My Paternal Grandma was a petite and beautiful woman. As much as she was known to be a beauty she was known to be kanjoos or stingy by her kids. Even today Dad and Uncles narrate how she shallow fried fish in the tiniest bit of oil and while doing that she would make the entire household cough up. So her kids loved to call this style of cooking 'Tal-bhuz' which translates to half frying and half roasting and they did coin that word!
The same children reminiscence over Shravani Somvar of their childhood when Grandma would have head bath and go to our Family God's house pray and then go to the bazaar to choose the best bunch of 'Daar bhaaji'.
The afternoon would be spent cleaning it carefully, most of it would be chopped fine to make a stir fry with either green or red chilies and some leaves would be kept away. All the children starving by then would get excited. They knew their mother was generous on Shravani Somvars. Grandpa and her children nodded in approval and winked at each other for they knew what she would make.
Such simple pleasures but deep frying was not so common at home in those days atleast not in our home. When I look back I realise how conscious my Grandma was about what she fed to her kids and when.
So on Shravan Somvars when the sun is going down, Piri (flat seating platforms) which are also called Paat in Marathi, Piri is plural for Pira in Koli; would be laid out in two rows with some space for movement between the two rows. She would then place one by one a Dinda leaf in front of each Pira. After serving all the food perfectly in order the way it should be on the leaf with the chutney on top, veggies on the right, rice in the middle and chapati or Ghari on the left. She would then call out to the husband and children to wash their hands and seat themselves. They would obey immediately and then she would rush to the kitchen as they chanted the prayers to rustle up the star of the menu, to fry up the Paanache bhajji!
The Daar bhaaji or Lal MaaTh leaf bhajji turned out crisp and were served to the groaning stomachs in the Pangat (a way of seating in a line at lunch or dinner just like sitting at a dinning table, it's a formal affair).
Grandma always kept the bhajji batter ready, the leaves washed and cleaned and drained well to serve hot crisp bhajji and then she would announce. 'Suru kara!' her kids always took that as a command 'Attack'.
My Shravan series cannot be complete without a post on this Paanache bhajji. It's a simple recipe but you have to be a skilled cook to know how to turn them out best. The batter coating has to be gossamer yet the leaf should be fried to crackling crunchiness. The veins of the leaf forming a pattern on the batter. This recipe and skill is handed down by my Grandma to all her DILs and from them to us grandchildren. I made them after years and as I did a few I was wondering why they did not look like my Grandma's, of course then I thinned the batter a bit and the third bhajji onwards I had a perfectly crackling leaf bhajji.
As far as I can remember this is the only recipe by my Gradma that is treasured in the family more for the lovely memories than anything else. Also Shravan as it is the monsoons was the only time she would get time to cook elaborately for her family as it meant four months of break for the fishing season. The kitchen was completely her domain then when all domestic help was on leave. My Grandma, Yesubai, was a Nakhwin, co-owner of a fishing business and had to run a household of family plus 25 to 30 employees plus more on the fish drying fields. She personally made Chavalachi roti for the staff and family every morning with the help of one of our Khapnarin (see how evolved that word is, not servant but someone who does hard work!) She never had the luxury to make goodies except for the basic meals. Plus even the staff was better skilled for fishing related activities so all the goodies were made by the village goldsmith's wife. Yes Kolis were a tribe and yet so evolved, our women were working and heading businesses since generations. A Koli woman was expected to know only the basic cooking to run a home and the rest was always delegated.
So finally here is the recipe of the Daar Paanache Bhajji
10 Daar bhaaji leaves
1/2 cup besan/ chickpea flour
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon rice flour
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon carom seeds
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
Enough water to thin the batter.
Oil to fry
First wash clean and drain the leaves. Dab them with a towel to remove all moisture.
Now make batter with besan, red chili powder, turmeric, salt, rice flour and carom seeds. Make it to a consistency that coats the leaf evenly yet is thin enough to let the leaf see thru. It should be gossamer is what I mean. Thick coats leave the leaf soggy inside. The only way to get a crunchy crisp leaf is to coat it perfectly which lets it fry well thru and thru.
Deep fry in smoking hot oil till crunchy crisp.
Take a bite when it's fresh and hot. Serve instantly as a start to a meal or with your evening Chaha. Enjoy the rare indulgence of the deep fried, that's what my Grandma would have surely said but for her children this bhajji is about Shravani Somvar and never demand it any other time.