Preeti Deo’s cooking journey looks like something straight out of a Hollywood movie or an international bestseller. Well, it does bear some similarity with Julie and Julia. Like Julie Powell in the movie, Deo too cooked her way through a famous cookbook. Only, in her case the book was a collection of Maharashtrian recipes authored by Late Kamalabai Ogale. Ruchira is an iconic cookbook, almost a Bible to the Maharashtrian cooking and can be found in almost every Marathi household. Deo cooked 300 recipes from the book which took her three years. A feat achieved while she was staying in London where most Indian ingredients are not so easily available. “At times I would drive in snow to get to the distant markets to buy the ingredients,” she tells me over a phone interview.
Deo was recently in India to launch her own book which focuses on the recipes from the Marathwada region which consists of Aurangabad, Beed, Jalna, Latur, Osmanabad and other districts. Deo’s book Paat Pani is a collection of recipes from her maternal and paternal households as well as her mother in law’s kitchen; each section peppered with memories of family rituals based around food.
Paat Pani in Marathi means setting the meal. In a traditional Maharashtrian household, meal is served on banana leaf or a large metal plate called taat. An aasan (rectangular fabric) or a short legged stool called paat is placed to sit on and eat the meal. The plate is placed on a higher wooden stool called chaurang. Apart from the placement of meal, the serving of dishes too has a certain pattern. Salt is served first followed by lemon and condiments – pickles, chutneys, koshimbir (a condiment usually made with yogurt and cucumber) – all served on the left side of the plate. Sides or vegetable preparations and aamti (lentil preparation) or kadhi are placed on the right side. The centre stage is occupied by rice, flatbreads, fried accompaniments like papad etc. and dessert. The recipes in the book cover every element served in the meal.
Marathwada is a dry region and gets 30 per cent less rainfall than the rest of the country and hence doesn’t have access to fresh vegetables and greens during most part of the year especially summers. “People don’t know much about the cuisine of this part. While there isn’t enough fresh produce we do use a lot of valvaan (sundried products) in our cooking,” says Deo. During winter when green leafy vegetables and gourds are available, people sun-dry and store them to use in the latter part of the year. Vegetables like okra, chillies and cluster beans are coated with butter milk, seasoned with cumin powder and sun-dried. These, when fried, make for delicious accompaniments to the meal.
Deo, who belongs to Jalna, retraced her steps back to her hometown, called her ajji (maternal grandmother) and other family members to get the traditional recipes. Most of her memories – and the fondest ones – are associated with her tai (paternal grandmother) and her house in Aurangabad. “Tai used to wear a green shawl almost all the time, while sitting by stove making puran poli or drying mangoes in sun to make pickle. The shawl had faint aromas of caramelised jaggery, agarbatti, haldi kumkum; it was like a testimony to her life,” she says.
The book also touches upon some of the key ingredients or masalas. What garam masala is to north Indian cooking, kala masala is to Marathwada cooking. The dry roasted mix of various spices forms the base of most dishes. Metkut – a mix of lentils, wheat, rice and spices which are dry roasted and ground – is used in various ways; sprinkle it over hot rice, pohe or mix in yogurt to make quick dip.
The most interesting, and my favourite, part of the book is the section about hand-rolled pastas or valvat. These pastas, categorised into dry and fresh kinds, are made with sorghum flour, whole wheat flour and semolina, and eaten as savoury snacks or dessert. Shaping these pastas to make them resemble grains of rice, tiny shells or even little pearls is nothing less than a work of art.
Paat Pani is available on Amazon.