A few months ago, we shot a complete Chambyali Dham for The Eat Post. It was my first foray into traditional Pahari cuisine from Chamba and I never imagined I’d be blown away by a humble dish of rajma cooked in yoghurt and ghee. A reflection of Kashmir’s influence on the region during the late 1800s, Madra, slow-cooked for hours, is sour from the curdling of the dahi and fragrant with whole spices. Complement that with Mah Dal (kaali dal), Meethe chawal and Chukh achaar, and I was totally stumped. With every portion of meetha, khatta, teekha and namkeen being doled out on our leaf plates, there was a clear indication that Himachali food was a rather enthusiastic nod to the flavour wheel.
Understanding this, I wanted to move a step further and create a wholesome grain bowl using quinoa, dotted with similar flavours that could give you an idea of how incredible the food of the mountain folk can be. Dishes like Madra can be very warming, and this time of the year may not be the best time to cook it, so I’ve sided with other dishes such as a Khatta Jimikand (sour Indian yam), Pachole or stir-fried corn cakes from Solan, Meetha quinoa with a touch of kasturi methi, dal and spicy-fried lotus root instead. The chukh, which is a cross between a pickle and a chutney, comes out of a plastic bottle, and if you can’t get your hands on Vale’s from Chamba, which is most preferable, you can order a bottle from here or here.
The quinoa I’ve used comes from Organic Farmers Co., an artisanal producer that engages small-scale farmers to yield a local quinoa crop of very high quality, thus providing alternative incomes for They also retail quinoa flour, puffed quinoa pops and interestingly, a quinoa and semolina pasta. You can shop their products here, or at your closest Foodhall.
Stir-Fried Moong Dal
This relatively dry dal goes very well with the sweet quinoa and the chukh. I always up the amchoor powder in the tadka if I’m having it by itself, but since dal is so personal, I’ll let you tailor it to your own taste.
Moong dal 1 cup, soaked for 3 hours
Oil 2 tbsp
Ginger 1 tsp, grated
Green chillies 2
Cumin seeds 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp more
Water 1/2 cup, plus more
Salt 1 tsp, plus more to taste
Onion 1, finely chopped
Coriander powder 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Amchoor powder or dry mango powder 1/2 tsp
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small kadai and add the cumin seeds. Let it splutter. Now add in the grated ginger and green chillies, then fry it for a few seconds.
Now is the time you want to add your dal to the pan and give it a good toss. Add half a cup of water, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and some salt, and let the dal cook covered for ten minutes.
Check on the dal and adjust the water as required, till the dal is nearly done.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the chopped onions to this. Let it fry on medium heat till translucent and add in the coriander powder, chilli powder, the additional 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder and the amchoor powder. Toss together well, turn up the heat, and pour this tadka over your cooked dal. Stir and keep aside till serving.
If you will be reheating this, feel free to add a bit of water as it tends to clump up together. Adjust the salt and serve.
The sticky-sweet quinoa version of meethe chawal, a close relative of Sindhi Tayari has a bitter finish from the kasturi methi, which is used quite a bit in Himachali cooking. I garnished the quinoa with fried nuts and slices of coconut. This can get quite heavy from the amount of ghee used, so this recipe uses only 1/2 cup quinoa.
Quinoa 1/2 cup, pre-soaked for 4 hours (I used Organic Farmers Co. quinoa)
Jaggery sugar 1/2 cup (I used Organic Tattva)
Ghee 2 1/2 heaped tbsp
Elaichi or cardamom 1 big
Kasturi methi or dried fenugreek powder 1/2 tsp
Optional garnishes: fried nuts, raisins and dried coconut
Rinse the quinoa and let all the water strain out.
Heat the ghee in a saucepan, add the elaichi or cardamom to this, then add the quinoa to it. Add water that is double the quantity of the quinoa. When the water comes to a boil, sprinkle the sugar all over the rice with your hand and reduce the heat to low. Put a lid on for about 10 minutes. Check for doneness and give it a good stir. Cover and cook this till the grain is completely cooked. Sprinkle over the kasturi methi, fluff up the grains and serve.
This is the star of my bowl. The dry masalas make this sour yam so delicious, and this can be had with just rotis too, but together with the meethe chawal, it tastes out-of-this-world good.
Mustard oil 4 tbsp
Asafoetida or hing a pinch
Indian yam or Jimikand 1, peeled and chopped into small cubes
Onions 2 small onions
Panch phoron spice mix 1 tsp
Garlic cloves 6, crushed and chopped
Ginger 2 tsp, freshly grated
Curry leaves 3
Green chillies 2, finely chopped
Red chilli powder 1 tsp
Coriander powder 2 tsp
Turmeric powder 1 tsp
Garam masala 1 tsp
Amchoor powder or Dry mango powder 2 tbsp
Salt to taste
In a kadai or wok, heat the mustard oil till it is smoking, then add the pinch of asafoetida. Quickly add in the panch phoron masala and let it pop, but do not let it burn.
Sauté the garlic, ginger and green chilli in the oil next. Next add in the chopped onions and sauté till it is transparent. Add the curry leaves, stir, and begin adding the dry masalas- red chilli powder, coriander, turmeric and salt.
Add the chopped yam to this mixture and stir everything well. Add in the garam masala and let it sit covered over medium heat for 20 minutes. When the yam is almost cooked, add in the amchoor powder a tablespoonful at a time. Taste and adjust the amchoor and the salt. It should taste quite sour.
Adapted from a Food Fairy recipe
This snack from the Pahari district of Solan is made with mashed sweet corn with spices that is usually steamed and topped with a bit of ghee. This crispy version is perfect for rainy days, but the same filling minus the flours can be steamed in corn husks and eaten by itself too.
Corn Kernels from 2 ears of corn
Garam masala 1/2 tsp
Ginger garlic paste 1/2 tsp
Green chilli 1 small, crushed and chopped finely
Gram flour or besan 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp extra for adjusting the consistency
Cornflour 3 tbsp
Salt 1 tsp
Ghee for greasing the pan
Run the corn kernels in the food processor once or twice till it is coarsely ground. Add this ground mixture to a bowl with the ginger garlic paste, the green chilli, the salt and the flours and mix with your hand. You don’t want it to be super runny, so adjust with the reserved gram flour.
Make a steamer in a large vessel with a little wire rack at the bottom. Spread this mixture evenly on a steel plate that has been greased with oil. Steam this for fifteen to twenty minutes. It is done when a knife inserted comes out clean. Let it cool, then cut into squares. Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan and fry each of these squares till they are golden brown on all sides. Serve this hot.
To make the Lotus Root chips, heat a few cups of oil in a deep-frying pan. Using a mandolin, grate over the pre-washed and peeled lotus root. Let this fry till crispy brown, then fish it out with a slotted spoon over some kitchen napkins. Drain the oil and toss it in a dry spice powder of equal parts coriander powder, chilli powder and salt with some turmeric powder.