Sunday, January 10, 2010

Usal Puri

Usal with a squeeze of lemon OR splash of sweet Tamarind Chutney

When we lived in Fort going to Thal meant either taking the ferry to Revas from Bhaucha dhakka or taking the State Transport Bus from Parel ST Depot. Those days it took 4 hrs to reach to Thal. Either ways we had to change mode of transport or vehicle. At such times waiting at the Revas Bus stand or Alibag Bus depot was not the easiest thing to do, it was completely idlylic. The small little eatery at Revas or the Alibag ST canteen made life interesting.

Both the places served tasty Usal Puri or Alibag's Poori Bhaaji. Like in the North India Chole Puri is a rustic breakfast, it takes the avatar of Poori Saagu in the South. In Maharashtra it is the Vatana Usal. Soemtimes served with Poori or Pao. In and around Alibag I have seen it is served as in my platter. The Usal in a bowl with potato bhaji scoop in the middle with a simple salad of onions, cilantro and green chilies and a quarter of a lemon. At my home Dad loves to give this dish his touch with a splash of sweet tamarind chutney, an influence from his Bhaiya (UPites) neighbors in our Colaba home.

For a long time I have been be contemplating about making this Combo meal for breakfast. It is a meal associated with my Dad's childhood and youngster days. It was to them what Pizza and Chinese is to my generation. They rarely had the pocket money to eat at the only eatery in the village. Yet when he started going to junior college in Alibag, he saved money to eat Poori bhaji or Usal Pao. This later was replaced by Rumble Tumble on Toast and Caramel custard at the Irani hotels in Colaba when he started working in Mumbai.

Now making this for breakfast meant full preparation to be made the day before. Potatoes were bolied along with Dal and rice in the pressure cooker and frozen for use the next morning. The dried green peas were soaked in water in the afternoon and over the night to make it easy for cooking and we would require a mushy Usal. Also while making the last nights chapatis made some extra tight dough for the Puris. Even with this kind of preparation I would still need an hour to put together the breakfast at the final stage.

So today the day began with pressure cooking the green vatana, making the yellow potato bhaaji. Then cleaned the home had bath and then went back to cutting the vegetables to give the final touches. While I was gone for bath. Dad got excited with the smells and went to check out in the kitchen what I was making for breakfast. Seeing the preps he did some thing and I did not have a clue.

I came back and got everything ready, took pictures and finally was settling down to eat with Dad. He sprung a surprise! He had made his favorite sweet tamarind chutney. Between mouthfuls he was saying, "You have made this the first time after we came to Bangalore." Gosh yes we were having this breakfast after almost 5 years. I was teasing Dad that he seemed to be excited about breakfast of Usal Puri today, he actually preferred Usal Pao he said, "I love to soak up the Pao in it, every morsel." But Baba you have to have our Mumbai Pao for it not these buns we get in Blr. We both agreed and enjoyed heartily the Usal Puri.

If it interests you try it out, you will not regret the sweating required for it.


For the Vatana usal

1/2 cup dried green peas/ Hirve Vatane

Wash and soak in lot of water. Start in the afternoon of the day before of this breakfast.

Next morning

2 onions chopped fine
1 green chili chopped
2 tomatoes chopped
2 teaspoons sambhar powder/ Goda masala
8- 10 curry leaves
handful chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon oil
salt to taste

Pressure cook the soaked Vatane to mushiness. I covered the Vatane with enough water and allowed 6-8 whistles.

Heat the oil. Fry onions till pink. Add the tomatoes. Add the green chili and sambhar powder. Cook down to a paste. Pour the cooked Vatane into it. The consistency of this curry is pourable to watery depending on how you like it. Today the Usal was planned to be served with Puri so I made it such as to be slurped with the Puri not to watery. However with Pao watery one is prefered. The salt needs to go in to make the effort enjoyable, do it your style. Let it boil.

The Potato Bhaaji is so common that I feel it does not need a recipe but without it this post cannot be complete.

For the Potato Bhaaji

1 tablespoon of oil
4 potatoes diced
1 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon asafoetida
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
salt to taste

Heat the oil. Splutter the mustard seeds, sprinkle the asafoetida and the turmeric. Mix in the diced potatoes. Cover and cook for 5 mins.

For Sweet Tamarind Chutney

1 lemon sized ball of tamarind
2 lemon sized balls of jaggery
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a bowl heat water. Add to it the tamarind, jaggery and salt and bring to a boil. Put off the heat and after cooling, squeeze out the extract. Strain to remove fibers and shell of tamarind.

Onion cilantro salad

Chop onions fine. Do the same with fresh cilantro. Fine chop a green chili. Mix all this together with a little salt. This has to served on the side.

Serving Directions

In a plate place a shallow bowl ladle out the Usal. Scoop up some potato bhaaji and drop it in the center of the bowl. Now serve on left handside hot ballooned Puris. On the right handside serve the onion salad and a wedge of fresh lemon. Place the tamarind chutney in a bowl on the side. Those who like it might want to splash it on the Usal.

Eating directions

With your fingers top the Usal and Potato bowl with the onion salad. Squeeze the lemon over it. Mix with your fingers mashing the potatoes into the usal. The blending of the sour and starchy goodness makes it so yum and therapeutic, you stop to experience it just for a while. If adding sweet chutney do it after this mixing to enjoy the different taste between morsels. Now tear a small piece of the Puri and scoop up the Usal and put it straight into the salivating mouth. I cannot imagine not using my fingers for this. I might switch to a spoon only after the mixing. Some food are such the tactile indulgence is a must.

A closing note...

When one is happy then one feels like making lengthy meals. Once in a while, we all need assurance that people in our life value us. Communication is so important. It has made me so calm and gives more strength to face life. All of a sudden all the problems seem to have vanished. Those of you who find it difficult to communicate please reassure your feelings to your loved ones. Don't imagine that people understand what's on your mind. Speak it out, that is why we have a language, say it in words.

As for me I am awaiting some special time... "a different platform" ;) !


  1. Wow - it looks super delicious, I felt like picking up the puri and eating it :( Wish there was some way to transport food thru the virtual world :)) Thanks for the recipe Anjali...

  2. Sambar masala.. that's an interesting twist. Looks great Anjali! (What's this cryptic statement about the different platform? :) )

  3. Sonia we r on the way to enable smells with technology wish taste also follows :).

    ET Goda masala is also used many times, I will add it as options.There is person who talks like that so I am just mimicing it:);)

  4. I made this recently because I was intrigued by the sambar masala, and it turned out great. So simple, but so flavorful! I didn't go the extra length of making puris and batata bhaji, the usal was good with chapatis too!


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