July 28, 2008
Sappak Pitla: Inaugurating a series on thanjavur marathi cuisine
Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi. Madras (when it wasn't Chennai), Bangalore, and Allahabad. And to this, add Athens, Boston, Madison, Buffalo, and Ann Arbor. It's never easy to answer the "where are you from" question. Cliched as it may sound, in many ways it is like peeling the layers of an onion - depending on the place and who is posing the question, one makes quick decisions about how much to reveal. And while it is certainly wonderful to be able to draw on so many experiences and influences, there is no denying the value of rootedness either. For me, it is about belonging to a community of thanjavur maharashtrians (here's a wiki entry).
And like in any other community, food was central to the process of crafting identity. Poriyal with a little twist, is bhaji; vatha kuzhambu is modified a bit to make goddu pitla; poricha koottu becomes a sappak pitla; and there are many new dishes that emerged from the experimentation that went on in thanjavur-marathi kitchens across south India (present-day Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamilnadu. My immediate family - across 3-4 generations - is from Coimbatore, Pudukkottai, and Madras). What's more, given that migration from the Maratha kingdom to different regions of south India dates back to the 1600s, who knows which Tamil dishes are a result of Marathi influence. As one story goes, sambhar was the result of a tanjore ruler (Sambhoji) substituting tamarind for kokum (a tart fruit native to the western coast of India)!
Anyhow, I've been meaning to start a series on Ahaar as a way to document this interesting food culture and, of course, indulge my cravings for what, to me, are the aromas and tastes of home. To kick things off, here is the recipe for sappak pitla (sappak: not spicy). As a kid, I always wondered why a dish that was quite spicy was called "sappak"...I still don't know why, and neither does my aji (grandmother).
1-1/2 cup moong dal
Grated coconut: a fistful
1 tbspoon chana dal
1 tbspoon urad dal
Red chillies: 2
Green chillies: 2
Cumin seeds: 1 tspoon
Black pepper: 3-4 corns
Ginger- small cube
Ridge gourd: 2 medium sized (cucumber or snake gourd work well too)
Oil: 2 tbspoon
Boil moong dal along with diced ridge gourd. You don't have to do this in a pressure cooker given that moong dal cooks quite fast on the stove.
Heat the oil and roast the coconut, jeera, green chillies, red chillies, pepper, chana dal, and urad dal. Grind the dry ingredients separately, and add to a paste of coconut and green chillies (ground with a little water). Add this mixture to the dal and ridge gourd and cook on low flame till it comes to a boil.
Garnish with cilantro, and serve hot with rice.