I cannot believe a year has gone by and its my blog’s first anniversary. So while I have been in hibernation for the last couple of months, I could not, not post for my anniversary. From the various blogs out there and the usual practice to post fantastic desserts, me not being quite the ‘sweet – tooth’ kinda person, I settled instead for a celebratory savoury dish that personifies seasons like very few others.
I don’t think any other Indian vegetarian dish personifies seasonality as well as Surti Undhiyo, the quintessential vegetable dish that originates from the western state of Gujarat, India. A beautiful medley of vegetables that are grown, sold, bought and prepared between Winter and early Spring. Painstakingly prepared and cooked traditionally in huge sealed terracotta pots, the combination of textures and flavours of the vegetables, spices and condiments used is quite unique and unlike any other Indian curry you may have tasted. Those in the know, know what I am talking about and I have to yet come across anybody who does not like a good Surti Undhiyo.
Surti denotes the small town of Surat in Gujarat, which is where the dish originated from, also famous for beautiful textiles and a town that boasts of being one of world’s largest centres for diamond polishing, while Undhiyo comes from the word ‘undhu’ which means upside down, and signifies the traditional cooking method in which the terracotta pots sealed with vegetables and masalas are placed with hot charcoals heating the pot from above rather than underneath.
The dish is a seasonal one, comprising = vegetables that are available on the South Gujarat coastline, including (amongst others) green beans ( surti papdi – which is kind of small flat beans or new peas (typically used along with the tender pod), unripe banana or plantain, small eggplants, muthia (dumplings/fritters made with fenugreek leaves and spiced chickpea flour, and either steamed or fried), baby potatoes, purple yam and sweet potatoes. These are spiced with a dry curry paste that typically contain cilantro or coriander leaves, ginger, spring garlic, green chillies, sugar, toasted peanuts and sesame seeds and freshly grated coconut. The mixture is slow cooked for a long time, with plenty of oil vegetable oil and a very small amount of water sufficient to steam the root vegetables.
Now the reason why Undhiyo is so special and treasured is because it can be savoured for only about 3-4 months between December and March and the reason is very simple. More then 80 % of the ingredients used are available only during this season. Perhaps the most unique one is the spring garlic which is fresh leaves of tender garlic that are just beginning to sprout ( See picture below) and add a completely different dimension to the dish. You can make this vegetable without any other vegetable but not without the tender garlic leaves that have a beautiful mild profile without the overpowering flavours of dry garlic. In addition, the tender green peas, the flat beans, purple yam ( Kand in Gujarati) are also usually grown in the winters.
To be honest, its only been in the last 3-4 years, that I started to prepare Undhiyo, picking up tips from Gujarati friends, looking up the internet etc. I can safely say that the recipe here is tried and tested several times in a method that is not as difficult as the traditional method and yet renders the same taste as one would expect if the dish was served in a traditional Gujarati home.
Now the other thing about Undhiyo that puts off a lot of people is the amount of oil used in the recipe. I must straight away tell you that this dish isn’t for the diet conscious. Eat a little, eat well is my motto, especially when it comes to Surti Undhiyo. I have tried preparing this with less quantities of oil, it just doesn’t taste and feel as it should. And the reason for this is that hearty root vegetables and array of spices need the desired quantity of oil to release their flavour, retain their shape and not get claggy. Also, you will note in the recipe, that the vegetable is not stirred in between and we therefore need to ensure that the bottom does not get burnt as unfortunately we do not have the facility to cook in upside down in our modern city kitchens.
Now I must warn that a little goes a long way with Surti Undhiyo and with the above quantity of ingredients, you will make a big pot of prepared dish which you can refrigerate or freeze for later use. The slow cooking method with the copious amount of oil ensures a longer shelf life.
So all those who have been waiting for an authentic easy recipe for Undhiyo, this is it, I promise. Just follow the recipe and you will end up with compliments galore….do give it a shot and let me know what you think.
