Some food tastes like Earth.
It is a slightly confusing concept, even in my mind, but stay with me, dear reader, as I take you on this train of thought. What I mean is, several of these things and not one.
Earthy food (lets just call it that) invokes a strong sense of being connected to the natural world around us. While partaking it you feel compelled to sit on a cool bare ground with legs folded in sukhasan. It reminds you of petrichor even on a sultry summer afternoon. It harks back on “then” inconsequent childhood memory that time and tide have shelved away. It takes you back to the carefree summer vacation to your native place and visit to the farm. It nourishes your soul, restores your well-being and takes you on a happy trip. Yet it is not to be confused with comfort food. You’d never want to have earthy food when you’re under the weather and therefore not really comfort food. You’d enjoy it greatly only when all your senses are fully alive.
Earthy food is chunky, rustic and closest to its original form. It is of a humble origin. It is seldom decadent, has minimalistic spices – just enough to season, and not overtly cooked. To me anything that largely involves grains fall under this category. All traditional breads like Millet roti, Bhakri (flat round unleavened bread), Pita, Ciabatta bread, Poi (Goan chewy loaf), or Podi/Metkut (coarse powder of dry roasted grains seasoned with dry spices and chillies) to name a few. Or any vegetable, not raw, but when infused with smokiness by roasting on a traditional coal tandoor or open flame with minimalistic spices, especially brinjal/baingan. I also have a strange fixation of teaming earthy food with chunks of raw white onion, that just sums it up for me.
Excuse me, dear reader, if that was a bit too elusive, but if the thought traveled with you, then do leave me a comment, I’d love to know your two bits. Now let me redeem myself for the time you spared with a recipe that stands for all of the above and more.
On mumma’s recent sojourn, she restocked my kitchen with her signature dry chutneys, pickles and goda masala (traditional Maharashtrian garam masala). She also surprised me with Dangar mix.
Dangar is a yogurt based raita of dry roasted and coarsely ground assorted grains that are staple to the Maharashtra plateau region. Dry roasting of grains brings out the robust earthy flavour which is then coarsely pulsed in a grinder to retain crunchy bite of the grain. This grain mixture is served like a yogurt based raita topped with simple tempering. Addition of chunky raw onion to the dish lends an overall crunch. It is traditionally teamed with Zunka, Bhakri and Thecha. Dangar finds its root in the Thanjavur Marathi households, which is no surprise as it closely resembles South Indian array of Podis which are made with assortment of grains and dry spices.
:: For Dangar mixture-
1 cup Urad dal (Black gram)
Half cup Chana dal (Bengal gram)
2 heaped tsp Rice
1 tsp Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Cumin
:: For raita-
2 tbsp danger mixture
3-4 tbsp natural yogurt
half tsp cumin
half tsp mustard seeds
2 dry red chillies, whole
a sprig of curry leaves
pinch of asafoetida
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 white onion, chopped
Salt to taste
This is how I made it-
:: For Dangar mixture-
1) Dry Roast urad dal, chana dal and raw rice till golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat, keep aside.
2) In the same wok/pan, dry roast cumin and coriander seeds till fragrant. Remove from heat and let it come to room temperature.
3) In a mixer grinder first add roasted sumin and coriader and pulse to a fine powder.
4) Add roasted grains to the same grinder jar and pulse the mixture coarsely till semolina consistency (jada rava). This is an important step and care should be taken to not make it into a fine powder.
5) Store the dangar mixture in an airtight jar. It has a shelf life without refrigeration of about 2 months.
:: For Dangar raita-
1) In a serving bowl, add 2 tbsp of dangar mix, 3-4 tbsp of natural yogurt, chopped onion and salt as per liking.
2) In a small wok, or a tadka ladle, prepare a tempering with other ingredients. For tempering, heat oil, add mustard, let it crackle. Add cumin, followed by asafoetida, red chillies and curry leaves.
3) Tip in the tempering in the serving bowl with other ingredients and give it a good mix.
4) Taste and adjust salt.
5) Serve it with hot bhakris, thecha and pithla/zunka.