If you ever happen to travel to the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, do not miss the chance to travel this state by road. In its bylanes are many hidden gems. Scenic beauty, traditional culture and food, U.P as its called in India, has it all!
Road travel is the only way you get to see the real India. Glimpses of farmers, fields, villages and towns as one traverses on a national highway, highlight the immense diversity, heritage and culture of India.
Being on a national highway always gives me a high and as my airplane landed in Delhi, I looked forward to the journey ahead. I have often taken this route from Delhi enroute Vrindavan, but this time my car had to make a detour and instead of going on the beautiful Yamuna expressway, a diversion had to be made.
The first sight that captured my heart was carts of fresh jaggery being sold throughout the belt. Mustard fields lined with polar trees, eco friendly fuel made from cow dung, artisans crafting clay pots and heaps of street food are some of the delightful scenes that I could capture.
Bullock carts on the road make for a captivating sight and also give us a glimpse of ancient times when there were few modes of transport and this why I love capturing bullock carts, that in a way take me back in time.
On my way back to Delhi airport from Babrala, I came across this charming little spot with many carts selling chole khulche, a very popular street food in U.P. These carts, holding two inverted brass utensils made to stand mysteriously were quite intriguing as I spotted them in many areas throughout the belt.
The spot where I asked my driver to stop looked nothing short of a movie set dotted with bright coloured vegetables, gleaming brass utensils, hot steam coming from freshly cooked food and endearing cartmen trying to sell their wares, which in this case happened to be the very delightful street food, chole khulche.
I’m quite skeptical about street food, but the cart I happened to stop was clean, neat and the hot steam coming from the burning coals showed a lot of promise. The chaatwala bhaiyya (brother in Hindi) quickly assembled some chole khulche for me as I had very few minutes to spare.
Discovering chole khulche from this little space was one of the highlights for me and back in Mumbai, I tried to recreate this memory by making chole khulche again. Having made notes about the spices from these cartmen who were quite generous with sharing the information, was quite helpful and it helped me to get the right balance of flavours.
Thanks to this meal, I was able to relive a part of this beautiful experience and I look forward to going back to U.P again to discover more hidden and unhidden gems like this.
Chole Khulcha Recipe
250 gm (1 1/2 cups) chickpeas or Kabuli Channa
1000 ml (4 cups) water
To make tamarind paste-
1 tsp tamarind, soaked in 1 cup water for 30 minutes
To be ground to a smooth paste-
1 bay leaf
1 black cardamom, with the outer covering removed
2 green cardamom pods, with the covering removed
1” piece cinnamon stick
½ tsp black pepper
1 star anise
4 tsp coriander seed powder
1 tsp cumin seed powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp fresh ginger
2 green chilies
2 tbsp fresh coriander or cilantro
For the seasoning-
4 tbsp (or 3 tbsp if you want to cut calories) oil
¾ tsp shahi jeera or black cumin seeds
1 tsp asafetida powder
2 tsp salt
1 ½ to 2 tsp chat masala
Wash and soak the chickpeas in plenty of water overnight or for 24 hours. (Soaking this longer helps to remove the gas causing compounds, the white frothy substance that collects on the top is what you need to get rid of).
Drain the soaking water and pressure cook the chickpeas with water until tender, 10 to 15 minutes on low heat after the first whistle. If you have the patience or dont have a pressure cooker then cook the beans in a stock pot until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour.
In a blender put in all the spices and the spice powders and blend to a coarse powder. Put in the chopped tomatoes, ginger, green chili and coriander and blend to a smooth puree without using any water.
In a wok or kadhai, heat the oil and once the oil is hot, stir in the shahi jeera and after a few seconds, put in the asafetida. Then you need to add the spiced tomato puree and cook till the oil separates from the tomatoes on medium low heat, stirring in between, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Mash the tamarind with your hands and extract the juice using a strainer. (You can also do this while adding the tamarind into the chickpeas by holding the strainer over the chickpeas).
Put in the cooked chickpeas, the cooking water, the tamarind extract and cook till the water is reduced and you get a gravy of the required consistency.
Stir in the chat masala and salt and turn off the heat. Garnish with fresh coriander and chilies if you like and serve hot with rice or Indian breads.
Serves 4 to 6
For the yeast mixture
125 ml lukewarm water
½ tsp instant yeast
½ tsp sugar
350 gm (2 ½ cups) plain flour
¾ tsp salt
½ cup yogurt
2 tbsp oil
In a bowl put in the water, stir in the yeast and sugar and allow to rest for about 10 minutes or until the water starts to froth on the top.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a bowl, put in the flour and salt and mix.
Once the yeast froths, stir into the flour mixture, alongwith the yogurt and oil. Mix well using your hands (or paddle attachment in a stand mixer). Then you need to knead the dough for 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic (use the dough hook if using a stand mixer). Spread some oil over the dough and allow to rest for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until the dough doubles in size.
Once the dough doubles, divide into 8 equal parts. On a flat surface, roll the dough into a 4” or 5” circle and place it on an oiled baking tray.
Pre heat the oven to 200C/400F.
Place the tray in the centre of the oven and bake for 5 to 7 minutes.