Monday, June 20, 2011

Chane ki Chatni: My Dad's favorite

Bengal Gram Sprouts: Chane ka saag
A couple weeks ago, I had asked you all to guess this plant from my kitchen garden. I was so sure that no one will have seen this sprout often enough to recognize it! I'm actually surprised  that a couple of you guessed it right- and that's you two; Meera and Seema. Well good for you- goes on to show that you're experts in matters pertaining to kitchen basics! It isn't always that those living in cities can identify the source of our food. This sprout in question on the left is Kala chana (Bengal gram), widely used in Indian cuisine in its myriad avatars.  Here, I am going to talk about one more use for it. This post is more talk, less recipe. So, bear with me as I bore you with the simplest recipe ever on my blog yet!

The reason I know of this plant is my dad. Never asked him if this recipe is a traditional; a fact that I'll regret forever. All I know is that every fall and spring, I'd catch my dad in the kitchen hunting around my mom's pantry - no mean feat considering that she kept all her food related stuff in shiny, UNlabeled steel containers. For newbies in the kitchen like us trying to locate one dabba; it meant an hour at least of hard labor opening and looking. Not to mention that if we upset her order of those dabbas, we'd get her roaring mad, So, we had to find time when she was either sleeping or away. The deal between my dad and I was that if I found the dabba, I got to plant those seeds. Many years passed before I realized that my dad was actually letting me win....he totally escaped mom's wrath every time I came along and told her excitedly about how I had planted her whole dabba of kala chana in the soil! She never, ever had the heart to say anything, for she knew the real brain behind this scheming wasn't me.

My dad and I would water them every morning and evening, and I counted the leaves on them. I learned my first lesson in plant anatomy here - my dad pointed out how the leaves come out as one and then split into many small ones...but they were all still one leaf- a thought that my teacher in high school completed when she taught us about compound leaves. Anyways, we had to let the sprouts grow till there were at least 7 leaf stalks on them...I have no idea why. May be my dad just made that up so he could shut me up for the next 2 weeks. And then we carefully broke off the bottom 5 stalks leaving the tips intact, so the plants could grow one more time. And dad made me present the booty proudly to my mom. She'd give him the glare, but still take the bowl and make my dad his favorite Chane ke saag ki chutney and pakora for brunch that Sunday.

Earlier this month, as I was thinking ahead for Father's Day; somehow this memory resurfaced. And I soaked a fistful of Kala chana overnight. The next morning, both girls helped me plant the seeds, and they got the honors of watering the sprouts I did many years ago for my dad. This past week, we actually made the chutney from the 3-week-or-so old sprouts; and pakoras of course!

Chane ke Saag ki Chutney

Chane ka saag (Bengal gram greens): a whole bunch
Green chillies 3-4
Salt  1/2 tsp
Lemon juice 1/2Tbsp
Ghee 1tsp
Cumin seeds 1tsp

  1. Separate the leaves from stalks and wash thoroughly. Then strain through a colander. (I'd soaked a fistful of beans; and that gave me a huge potful to start with. Look the picture of the potted sprouts to get an idea)
  2. Combine all the ingredients listed above in a food processor.
  3. Heat the ghee and splutter cumin seeds. Put these in with everything else.
  4. Grind it all together into a smooth chutney.
My two cents: When I was putting it together, two things struck me at once: 1) This is the only chutney I know that integrates ghee in it, bringing it closer to the pesto preparations here  in USA and (2) this doesn't use any root vegetables (like onion or garlic)- at least not the way my mom made it. That makes it a strong contender for a traditional Jain recipe.

Very simple to put together, this chutney keeps well refrigerated, for over a week. It is a vibrant green, and definitely tastes different from the everyday dhania chutney. The stalks are very fibrous, so make sure you separate the leaves carefully. Apart from the the dip, it is a great spicy spread for sandwiches. And finally, since this was my dad's favorite chutney, I will like to share it through the FSF- Father's Day event hosted by Sonia and Chutneys and pickles event at Ammaji's.