Sunday, 22 January 2017

Bhajani Stuffed Capsicum

Bhajani Bharleli Bhongi Mirchi (Capsicum with a multi-grain filling)

Bhajani is a handy multi-grain flour made with roasted grains and pulses. Sometimes, some of the grains are washed before roasting. This pre-processing makes bhajani quick to cook and easier to digest. The whole grains and pulses or lentils ensure plenty of fibre, which also gives the finished products a great grainy texture.

There are no fixed ingredients, but rice, wheat, jowar, bajra, raagi and pulses like whole chickpeas, green or black gram, or other lentils or various daals are commonly used. There are no fixed proportions for the ingredients either, but a general rule of thumb is to use more grains than pulses. Bhajani also includes roasted coriander and cumin seeds, which give it a distinct flavour.

Bhajani is used to make breads like thalipeeth and dhapatey, or chakalis. It can be made into mokli bhajani, an upma like dish that is very nutritious and easy to make. It can also be used to stuff all sorts of vegetables like okra, capsicum, snake gourds, tomatoes.


8 small Bhongi Mirchis (capsicums)

1 medium onion, chopped

¾ cup bhajani flour (I used a home made roasted multigrain flour made of rice, wheat, chana daal, whole matki and whole moong and spices like coriander and cumin)

A handful of coriander, chopped

2 tbsp besan (optional)

½ tsp coriander powder

½ tsp cumin powder

Red chilli powder to taste, depending on how hot the capsicum is

¼ tsp hing

¼ tsp haldi

Salt to taste

2 tbsp oil


In a bowl, mix the chopped onion and sprinkle some salt. Rub the salt into the onions to bring out the moisture. Add the bhajani flour and besan, coriander and cumin powders, haldi and hing. Check and adjust the salt. Add 1 tbsp oil and lightly mix it into a crumbly mixture. There’s no need to add water, as the mixture will cook on the steam and firm up.

Wash the capsicums and slice the tops off. Remove all the seeds with a sharp knife. Rub a little oil onto each pepper from the outside and stuff with the crumbly bhajani mixture.

Arrange the capsicums on their sides in a heavy bottomed shallow pan and drizzle the rest of the oil on top. Place the pan on the stovetop and cook covered on a very low flame. Turn the capsicums once to ensure even cooking. Remove from heat when the capsicum skins are roasted and the stuffing looks cooked. This should take about 10-15 minutes.

Alternately, you could try baking the stuffed capsicums in a hot oven for about 15 minutes or until they are done to your liking.

You can serve the capsicums warm or at room temperature with any main meal or even as a starter or snack.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Sleight of hand laadu

Vegan and Low-Sugar Besanacha Laadu

Besan laadus are loved by one and all – right from our modest middle class Marathi homes, to the flamboyant filmy families – yes, those made by “Maa with her own hands”.

I wonder how “Maa” can make them with someone else’s hands….

Talking about mothers and hands, my Aai always rolled laadus with both her hands.

A large portion of the laadu mixture was made into a rough ball shaped with both the hands cupping it, the heel of the hand and the two middle fingers dexterously rotating in opposite directions.  This process was supervised by the artistically curved fore and little fingers, who didn’t realise they were only being kept on this post as they didn’t have a role to play in the real process

The result was a perfectly round large ball of unqualified happiness.

But…. this was in the days when people ate whole and big laadus without a worry.

With time and with our growing health considerations to limit or eliminate sugar and fats from our diets, the size of laadus is getting smaller and smaller.

And there is nothing more irritating than watching a perfect laadu made with such love and care, being broken and scattered and totally wasted.

The only way to do justice to a laadu is to bite into it. Or better still - roll them with only one hand, I mean - smaller, so you could pop a whole laadu into your mouth.

There are other types of sleights of hand we need to learn and practice all the time.

For the last few years since my daughters have become vegan, I have started experimenting with alternate fats in the making of sweets, especially the besan laadu.

Having tried olive oil, vegan margarine, I have now zeroed in on making these laadus in RBD Coconut oil, which is refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oil, for it mimics the properties of ghee or toop, and there is absolutely no flavour or smell of coconut to this oil.

Microwaving besan and ghee/coconut oil is a very quick process as the actual roasting is done in a few minutes – the only issue with this is you need to microwave in short bursts and remove the bowl and stir the besan thoroughly.

Another advantage is that you can also use significantly less amounts of ghee or oil when you make roast the besan in a microwave, as it the mixture does not need to be stirred all the time while roasting.

As a result of being low fat, the laadus retain their shapes better and do not “sit” – a literal translation of Marathi - लाडू बसले :) 

You can cut out or cut down cane sugar from the laadu by using Splenda or sucralose in this laadu, as it can be mixed just as you would mix the powdered sugar. You can make the laadus with only Splenda, but it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste and lacks the full body that sugar gives.

But there’s something for this in my bag of tricks! 

