Every January, Mumbai hosts an exhibition called 'Mahalaxmi Saras' that brings together aritsans from around the country. The biggest draw at this exhibition are the farmers, producers and women from self help groups from remote parts of Mahrashtra. They come bearing homegrown cashews and kokum and lovingly made papads, chunteys and syrups. There is also a food court where stalls sell curries rarely seen outside rural homes, accompanied by wafer thin rice crepes or bhakris (the traditional millet flatbreads) made fresh over clay griddles. Between the packaged food sellers and the food court, Mahalaxmi Saras is a journey through rural Maharashtra. Every year, I come back surprised with how varied the local cuisine is and how much I am still to learn.
I made three trips this year and came back with bags full of purchases each time. The sellers are all super enthusiastic which means that when I stopped to pick up cashews being sold directly by this farm owner from Ratnagiri, he convinced me to buy something called 'kulith peeth'. I had no idea what they muddy brown flour was supposed to do but a grinning lady handed me a card and told me to call her if I needed the recipe. Now who can resist that offer!
Back home, my research promptly told me that kulith is a lesser known lentil - the horsegram and the flour that I was now holding is used in Maharashtrian cuisine to make pithla, a savoury porridge like sludge that is eaten with millet flatbreads. Because pithla is traditionally made with gramflour, I decided to substitute gramflour with kulith flour in my beloved dish - kadhi.
The resultant yogurt and lentil soup had the same consistency as the regular kadhi but kulith gives it a more hearty, earthier flavour. I served my kulith kadhi like a soup, topped with fried onions and a spray of dried mint but it will be equally good served over plain steamed rice. Here goes the recipe:
2 tbsp. kulith flour
3 tbsp. yogurt
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1 tbsp. ginger garlic paste
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp amchur
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp. fried onions
1 tsp dried mint (or a handful of fresh mint leaves)
Whisk together the kulith flour and the yogurt. Add 4 cups of water to make a thin blend, whisking to make sure the flour and yogurt are well blended and there are no lumps. In a pan large enough to hold the mixture, heat olive oil. Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Wait until the seeds start to splutter, then add the chopped onions and the ginger garlic paste. Stir on a low heat until the onions are a golden brown. Add the kulith-yogurt mixture and all the remaining spices. Stir well to mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the soup is well blended and thickened to the consistency of, say, a cheese sauce.
Serve hot with rice, garnished with fried onions, mint and a dash of lime juice.