After the heat one faced at Salem, it was heavenly to have cool breeze all around us. One of my dear friends, Reena Pandey, and her husband — both IAS officers who had done the country proud — were travelling with me. As we neared the cottage which was booked for us, our hunger pangs and anticipation of hot food took control over our senses. We were welcomed with great warmth and were escorted to our rooms, settling us in with piping hot filter coffee. The old cottage also had several tales surrounding it. One being that any time a heritage dish was cooked in the kitchen, one could hear the sound of anklets and laughter of one Radhamai, a cook employed during the 17th century when the British had built the cottage and employed locals.
Having heard about the benefits of raw banana and its tender flowers, the British reportedly wanted a dish which they could enjoy. Banana flower has an extraordinary burgundy colour. Once the top skins are peeled, they reveal the delicate blooming flowers in pinkish-white colour. Before cooking, these flowers must be soaked in buttermilk or lime juice to remove the bitterness. These flowers were commonly seen in some of the oldest Indian texts devoted to food. Banana flower was also the favourite of the 15th century mystic Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Swami Vivekananda was another great monk who is said to have loved the way his mother cooked banana flowers. So, one of the main dishes for our dinner that night was banana flower mixed with raw banana, made into bondas and immersed in a rich tomato gravy.
When we entered the kitchen to eat, only an old man was there, standing by the firewood. He tells us the story of Radhamai as we sat down for the most delicious meal. The grated raw bananas and tender banana flower bondas in a tangy tomato gravy, accompanied by rice, papad, beans poriyal and curds, was a perfect ending to a perfect day. I’m sure not many of you would have tasted this delicious recipe, which can be a great dish during the monsoon.
Vazahipoo And Vazhaikai Bondas In Tomato gGravy
Time: 2 hrs
Cooking time: 25 min
Calories per serve: 190 cal
Banana flower: 1 ½ cup shredded
Raw banana: 2
Ginger: 1-inch cube chopped
Shallots: 1 cup chopped
Green chillies: 3 finely chopped
Red chillies: 4
Bengaluru tomatoes: 6
Toor dal: ½ cup boiled and mashed
Chana dal: 1 cup soaked
Asafoetida: 1 tsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Black pepper: 1 tsp
Coriander seeds: 1 tsp
Fenugreek: ½ tsp
Cinnamon: 1 stick
Sesame oil: 1 ½ cup
Curry leaves: ¼ cup
Coriander: ¼ cup chopped
Jaggery: ¼ tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Mustard seeds: 1 tsp
Pure ghee: 1 tsp
- Soak chana dal for two hours with red chillies and a pinch of asafoetida. Grind into a semi-smooth mixture without water.
- Clean and cut the vazhaipoo and soak it in buttermilk.
- Boil raw bananas, peel and grate them.
- In a bowl, mix the shredded raw banana, chopped banana flower and ground chana dal mixture. Add in ginger, shallots, green chillies, coriander leaves, salt and mix.
- Turn the mixture into tiny spheres using hands and refrigerate.
- In a pan, dry roast all the spices and dals, including cumin, black pepper, coriander, fenugreek, cinnamon, cloves, mixed dals, asafoetida and red chillies. Cool them once brown and blitz in a mixer grinder into a powder.
- Cook the toor dal in a pressure cooker and mash it well.
- Grind the tomatoes in the mixer grinder, adding in the prepared spice mix, salt, turmeric and asafoetida.
- In a clay pot or a pan, add a spoonful of ghee, mustard seeds and cumin. Add in curry leaves once mustard seeds splutter. Add the cooked dal and the tomato puree.
- Add two glasses of water, jaggery and let the mixture boil.
- Place a kadhai on the stove and pour in the oil. Once hot, fry the refrigerated bondas on medium heat. Remove when they turn dark brown and drain on a paper towel.
- Add the fried bondas to the tomato gravy. Cook for three minutes.
- Add in the remaining coriander and serve hot along with rice.
- Make small bondas so they fry evenly in oil. Do not crowd the pan with too many bondas
- Refrigeration helps in making the bonda mixture firm so they don’t lose shape while frying
— Chef Ramaa Shanker is the author of ‘Festive Offerings to the Gods: Divine Soul Recipes’