Friday, June 8, 2012

Pitla - thoda vegla

Pitla, jowar bhakri and thecha are the staple of upcountry Maharashtra. A simple combination that makes the mouth salivate even at its mere mention. The main dish in this combine is the Pitla, a silky smooth, and extremely humble main course made from gram-flour (besan) that is even making way into the menu cards of fancy restaurants. My first encounter with the Pitla was when I was studying my engineering. If you reached late and the main dish was over, the cooks came up with a fast Pitla. That taste has stayed with me since.

In Mumbai, I have had Pitla at Diva Maharashtracha (a boutique restaurant started by Goa Portuguesa), Mi Marathi (in Vile Parle East) and at Gypsy (Shivaji Park), and my vote definitely goes to Gyspy. Gypsy makes the other two vital accoutrements, thecha and jowar bhakri, unbeatable. 

I am generally a traditionalist, but if my dishes dont have my touch in them, I think of them as a rip-off. Many of my food experiments happen because of this. Some others 'happen' because I run out of ingredients (its easy to run out even basics in a bachelor kitchen), and I substitute one for the other. About half of all my experiments are worth trying again and a quarter are complete disasters. In the Pitla version below, I ran out of mustard seeds and  cummin seeds at home and Kasuri methi was added as a substitute. It tasted wonderful. In the recipe below I have also added the two seeds that make it even better (may your kitchen never run out of these two!). 

Here is my version of the Pitla - thoda vegla (meaning slightly different in Marathi). This is the Kasuri methi, capsicum version of one of my favourite Maharashtrian dishes.

Main Ingredients 

- Besan (gram flour) - 1 cup
- Water - 3 cups

- One medium onions (chopped fine)
One tomato (chopped fine)
- Roughly cut index sized capsicum
- Kasuri methi two tbsp

Other ingredients

- Cummin seeds - half teaspoon
- Mustard seeds - half teaspoon
- 3 green chillis and 3 pods of garlic - hand-pounded into a rough mix
- Eight or nine Curry leaves
- Salt to taste
Turmeric powder half teaspoon
Refined oil - 2 table spoons


- Mix besan, salt, turmeric with the water and keep aside
- Sputter mustard seeds in oil 
- Add curry leaves
- Add cummin seeds (jeera) and saute
- Add chopped onion and fry well till translucent 
- Add tomatoes till they are well done
- Add capsicum and saute for 1-2 minutes
- Add the besan mix and keep stirring till it has a thickish consistency (remember that the mix will thicken a little even after the heat has stopped)
- Garnish with Kasuri methi

Thecha method

- Dry roast 10-12 peanuts and remove the skin
- Take a flat pan (any tawa will do well) and add 2 tsp of oil (I usually prefer peanut oil for this)
- Saute 10 green chillis and 10 pods of garlic till they begin to blacken a little
- Hand pound the above three with some rock salt till it is a rough paste. 

[The thecha works wonderful base for veg sandwiches as well. Since it is very spicy, one needs to use it in moderation]