Pithale - Bhakri Sandwich
Growing up in a big city, having a yard was a dream, and being on a farm was just impossible. In fact there wasn't a farm to be seen for miles. So you have to forgive me, but my idea about farmers on the deccan plateau of Maharashtra was derived from geography books, and marathi movies that were shown on Doordarshan on Saturday evenings. These movies often romanticised the hard working farmer (shetkari), who ate a humble lunch of pithale and bhakri, wrapped in a cloth, with a garlic chutney and chilies on the side, washed down with buttermilk. It was an impressionable age, after all, and this was the image that lasted with me.
Apart from something seen from a car or bus, I have yet to see a real farm in Maharashtra or meet a farmer who eats such a lunch, but I think I am on the right track about the food. While the visit remains a dream, the lunch is much more achievable, and hopefully atleast half as good. After all, nothing can replace that smell of the earth and the crops swaying in the field, as I partake a fresh warm bhakri.
About the main components
Pithale, pronounced 'piTh-luh', but usually spelled in English as 'pithale', is a dish made out of chickpea flour (besan), with basic ingredients that are typically available in the pantry. It is unbelievably quick and easy, as you will see in the recipe below. The thickness of the pithale varies from runny to scrambled depending on the preferences of people. It can be thickened even further, at which point it beomes very dry, nearly crisp, but not completely, which is then referred to as 'zunkaa'.
Bhakri (bhAkri, bhaakri) is a flatbread, made by patting the dough on a flat surface, rotating it as it flattens and spreads. Easier said than done, as I know from experience. I have tried to learn it from someone who has made bhakris for years, and hoped to emulate her, but have abandoned it now as something I might not be able to do. There are bhakris made out of bajri, jowar, nachani, even rice.
Here, I have adapted the concept, to make a handy sandwich, which can be enjoyed outdoors, or anywhere else. It is a great option for a picnic lunch or a busy weeknight dinner.
Pithale - Bhakri Sandwich
1 small onion
3/4 th cup besan (chickpea flour)
2 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of hing (asafoetida)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1-1/2 teaspoons kanda-lasun masala (*see note)
4 whole wheat pita breads
a little softened butter or ghee
1 tomato, sliced
4 Tablespoons peanut sesame chutney or to taste
4 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
Peel the onion, cut 2 or 3 round slices, separate into rings, and leave these aside to add to the sandwich. Chop the rest of the onion. In a medium bowl, add a little water to the besan, just enough to make a thick paste.
Heat the oil in a wok or kadhai. Add the mustard seeds, and when they pop, add the hing, turmeric, chopped onion and kanda lasun masala. Saute it for a few minutes until the onion softens, and add half a cup of water. When the water comes to a boil, add in the besan paste, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon as it starts to thicken. Stir it until it forms a thick mass, roughly scrambled.
Apply butter to the pita breads, and spread some of the pithale on it. Top with the reserved sliced onion, chutney, cilantro, and tomato. Cover with another pita bread, press gently, and slice into two or four. Repeat for the other sandwich.
This will make 2 sandwiches.
Notes and Variations:
* In this recipe, you could substitute the kanda-lasun masala with 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, and 1 minced scallion.
If you like very spicy food, you could add some red chili powder to the paste, depending on how hot the kanda lasun masala is.
I use whichever chutney is on hand - garlic chutney or cilantro chutney works just as well, although they lack the crunch of the peanuts.
Add some lettuce leaves to the sandwich if you like.
I am sending this too to the 'Regional Cuisines of India - Maharashtra' event.