give this a try one of these days.Sorry about your mom, but you can always remember her by the great food you make.

  6. says

    Vaishali, that usal looks delicious! Actually, every single thing I see on this blog makes me want to run straight to the kitchen. I love your freshly ground masala and you can be sure I will be trying this.
    Thank you for the kind words about my blog :)

  7. says

    Pooja, Thanks.

    Madhavi, Thanks, and sorry to hear about your father. It is very tough dealing with a parent’s loss, and I know you must miss him terribly.

    Anjali, Yes. Chilies are my favorite, although I do use them in moderation compared to the rest of my extended family!

    Homecooked, thanks, and hope you try it. Take care!

    Nupur, Your blog has always inspired me. Thanks for your encouraging words, and I do hope you will try the usal.

  8. says

    wow…… Usal looks amazing, and tempting… loved it…:D, loved the photography…. hmmm…. just wanna dig into it…. just someone give me a paav..:P

    Do check my blog too.. and give ur comments..:D

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