Friday, December 26, 2014

Hunting for a bride, finding a chutney powder

My dad was her eldest son and my grandmother's favourite child. So naturally, the hunt for a bride for him was a long drawn out affair which lasted a long time and my paternal grandmother, with an attendant retinue of aunts, scoured pretty much the length and breadth of Karnataka for the "perfect girl".

The final choice  - my mother -  was found in Dakshin Karnataka, but in one of the ladki-dekhna trips somewhere in North Karnataka, my daadi-n-aunts were served a delicious chutney powder. It was such a hit that my granny asked for the recipe and as soon as she got home, the recipe was tested and tried out on her favourite son, who immediately added it to his favourite foods.

When my dad did finally get married, consignments of this chutney 'podi' (along with other goodies) were regularly dispatched to the newly wedded couple. (My grandmother obviously didn't think very highly of her 17-year old daughter-in-law's culinary skills.) One day, the parcels stopped coming (some family dispute which is too silly and too boring to be narrated here) and my mother, aided by my dad and their collective taste buds, figured the recipe out  for herself and ever since, "kuttindi" has been a much looked-forward-to guest among the rather large clutch of pickles and chutneys on the Rajaiah dining table...

Now, the most unusual thing about this chutney powder is the main ingredient - a strange, little black seed which looks like a fatter version of  a sunflower or  marigold seed. Which is not surprising because it is a member of the Asteraceae familya massive clan of at least 23,000 species that include the marigold, sunflower, various daisies, chrysanthemumsdahlias and zinnias

The strange little seed's botanical name is Guizotia Abyssinica. (One of its popular English name is niger seed, obviously a reference to its gorgeous black colour.)
If you haven't figured already, the second part of that name - Abyssinica - makes it a native of Africa; Ethiopia to be precise. (Abyssinia is what Ethiopia was once called.)  But like many other foods that came to India from Africa in ancient trade routes - ragi (finger millet) and watermelon being two such examples - this little seed took up residence here thousands of years ago.,
But in Kannada, we call it uchellu. Now 'ellu' is the Kannada name for sesame seed or til. (The Hindi name - kalatil - and the Tamil name - payellu - have a similar reference to sesame.) And I'm thinking this is so for two reasons. 
First, the niger seed is an oil seed - like sesame. No surprise then that this seed provides about 50% to 60% of  the edible oil needs of the country of its origin - Ethopia. And like many oil seeds, it's a good source of minerals and its oil is rich in unsaturated fats, some minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium etc, and vitamins (B1, E). 
Second, it has a lovely, nutty taste, also is a characteristic of many oil seeds, like the sesame seed.
So, "uchellu" seems to be a an apt handle.
And now that I have introduced you to this lovely little oilseed, how does it transform into that fragrant, delicious chutney powder called "kuttindi"?
Well, here goes....

You will need
4 tablespoons of niger seed (uchellu)
 tablespoons ccorianderseeds
 tablespoons roasted gram
4-5 dried red chili (adjust to taste)
1/4 medium sized copra (dried coconut) cut into small pieces
2-3  tablespoons grated jaggery (adjust to taste)
Tamarind ball, size of a small marble
Salt to taste

Roast the 'uchellu' and coriander seeds separately in a thick-bottomed pan or tava. Both will give off a toasted aroma and coriander seeds will turn a darker brown. Warm the red chilies so they become crisp (you can even char them a little.) Take the tava/pan off  the heat and as it begins to cool, add the copra pieces n the roasted gram - the pan shouldn't be very hot.
Let all the ingredients cool off.
Now add the copra. red chilies, tamarind and roasted gram to the mixie and grind till you get a coarse powder. Now add the rest of the ingredients and grind till you get a finer powder, but not very fine.

That's all - and there it is - the gorgeous, multi-tasking "kuttindi".

 You can mix it with ghee, even curd and accompany it  with dosas, idlis and rotis (akki roti or rice roti is a particularly favourite partner!), You  can even  add it to rice with a spot of ghee. Enjoy.

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