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A taste of Marwari cuisine

The rich, vegetarian cuisine of the Marwar region in Rajasthan is influenced by the climatic conditions of that province.

Most of my friends in college were Marwaris – that is their ancestors belonged to the Marwar region in southwestern Rajasthan which covers Barmer, Jodhpur and Nagore with part of it lying in the Thar dessert. My friends are all from Kolkata, a city where many Marwaris migrated to in the late 19th century in search of jobs and businesses.

The Marwaris are primarily a trading community. Business is in their genes — little wonder that all my friends were studying commerce along with me in one of the leading colleges of the country. Their love for making money is second only to their love for food. With my friends the topic of discussion at every meal was the menu for the next meal. And no, they were never satisfied with just one dish to accompany rice and chapati. Each meal had to have at least three dishes accompanied with an assortment of pickles, chutneys and papad.

While some modern-day Marwaris eat meat, traditionally they were vegetarian and so their cuisine is pure veg.

The cuisine of a region is impacted by the climatic conditions of that area. “The Marwar region is extremely dry with limited vegetation but they have always had an abundance of milk – be it cow milk, goat milk or camel milk,” says Neelabh Sahay, Executive Chef at Novotel Kolkata Hotel & Residences. He goes on to explain that since milk cannot be stored for long it is converted into ghee and yoghurt that has a longer shelf life. As a result, the medium of cooking for most dishes is ghee and yoghurt preparations such as Kadhi are an integral part of Marwari cuisine. “Even Gatte ki subzi, the most famous Marwari preparation uses yoghurt.” Moreover, tomatoes are alien to Marwar and yoghurt is used as a souring agent.

Chef Sahay also points out that most of the cuisine is spicy with a liberal use of chilies. “In hot regions food is generally spicier because it makes you sweat, thereby keeping your body cool,” he explains. But if the food is spicy then you also need something to balance it out and help with digestion. That is where cumin or heeng comes into play.

Ker Sangri
Ker Sangri is a signature dish of Marwari cuisine.

Since the Marwaris were primarily traders and often on the road, most of their dishes were cooked in a way that they could be retained for a few days and consumed without reheating. “A lot of pickling techniques are used while cooking to ensure a longer shelf life. Pickles, chutneys and papad are an integral part of Marwari cuisine,” says Chef Sahay.

There are also quite a few Jains in the Marwar region and that has had an impact on the cuisine. Several dishes are made without onion and garlic. Chef believes that the no-onion-no-garlic regime started centuries ago because there was no garlic growing in the region since it requires a lot of water. To make up for the flavour of garlic, freshly pounded spices are used.

Since the Marwar region has sparse vegetation, a lot of grains are used in the cuisine. So you have gatte ki sabzi made of besan or gramflour, kadhi, again made of yoghurt and besan, mangori made of lentils, etc. Wheat and rice both require a lot of water and so the preferred grains are bajra and jowar. Missi roti which is a combination of grains is popular in Marwari cuisine.

Ker sangri which is basically a wild berry and a dry bean is a signature dish of Marwari cuisine as is daal, bati, churma. The dal is made up of five different lentils – tuvar dal, chana dal, moong dal, moth dal and urad dal. Bati is basically wheat rolls. Tarla Dalal describes bati thus: “The bati is a hard bread made with coarse whole wheat flour, semolina, ghee, besan, and flavoured with fennel seeds and carom seeds. Batis can be fried or baked. The origin of bati goes way back to Rawal dynasty where soldiers would make balls of dough and bury them under the sand. After they returned from war, the batis were nicely baked. Bati thus became a famous war-time meal”.  

The churma is also made of coarse whole wheat flour and semolina with melted ghee and powdered sugar. Basically a sweeter version of the bati which is crushed into powdered form.  

 Novotel Kolkata Hotel & Residences currently has a home delivery menu called the Marwari Kitchen. Chef Sahay shares the recipe for Gatte ki subzi.

Gatte Ki Sabzi

Gatte ki sabzi, a Marwari delicacy.

For Gatta

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup gram flour
  • ½ tsp coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp ajwain
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
  • Pinch of asafoetida
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tbsp curd
  • 2 tbsp water

Method:

  • To make nice firm gatte, in a large bowl take gram flour and add coriander seeds, ajwain turmeric, chilli powder, pinch hing, salt, ghee and curd
  • Mix well making sure the dough turns moist and all spices are mixed
  • Add water as required and knead the dough for 5 minutes
  • Knead to smooth and soft dough adding oil to prevent from sticking to hands
  • Pinch a ball sized dough and prepare cylindrical logs
  • In a large vessel boil 4 cups of water. Once the water comes to a boil, drop in prepared dough and boil for 10 minutes
  • Once the dough is cooked, it starts to float. Drain off the gatte (boiled besan dough) into a plate.
  • Now cut the gatte into small pieces and deep fry it.

For Gravy

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dry fenugreek leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tsp fennel
  • Pinch of asafetida
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp ginger garlic paste
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp kashmiri red chilli powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ¼ tsp cumin powder
  • 1 cup curd
  • ½ tsp salt
  •  ¼ tsp garam masala
  • 2 tbsp coriander

Method

  • To make mouthwatering gravy for gatta, in a large kadhai heat oil and sauté, add cumin, kasturi methi, bay leaf, fennel and pinch hing
  • Further, add 1 onion and sauté to golden brown
  • Now add 1 tsp ginger garlic paste and sauté well
  • Keeping the flame on low, add turmeric, chili powder, coriander powder and cumin powder and sauté on low flame until the spices turn aromatic
  • At this stage add 1 cup water, use leftover water from boiled dumping
  • Add curd and stir continuously until the mixture comes to a boil
  • Now add prepare gatte (gram flour dumplings) and salt, mix well
  • Cover and boil for 10 minutes, adjust the consistency as required
  • Garnish it with chopped coriander and serve with roti or steamed rice.