My favorite cousin, Deepa, is married to a Gujarati. Growing up in the melting pot of Bombay, I was no stranger to the culture of this colorful state because of the many Gujarati neighbors and friends I had. But having a Gujarati in the family gave me a chance to get even more closely acquainted with the land and its delicious cuisine.
Rajubhai, Deepa's husband, was an engineer who was posted around different parts of Gujarat over the years, and as a teen I'd look forward to the holidays I enjoyed at their home. During those trips, which included nearly a dozen members of our extended family, we'd sometimes travel around the state: to the buzzing city of Surat, the quiet tranquility of the salt-making colony of Mithapur, and the piously alive Dwarka.
Under an impossibly clear sky in Somnath, my cousins and I, used to the smoggy skies of Bombay city, would try delightedly to identify the constellations.
Today, when I cook Gujarati food in my kitchen, I always think back to those long-ago days, gone but not forgotten.
This past week, I had a deep craving for Oondhiyu, perhaps my most favorite of all Gujarati foods. This wonderful mixed-veggie dish has an unbelievably unique flavor, thanks to ajwain seeds. To those unfamiliar with Indian foods, ajwain, also called carom seeds, are very similar to thyme in fragrance. Although the seeds look a lot like cumin, the flavor is sharply unusual and almost unbelievably appetizing. So much so that each time I cook Oondhiyu, I tend to snack on it all day straight from the pot until it's gone!
A quick note: I used kasoori methi (the dried version of methi leaves) for the dumplings because I couldn't find fresh methi at my local Indian store. But try and use fresh methi if you can because the taste difference is unbelievable.
So here is my recipe for this really special dish. I hope you enjoy its rustic deliciousness as much as I do!
More recipes from Gujarat:
1 cup surti papdi, stringed but whole (these stringed broad beans are available at most Indian stores. While I prefer the fresh version, you can substitute with frozen with good results)
1 plantain, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1 large or 2 small potatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1 sweet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1/2 a large eggplant or 6 small ones, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
A pinch of asafetida
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ajwain
1 tsp sugar
Salt to taste
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped, for garnish
For methi dumplings:
1 cup methi leaves or 1/4 cup kasoori methi, chopped fine
1/2 cup besan flour
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
Oil for deep-frying
Mix together the ingredients with a little water to form a firm dough. Shape into small balls about 1/2-inch in diameter, or ovals. Deep fry in hot oil until golden-brown. Reserve.
Grind into a paste:
2-3 green chilies
1-inch piece of ginger
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
Coat all the vegetables with the masala paste and marinate for at least half an hour.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a deep saucepan and add the ajwain seeds and asafetida. After a few seconds, add the vegetables and stir thoroughly to coat with oil.
Cover the vegetables and let them cook until tender, stirring a few times if necessary. Add some water to help them along.
When the veggies are tender, add the methi dumplings, sugar and salt to taste.
Sprinkle lemon juice and garnish with coriander leaves.
Serve piping hot with puris or rotis.