Pithla' is an iconic dish from the state of Maharashtra.
Before I begin telling you about this dish, I must discuss a matter of common confusion – the difference between Maharashtra, Maratha and Marathi.
Maharashtra: is a state in India, along the western coast. The state capital of modern Maharashtra is my hometown of Bombay/Mumbai.
Maratha: are people with a specific lineage to the Royal Maratha clan and often can trace back their lineage to Maratha Kings and Princes of the late 18th century. At its peak, the Maratha kingdom spanned the present state of Maharashtra, as well as parts of the neighboring states such as Madhya Pradesh (TN), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (TN) and Andhra Pradesh (AP). Although the Maratha’s helped push back the Mughals, they were eventually defeated by the British Colony. In the pre-British era, towns like Poona, Indore (MP), Satara and Gingee (TN) remained important military capitals for the Maratha Kingdom. Goa remained part of the state of Maharashtra until 1987, after which it received its own statehood.
Marathi: and its various dialects represent the state language of Maharashtra. In modern India, English and Hindi are equally common in Maharashtra, especially in places of professional/business interactions.
Where is Marathi spoken? Although most native Marathi speaking families originated the state of Maharashtra, many also have ties to areas once under the Maratha kingdom. Historically, people living along the shared borders with neighbor states like Madhya Pradesh to its north, Karnataka to the South include some Marathi speaking groups, because of their history with the Maratha Kingdom. In the modern age of migration, Marathi/Konkani/Malwani/Goan peaking people have migrated all over the country, as well as the world, taking their food with them.
Language + Food + Geography: Not all who live in Maharashtra speak Marathi, or identify as Maharashtrians. The Portuguese influenced Goa and locals here speak Konkani, Malwani and Goan among other languages. These regional differences in languages also reflect different cuisines.
Although many food enthusiasts will associate Pithla’ with Pune, it is cooked in every Maharashtrian home across the state, it is easy to make and nutritious. However, Pithla’ was never made in my mothers’ kitchen. She had strong memories and always disliked it. Pithla is taken to a house in mourning, is prepared on a ‘lazy kitchen’ day, or is consumed after a specific religious fasting ritual etc.
As a dish, it is paired with one of three things: bhakri or a rustic bread, poured over freshly steamed rice or with pol’y or layered bread. Pithla’ is very easy to put together. It uses ordinary ingredients. Try it out?
Pithla’: Chickpea Gravy
Makes: 4-6 servings
Cook Time: 20 minutes
1 tsp oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
¼ cup white onions, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh garlic paste (optional)
5-6 fresh curry leaves
1-2 jalapeños split lengthwise
¼ tsp hing (asafetida powder)
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 cup chickpea flour, sifted
½ cup water, add extra as needed
½ cup unflavored 2% Greek yogurt
Salt, to taste
Cilantro leaves from 4-5 stems, finely chopped (optional)
Whisk the chickpea flour with water, yogurt, salt and chopped coriander leaves, set aside until ready to use.
Heat the oil in a small heavy-bottom saucepan. As it heats up, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and allow them to season the oil as the mustard seeds crack open. Add the onions, garlic paste, curry leaves and jalapeños (if using), cook to soften. Turn the heat down to low, add the turmeric powder and hing, and stir in to let it cook slightly. Do not let it burn. Immediately add the prepared chickpea sauce and stir vigorously. Continue stirring for 3-4 minutes until the gravy thickens and begins to leave the side of the pan. Add water to change the consistency of the gravy as desired. Garnish with chopped cilantro (if using). Serve hot over steamed rice or with pol’y.
To improve nutritional complexity of this dish, chopped leafy green are often added into this dish. Popular traditional greens include leaves of the Moringa tree (drumstick), Amaranth greens and mustard greens. One may also use baby spinach, turnip greens, radish greens, beet greens or collard greens - they are great alternatives. A sharp tasting green such as mustard leaves taste better in this than one that is mellow.
To add greens to this dish, clean the leaves of choice and remove the mid-rib of the leaf, if using larger leaves such as mustard greens or turnip greens. Chop finely, and add a half cup of cleaned and chopped greens to the saucepan after adding the turmeric and hing. Allow the leaves to wilt a little and lose its water. Continue the recipe once the greens have wilted and softened.
These and other rustic recipes like this can be found in my newest fiction-cookbook:
Not For You: Family Narratives of Denial & Comfort Foods (Turmeric Press, 2017), now available on Amazon/Kindle, iBooks & GooglePlay