Chana Dal Stuffed Parantha (Birhni)

I hear my father yet again craving for some good old Bihari food he grew up on. It just so happens that most of what he loves does not happen to be too healthy for him in his golden years. So I am pleasantly surprised to hear my mother readily agreeing to make ‘Birhni’. But then she kills his joy instantly with a “no kheer to accompany it”.   My father looks at me with a half evil smile, half begging me. I am torn between his desire to have something so close to his heart, and his health. Finally, love conquers better sense and reluctantly I convince my mother that I would like to have some kheer with it. She knows my father is up to no good, because I really don’t care much for kheer. But then she doesn’t want to argue because even she agrees that this is the weirdest combination of savory and sweet, but somehow it works! Besides, her daughter is visiting after 5 years and she wasn’t about to refuse anything she asked for. My father blackmails my mother’s emotions and demands this parantha with kheer on every occasion he can find – his birthday and wedding anniversary, his kids birthdays and anniversaries, and even his grand childrens birthdays, even when we are not with them. He is delightfully conniving, and I find it so cute even at his age!!

Ingredients

For stuffing

  • Chana dal – 1/2 cup
  • Jeera – 1/2 tsp
  • Red chilli flakes – 3/4 tsp (or to taste)
  • Asafoetida (hing) – 1/4 tsp
  • Oil – 1 tsp
  • Salt – 1 tsp (or to taste)

For the dough

  • Whole wheat flour – 2 cups
  • Warm water for kneading – approx 3/4 to 1 cup
  • Salt – 1 tsp

For shallow frying

  • Cooking spray or desi ghee or refined oil

Method

Wash well and soak the chana dal for at least 5-6 hours. At the end of the soak time, drain excess water and keep water level just slightly above the dal. Add salt. Heat oil for tarka and add jeera, hing and chilli flakes. Stir gently and then dunk the tarka in the chana dal. Stir well. In a pressure cooker filled with a little water, boil the chana mixture covered, and then under pressure for about 5-6 whistles. Adding water to the base of the cooker will deter excess pressure buildup, even when the water in the chana daal dish dries up. Turn off heat and wait for the pressure to release. Check on the chana dal mix. The dal should be well cooked and softened with no excess water. If the dal still seems soggy, place on low flame constantly stirring till the water dries up and the mix is dry enough for filling without making the dough soggy.

Mix flour and salt and make the dough just as you would make for roti, making sure the dough is not too soft and soggy or else the parantha will tear while rolling. Now divide the dough into 12 equal sized balls. Take a ball and roll out to about a 2.5 inch circle. Place 1 tsp of mixture in the center, bring the edges together and pinch and fold over sealing it. Now roll the ball on a flat surface using a little flour to prevent it from sticking or tearing the surface. Heat a tawa (flat griddle) and shallow fry the parantha after the parantha starts bubbling on it’s surface with either spray, refined oil and desi ghee. If the chana dal is not soggy, the parantha should puff up like a poori.

This is traditionally served with only kheer. But you can also serve it with pickles and raita. Enjoy with your loved ones!

I will be back with another mouth watering recipe soon!!


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An Amalgamation of Tastes……..

My penchant for cooking is something that happened over many years. While growing up, I always saw my mother in the kitchen from morning to evening, making something or the other, catering to the taste buds of every family member on an individual basis. I was always fascinated how something could be made without exact measurements and yet turn out to be perfect every single time. Unfortunately, I have never been able to replicate the exact taste of a dish my mother makes, and strangely she feels the same way about her own mother and grandmother.

My first memory of myself in the kitchen is when I was nine. I had gone for the summer holidays to visit my maternal grandmother and her extended family in Allahabad. My mother’s paternal uncles’ wives are all excellent cooks. One day while visiting Asha Mami, I decided to sit near her and watch her make pooris. She was rolling our pooris and frying them on an “angeethi”. My mother was busy chatting with all her cousins. I looked over my shoulder and asked Asha Mami if I could slide the pooris in the oil. She smiled and showed me how to and I confidently picked up a rolled out poori. As I was about to slide it in the hot oil, I heard my mother’s voice yell out “Arey!!!! What are you doing???? You will get burnt!!”. Startled, I suddenly let go of the poori and it fell in the hot oil with a messy splash, drops of hot oil all over the angeethi, floor, on my right arm and right cheek! Asha Mami was shocked and started crying out of guilt for letting me burn myself. My mother was crying thinking my face was disfigured and I would never get married. And I was crying because I hurt!!! The burn marks on my hand were superficial and soon were unnoticeable. The one on my right cheek lasted for more than 20 years…..a visible mark well into my thirties. Although it’s funny that even though I clearly saw it, no one else ever seemed to noticed it unless I pointed it out! It’s gone today, but every time I see myself in the mirror closely, I smile at the memory of my first experience in the kitchen!

Years passed by, and I don’t remember being particularly interested in helping my mother out in the kitchen till I was forced to by fate. Being promoted to Professorship when I was in 10th grade, my father invited his seniors at work for dinner. Just as luck would have it, my mother was bedridden with Dengue fever. Unable to get up, she begged my father to postpone the dinner. Being from the old school where one’s word was paramount, he refused to do so. My poor mother had no choice but to guide me from her bed on all the dishes that were supposed to be on the menu. I remember making dahi vada, stuffed okra (lady finger), mattar paneer, aloo gobhi, Bihari kachaurhi and gajar mattar ka pulao. My father’s seniors and their wives appreciated the food a lot, but somehow I thought they were being nice, since it was me who had cooked everything. Regardless, my confidence and interest in cooking was rekindled from that day forward, and there has been no looking back since. Cooking became a passion for me over the years, and to this day, still is. Of course there are times when I am stumped for what to cook for dinner or lunch, especially when everyone gets bored of my cooking  and has different tastes. These are the times, when I turn to my mother, grandmother, sister, friends and the internet for new recipes. My family has been pleasantly surprised with new dishes, and I have heaved a huge sigh of relief in my times of despair.

This blog is dedicated to all these wonderful women in my life, who have inspired me to cook. Some recipes have been passed down through friends and family and are originals, while others are modified. Then there is the occasional recipe that was developed out of experimentation, and with luck, turned out pretty good. I truly hope you enjoy reading my blog and recipes, and get inspired to try new dishes in your kitchen. After all, good cooking is all about inspiring others to cook!

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