A Bowlful Of Comfort
I am a 'bowl food' person. I think it is the most comforting, practical, and endlessly creative eating option for a single diner. I promise you, this has nothing to do with the fact that I eat most of my lunches at my desk or that I have three kids at diverse stages of dietary requirements that I have to cater to before I can figure out what I want for my own grub.
Once the younger ones have been bathed and put down for their nap, and the older one has been packed off to school after making her breakfast, feeding her a quick early lunch, and packing her snack box, I am finally free to start my 'working' day.
There is, usually, no time to lose on elaborate lunches, so my trusty bowl comes in handy—anything from a noodle and vegetable stir fry to my pressure-cooked minestrone to Chakolya (A Maharashtrian version of Daal Dhokli—freshly-rolled wheat pasta cooked in spiced daal) to some format of rice or salad absent-mindedly make their way into it as I make mine to the study.
Come monsoon, my 'bowl food' obsession reaches new highs. Maybe it is the weather — the wet Mumbai cold and the darkness outside or the sound of the rain — something that demands instant comfort. On such days, I am especially tempted to eat Faraali Misal or 'Misal for a fasting day'.
Purists like my grandmother will rubbish it and tell you that Faraali Misal is a recent concoction, and that fasts were meant to be an occasion to cleanse oneself spiritually and otherwise; so, only light, saatvik food will do. People like me or my father, with little spiritual calling but a tongue that works overtime, will tell you that Faraali Misal is one of those things that make fasting worth it, if at all.
Faraali Misal is a medley of the forbidden. If you are diabetic, this should only be consumed once a year, perhaps. Here’s why. At the base of the bowl sit pearls of soft cooked yet not mushy, sabudana khichadi; on it are a couple of cubes of batatyachi bhaaji (potatoes lightly fried in ghee with permissible spices such as jeera and green chilli), then a few boiled peanuts or a peanut usal, followed by daanyachi aamti (a peanut curry spiced with green chilli and cinnamon and flavoured with kokum and jaggery) and a final flourish of potato straws.
A few spoonfuls are enough to send your sugar levels sky rocketing. But, the spicy-sweet-toasty flavors and the soft-crunchy-crisp textures of the dish are just what you need on a cold day when you need to get work done or when you need to clear your sinuses.
Unfortunately or fortunately, very few Maharashtrian eateries across the city make a good faraali missal, if at all. The best one, in my opinion, is one by Vinay Health Home, but I make do with the Gokhale version in Thane, which comes a close second.
At home, I usually turn down the calorific value of the dish by eliminating a few things such as the potato straws and boiled peanuts, and replacing the sabudana khichadi with a simple samo seed (vari) pilaf. It makes for a delightful, satiating, and quickly fixed hot meal that one can enjoy propped in a comfy window looking out at the rain pelting down, the bowl warming one’s hands with a calm reassurance.
Recipe for Low Cal Faraali Misal
2 teaspoons ghee
1 medium-sized potato, boiled and cubed
¼ teaspoon roasted cumin seed powder
½ cup samo seeds (vari/bhagar)
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 green chili
¼ cup peanuts, roasted and skinned
1 and ½ cup water
1 and ½ teaspoon jaggery
Salt to taste
Freshly chopped coriander for garnish
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ teaspoon powdered sugar
1. Heat 1 teaspoon ghee in a pan. Tip in the cubed potatoes and toss until the edges begin to turn golden. Add salt to taste, roasted cumin seed powder, and powdered sugar. Toss again to coat and remove from the pan.
2. Place the peanuts and cinnamon in a blender and pulse to a fine powder. Add ½ cup water and blend to a smooth paste. Remove into a pot and dilute with the remaining water. Add salt to taste, kokum, jaggery, and half the green chili. Bring to a boil and reduce to a pourable consistency. Keep warm.
3. Heat the remaining ghee in the pan you used for the potatoes. Add the cumin seeds and green chili and tip in the samo seeds. Saute for a minute. Season with salt. Add 1 and ½ cups water, squeeze in the lemon juice and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, turn down the heat, and allow to cook through until all the water is absorbed.
4. To assemble, place the cooked samo seeds at the bottom of the bowl. Ladle the peanut curry over and top with the potatoes. Garnish with freshly chopped coriander, and serve immediately.
When Saee is not playing harrowed mum to her three children (and sometimes, WHILE she is playing harrowed mum), she is cooking up recipes in her head or in her kitchen, and finding parallels in world cuisine.