One Sunday winter morning, year after year, my grandfather would leave his Cooperage apartment and catch a cab to a dusty by-lane in Girgaum, the anticipation of the undhiyu flavors in his heart as much as in the steel dabba he held. The destination was Hiralal Bhajiwala’s, Gujarati sweetmeat and farsaan haven. Dada would return an hour later, the dabba now filled with the wonderful earthy fragrance of authentic undhiyu, greeted by the waft of my grandmother’s polis. No time could be wasted anymore, and we sat down to a leisurely lunch immediately.
Undhiyu is a peasant-style winter delicacy from Surat, Gujarat. Typically made from a wide array of beans and roots found in the season, this wonderful amalgamation of flavors is slow cooked in a garlic and coriander base in an upturned earthen pot buried underground and topped with a coal or hay fire. If you happen to be on a morning train from Surat to Bombay, you’d lose your mind inhaling those wonderful aromas—the fresh beans and the young garlic wafting through the compartments and making you want to grab your co-passenger’s breakfast puri and hunt for the source of that heady aroma.
After my grandparents disposed off their Cooperage home and moved to Vashi, the Hiralal Bhajiawala connection somehow got lost. Blame the logistics, maybe. Or the fact that after Dada passed away, we didn’t have the enthusiasm. But the winter ritual of undhiyu eating had to survive. One season, I experimented—relying on the taste and aroma that refused to leave me—and making my own additions as I went along. This recipe has been polished and perfected now—I make it by the kilos every year, and believe me, it doesn’t take too long for it to disappear.
Which is why this picture is from two years ago. (I keep resolving to take pictures of the raw ingredients and then do a perfect garnish for the blog, but the excitement of making the undhiyu and then devouring it take over everything else; ergo, I give up. Some day, if I manage those step-by-step pictures, I will update this post.)
- 1 large cup baby potatoes, washed and pricked
- 1 cup yam, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup purple yam, peeled and cubed
- 1 cup tiny eggplants, slit halfway down
- 1 large cup fresh pigeon peas
- 1 cup fresh field beans,
- 3 large cups Surti paapdi (a tender, curvy field bean typical to the season; although frozen is available in some specialty stores) shelled
- 2 ripe plantains; cut into inch –long roundels
- And here’s my trade secret: 1 cup of ready-made methi muthiya (deep-fried fenugreek fritters) readily available at your local farsaan store
- 1 large bunch of fresh cilantro
- 2 cups fresh coconut, grated
- 2 bunches of young garlic (greens on)
- A handful of fresh green chilies
- An inch-long piece of fresh turmeric root (or 1 tbsp. of powdered turmeric)
- 2 tbsp. coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp. of carom seeds
- Salt and sugar to taste
- Grind the cilantro, coconut, chilies, garlic, coriander seeds, and turmeric to a coarse paste.
- Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a good helping of oil.
- Add the carom seeds and wait until they fill your kitchen with their earthy sense of calm—about half a minute.
- Toss in all the roots (potatoes, yams, sweet potato) and the pigeon peas. Cover and cook for about two-three minutes until the edges begin to get translucent. Check frequently to ensure they don’t stick to the bottom. If you’ve been liberal with the oil, they won’t.
- Now, throw in all the remaining ingredients—the eggplants, plantains, field beans, and the methi muthiya. Season with salt and cover and cook for a further five minutes.
- Now, add the green cilantro and coconut paste. Cover and cook until done. Add a wee bit of sugar in the last few minutes—it will accentuate the sweetness of the plantain and cut the spiciness a bit.
- Garnish with fresh coconut and chopped cilantro. Serve piping hot with millet bread and hot jilebis.