Some powdered sugar completes the taste left a little lacking by the substitutes –after all you make these once a year for Diwali, which of course is unimaginable without these besan laadus. 


2 cups laadu besan (this is coarse chick pea flour – also known as laadu besan)
¾ cup refined organic coconut oil – this works just as ghee does- except for the flavour – but if you ignore that, you wouldn’t know it’s not ghee!
2 cups powdered sugar  - I used a mixture of ¾ cup powdered sugar and ½ cup Splenda powder (sucralose) but you could vary the proportion.
1 tsp powdered cardamom


In a microwave proof bowl, melt the coconut oil. Add the besan and mix well with your hand till you get a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs.

Place the bowl in microwave and set on maximum temperature for 1 minute.

After 1 minute take out bowl form the microwave and mix thoroughly. Repeat this 2-3 times, taking care to mix thoroughly each time, until the mixture has cooled considerably.

The microwaves cook the insides of the besan mixture, so the besan actually gets roasted more than it shows form the outside. Hence, it’s important to stir and mix thoroughly and making sure that the temperature’s come down considerably before placing the bowl back into the microwave.

At some point, the mixture becomes lighter as the besan gets dehydrated and becomes more fluid. This is also when it starts to ooze out the oil.

From this point onwards, you should keep a keen look out for the colour of the besan, especially from deep within the mixture.

After about 3 - 4 minutes, you should get the besan roasted to a darker shade of golden brown.

Remove the bowl and continue to stir the mixture, as it continues to cook in its own heat.

When the mixture cools down add the powdered sugar and Splenda and the powdered cardamoms.

Mix well and roll out small laadus. These laadus don’t need refrigeration and last well for a few weeks.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Fruits of labour

Fruits of labour

You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. (Psalm 128:2)

I can never make a potful of varanphal without remembering this psalm. Not only does the idea of “fruit” echo with this Marathi dish with such a quaint name (varan as in a daal lentil soup and phal as in fruit), but it also resounds with the same feeling of blessedness.

The psalm describes the blessedness of the virtuous, who enjoy the fruit of their past labours in the present, and are also assured of their future welfare.

In the same vein, varanphal is made in my family usually when we are back after a long, hard day at work when we need a hearty and wholesome meal quickly.

The blessedness comes from the righteous feeling of having put in an honest day’s work. It comes from the pleasure of tucking into a bowlful of hot varanphal topped with some ghee toop or phodni when you are cold, hungry and tired.

The height of bliss is when you feel the warm, silky phals sliding effortlessly down your throat and into your gut and lasts their whole evening, fortifying you for the morrow when another hard day awaits you.

Varanphal (Dal Dhokli or Chakoli) 

This dish is comforting in more ways than one! It saves you the hassle of making a full meal by incorporating dal, roti and subzi -all in one.

You can even make this using pasta, as I have, with lasagne sheets or even short cut pastas like macaroni.

1 cup well cooked toor dal (or masoor)
A ball of firm dough, made with atta salt and a little ajwain/oregano – enough to make 7-8 rotis
1½ cups mixed vegetables evenly cut- carrots, beans, potatoes, pumpkin, eggplant, peas
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup raw peanuts
¾ cup chopped tomatoes
1 tsp lemon juice or tamarind extract as per taste
1 tbsp sugar or gur or suitable amounts of sweetener
1 tsp Garam Masala, Goda Masala or Sambar masala
Red Chilly powder to taste
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of hing
7-8 curry leaves
2 tablespoons chopped coriander to garnish
1 tbsp grated coconut (fresh or desiccated)
Topping - extra oil for tadka or ghee


In a large thick bottomed pot, heat the oil and add the mustard seeds to splutter. Add the onions and curry leaves and cook for a minute or so, then add the vegetables and the tomatoes a minute later.

Let the vegetables sauté for a few minutes and add the garam masala/sambar masala/goda masala, hing, chilly powder. Mash the cooked dal and add it to this mixture and add about 4 cups water. Let the dal boil for some time and add the salt, lemon/tamarind juice and sugar/gur and let the dal simmer.

Roll out a large chapati and cut it into 2 inch squares (or any bite size shapes) with a knife or a fluted pastry cutter.

Drop these pieces into the boiling dal, making sure they don’t stick to each other. This daal needs to be fairly thin and watery, as the dough pieces are going to thicken it. The varanphal also thickens on keeping.

Mix once, making sure the pieces do not stick to the bottom, and let the dal simmer while you make the other chapattis in a similar manner and add the squares to the boiling dal. Make sure each time you add the pieces of a chapati, you stir the mixture to loosen any pieces sticking to the bottom.

Once all the dough is in, adjust the taste and water again. Let it simmer, covered if the pot is large enough, till all the dough pieces are cooked well and float onto the top.

Garnish with coriander and grated coconut.

Serve hot with ghee or some extra phodni, pickles and papad.

This also tastes great the day after.