I believe It is important to have a cultural identity, important to know where you come from, how strong are the roots of your birth, what is it that makes your culture unique and makes it thrive. And when we think of a cultural identity food plays a huge part. We eat the food of our fathers and forefathers, what they grew up eating becomes a norm of life for us. But cultural influences don’t just have to be internal they can be external too. Even though both my parents are Punjabi since we lived in Ulhasnagar the cuisine of “Sindh” had an enormous influence on our palates. We grew up eating Sindhi food till it ran in our blood along with our cuisine. Along the way, other cultural influences also made their mark.
However, nothing else has had a greater impact then Maharashtrian food because that is what the husband grew up on and having being married for more than a decade it is but obvious that the Maharashtrian cuisine has also made its mark in not just my kitchen but my life. Since I am the cook in the house my Punjabiness dominates the kitchen on most days. But I try to also be fair and make the food that the husband has etched in his memories. Since we live abroad, away from family, away from local influences it becomes imperative that I cook food that he associates with. Food that runs in his blood so he remembers the flavours, the taste, the smell of his mother’s cooking. And this “Vatanycha Usal” (Dried Green Peas Curry) is the dish of his childhood.
The Usal is a mixture of Coconut, Sesame seeds and Onion and can be made in advance for days that you want to indulge in this very rustic and delicious dish. It is heartening to see his Green eyes light up every time I make this and the man of few words nods his head when I ask “Does this taste like your mum’s cooking?”
Recipe: (Preparation time 60 minutes, serves 8)
1 ½ Cup dried Green Peas
1/2 cup grated Coconut (I used freshly frozen Coconut)
1 Tbsp Sesame seeds
Two medium sized onions (1 onion finely chopped and the other roughly chopped)
2 Tomatoes (Pureed)
5 – 6 Curry leaves
One tsp fresh Garlic paste
One tsp fresh Ginger paste
Handful of Fresh Coriander
One tsp Red Chilli powder
One tsp Turmeric powder
One tsp Coriander powder
One tsp Cumin powder
One tsp Dry Mango Powder
1/2 tsp Mustard seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
One tsp Garam masala powder or Goda Masala
Salt to taste
Two Tsp Vegetable Oil
Soak the peas in a bowl of water overnight or at least for a few hours.
Add one tsp of Oil in the pan and add the roughly chopped Onion, Coconut and Sesame seeds and roast till slightly brown on a medium flame. Keep stirring so the Coconut doesn’t burn.
Transfer the Coconut mixture into a grinder. Add ½ cup of water and grind it to a fine paste. You can make this mixture days in advance and freeze it. Using it whenever you want to make Usal.
In a pressure cooker add some Oil, Cumin, Mustard seeds and Curry leaves and let them splutter. Add the finely chopped Onion and cook till translucent.
Add the Tomato Puree and let it cook till the Oil starts to separate. Add all the dry masalas – Chilli, Turmeric, Coriander, Cumin, Garam Masala, Salt and Dry mango powder and let the masalas cook for a few minutes.
Now add the Coconut paste to the Tomato mixture. Mix everything well together till the oil starts to separate.
Drain the water from the Peas and mix well. Add 2 ½ cups of water and pressure cook for 8 – 9 whistles.
Serve hot with Rotis.