- Tuvar Dana – 250 grams (Green lentils – shelled – fresh or frozen). If you can’t find these, substitute with green peas;
- Surti Papdi ( Flat Beans) – 250 grams, stringed;
- Sweet Potato – 1 large, scrubbed & cut into 1 inch thick slices;
- Purple Yam – 200 grams, scrubbed and diced into 1 inch cubes ( I skipped this one);
- Raw plantain – 2, cut into 1 inch thick slices ( with the skin intact);
- New baby potatoes – 10-15, ( peeled and scrubbed);
- Baby eggplants – 8-10 ( cross – slit on either ends);
For the Masala Paste
- Fresh grated coconut – 1 cup
- Spring garlic – 1 -2 small bunch
- Fresh Coriander – 1 cup, stalks removed
- Roasted Peanuts – 1/2 cup, skinned and coarsely ground
- Roasted white sesame seeds – 2 tablespoons, coarsely ground
- Green chillies – 2-3
- Lemon Juice – 3-4 teaspoons
- Sugar – 1 teaspoon ( optional)
- Salt to taste
For the Fenugreek Fritters / Methi Muthiyas
- Fresh Fenugreek Leaves – 1 small bunch
- Gram Flour / Chickpea Flour – 1 cup
- Ground red chilli – 1 teaspoon
- Ground Turmeric – 1/2 teaspoon
- Salt to taste
- Water to bind ( 3-4 tablespoons)
- Oil to fry
- Oil – 2-3 cups /500 ml
- Ground Turmeric – 1 tablespoon
- Salt to taste
Preparing the vegetables: The first step to making Undhiyo is preparing the vegetables. While the cooking process is itself is pretty straightforward, its the preparation that calls for some level of patience and attention to detail. So, shell the green lentils, string the flat beans, scrub the baby potatoes, wash and slit the eggplants at opposite ends such that they don’t split in half, and scrub the purple yam, sweet potatoes and plantain and cut them into 1.5 inch cubes. Keep the vegetables separately as they need to be cooked in layers depending on how tough or quickly they without disintegrating. Soak the plantain, yam and sweet potato in bowls of cold water to which a pinch of turmeric has been added to prevent oxidisation.
For the fritters: Pluck the fenugreek leaves from the stock and thoroughly rinse the leaves in cold water to remove any soil / residue through a colander. Chop them finely with a knife or in a food processor. Add 1 cup of gram flour and the rest of the dry spices, salt, water ( 1 tbsp at a time) and combine using your hands till it comes together like a sticky dough. Do not use all the water at once as the leaves are inherently moist which will sweat out when you start to bring together the dough. Heat oil in a frying pan on a medium heat. Keep a bowl of water ready to dip your fingers into, shape the fritters into small balls and slide gently into the hot oil away from you. Frying the balls on a low heat will ensure that the insides cook well without excessively browning the exterior.Fry about 4-5 fritters in a batch and repeat till you have used up the dough. Going by experience, any number of muthiyas is never enough when you have Undhiyo for a meal and hence if your family loves them, just increase the ingredient quantities to make more. Drain the fritters on a paper towel and keep aside.
For the Masala Paste: Now there are two ways of making this – the authentic way and the easier method. In the traditional method, grind together the garlic, green chillies, and half the coriander leaves to a fine paste. Place the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly with the chilli paste.
Adjust the salt and lemon juice to balance the flavours. This method helps to retain the chunky and rustic consistency of the paste. Alternatively, you could place all the masala ingredients in a food processor and whizz to a coarse mixture. The only slight danger with this method is that due to the different textures of the ingredients, you could end up with a smooth consistency if blended a little longer, which is not ideal. You will end up with a nice bog bowl of masala which may seem like a lot but is required for the quantity of vegetables used and forms the main base of this dish.
Stuff the baby eggplants with a teaspoon each of the mixture and keep aside. In a large heavy bottomed casserole, place two – three cups of vegetable / canola oil on a low heat. Add a quarter of the masala paste to the oil and stir briefly before adding the shelled green lentils, beans and salt and mix.
Then place the plantain, yam, sweet potatoes and baby potatoes in layers, spreading a few tablespoons of the masala paste between each later with a small sprinkling of salt.
It is important to add salt at each layer so that the vegetables are well seasoned as we do not mix all the vegetables at any stage during the cooking process. However, be careful to not over-season the ingredients. Place the stuffed eggplants on the top of the potatoes and finally place the fried muthiyas / fritters on the top most later along with any of the remainder masala paste.
The oil should come up to about 1/2 the casserole and if you think it is too dry, heat another cup of oil separately and add to the casserole. I know this seems like a lot of oil but the this is what gives the undhiyo its authentic taste and flavour. You can reduce the amount of oil and replace with 50:50 proportion of oil to water. Now place a tight fitting lid on the casserole or if you don’t have one, cover the dish with aluminium foil and place a tight fitting plate/ lid to retain the steam and moisture. Make sure that the flame is on the lowest setting through out the cooking process. Cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes, checking once or twice in between to ensure that the bottom doesn’t burn. Open the lid and using a skewer or knife, check if all the vegetables are fully tender. Taste and adjust for seasoning and serve hot with hot puris or steamed rice.