Yesterday Sulekha and me decided to dine out. So thought I would treat Dad to a lunch that is reminiscent of the special meals in Thal. He does not like anything that tastes like non-veg and I actually was thinking let me atleast once attempt the Chicken/ Mutton Curry like they do it in Thal but with vegetable substitutes. Obviously with Mushrooms like I always do. We don't like soya products so those never figure on my list of sustitutes.
The challenge was creating a curry with the same masala but not tasting non-veggy. Phew! I always fear that my Dad might snub such dishes. Over last five years he has finally learnt to eat mushrooms without complaining, that in itself is a big thing for me as I can enjoy mushrooms with him else mushrooms used to be made only for myself all these years.
I asked him what goes into the masala. He was fairly right with the spices but I was not too confident about his memory as it has been more than 4 decades since he last made any non-veg. In Thal coconut is part of the masala you see as it is on the west coast. Dad said fresh coconut. My memory said dry. So I called up Mothi Aai my elder paternal aunt. She is growing old and hates to talk on phone but the moment Mothe Baba told her that I wanted the masala recipe she came on line and started instructing me. I followed her to the T. She warned the spices have to toasted till they become fragrant along with the coconut and to put off the heat once the dry coconut turn slightly golden. She gave a tip if fennel is used used in curries they spoil faster. Humm but I don't save curries yet it tells a lot about the culture in Thal, since Chicken/ Mutton curries were made as specials, they were made in large qauntities and enjoyed over 2 days. Carefully boiling the curry 2 or 3 times to make them last and keep them fresh. Alright I told her I will be careful.
Almost always when I went to Thal my eldest Mama, maternal uncle invited me for lunch or diner that would be a special one. It began with selecting a chicken from the pen by my cousin bro Parshuram and preparing it for cooking by my other bro Vishnu. While Nirmal my cousin sis would make the rice roti on the terracota tava. My Mami, maternal aunt sat in front of the chool to make Gharis. The younger sisters ran for errands to the baazar to get fresh lime. Lime is a must without that Chicken/ Mutton curry was not complete. My mother was my Mama - Mami's favorite and so was I. Dwarkanath, my Dorkya Mama was an absolute sweetheart. He could spoil children silly. He was so innocent too. To him my Mom was the best sister, I was the best niece. He wore one of my hand painted T-shirts for eons till it was completely out of shape, all this beacuse I gave it to him.
So you see Chicken/ Mutton curry was not just any meal. It was a very special one. I would sit on the huge wooden chest (Peti) which is used to safe keep food in Thal and talk endlessly while the meal got ready, watching the masala being ground, the Yelnicha Dhaan being made.Curious, I would ask why it was kept on charcoals after draining the water, Mami would tell me "Sutta, sutta hoto" which means it becomes fluffy. This curry is made for Narali poornima, after Gauri visrjan, Bhau bij or anyreason for special meals.
Oh yes I must mention it is a tradition to make this curry a special treat for all the crew as a send off meal. It is made before the monsoon break in the fishing business families when their crew go home to far off villages for a 4 month vacation as the fishing business does not operate in the monsoons when the sea gets ferocious.
I know you are asking for the recipe already...
For the masala
1 red Byadgi chili rehydrated
1/2 cup shredded dry coconut
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Koli masala OR red chili powder+garam masala
15-20 pepper corns
2 Black cardamoms/ Badi elaichi
5 green cardamoms
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
2 inch piece of cinnamon
1 handful of cilantro (not in picture)
Lightly toast the spices and shredded coconut till the kitchen smells of the essential oils emanating from them. Then transfer to the chutney grinder and grind to a fine paste along with cilantro. Add little water for easy grinding. Keep aside.
1 teapoon of ginger + garlic + green chili paste
1 tablespoon oil
20-30 whole mushrooms washed/ 500 gms mutton or chicken
2 potatoes made into 4 pieces
In a handi or a saucepan heat oil. Add the ginger + garlic + green chili paste and fry a bit. Now let in the whole mushrooms and large chunky potatoes into the handi. Stir to coat with oil. Now pour about a glass of water. Cover and cook till potatoes look like they are about to crumble. Yes keep the skins on the potatoes you will know why when you taste it.
Once the potatoes are done its time to add the ground masala paste. Mix with the veggies and top up with another glass of water. Cover and cook. The curry turns this blackish green color due to the cilantro in it. The oil starts floating on the top a bit and you see a ring on the edges of the curry in the handi as it simmers. That's when you can remove it from the heat and serve with rice and roti or go all the way and make the Ghari too.
The good news is this curry with mushrooms turns out a fragrant one not quite umami but just a little. I loved it with a generous squeeze of lime. I tell you but with Chicken/ Mutton it is superlative when the juices permeate into the chunky potatoes.
To truly enjoy this experience you have to use the tactile sense. The lime has to be squeezed between the forefinger and the thumb. The potato chunks need to be mashed using the 4 fingers except the little one. The skin to be relished while doing it. Meditate on it. Scoop up with the Ghari and later mix with rice and relish it. Burp we did!
So here is the Thal brand special meal of Ghari, Yelnicha dhaan and Brand Chicken/ Mutton/ no no Mushroom Curry. Try it and don't forget the lime.
* The Ghari I made today are with wheat flour with sesame seeds not the traditional ones.
* In Thal a non veg meal is never accompanied with sweets! No desserts please let the tastes prevail.
* This is a very spicy and hot curry so tone down the heat if you are not used to it. It has shocked our tummies and I ate curd rice all day today.