A is for Amti.
Every evening, in millions of homes in Maharastra, the following dinner is served: Amti-Bhaat-Bhaji. Translated as lentil dal, rice and vegetable. So amti is the special way of preparing lentils or dal in Maharashtra. Amti is a little spicy, a little sweet and a little tangy. The word amti can also used to describe other curried preparations, but the amti dal stands solid as the pillar of everyday food, making it a perfectly fitting start to our food journey.
Amti is a good illustration of the generous use of jaggery or unrefined sugar in Marathi cooking. Sugarcane is a very important crop in that part of the country and jaggery is produced and used in abundance, lending a slight sweetish tinge to savory foods. Amti is a very basic dal and only requires a spice mixture that can be easily made ahead of time and stored. Last time I visited my home-town of Kolhapur, I visited a friend of my mom's. As luck would have it, she was grinding a huge batch of amti masala for herself that morning and when she asked me if I would like some, I said "yes, yes, yes" very quickly before she could change her mind and got myself a hefty bag of wonderful authentic amti masala. How's that for good timing? For my readers, here is a amti masala recipe from a Marathi masala handbook.
Amti Masala(from "Lajjatdar Masale" by Mrs. Vaijayanti Kelkar)
1⁄2 cup coriander seeds
1⁄4 cup cumin seeds
2 tsp. Shahi jeera (black cumin seeds)
1 inch cinnamon
Roast all the spices together on very low heat till they turn a couple of shades darker. Then grind together to a fine powder and store in a dry container.
On to the amti:
- 1 cup toor dal , cooked
- 1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1⁄2 tsp. mustard seeds
- 1 pinch asafoetida
- Sprig of curry leaves
- 1⁄2 cup diced onion
- 1 tsp. amti masala
- 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric
- 1⁄2 tsp. red chilli powder
- 1 tsp. tamarind paste
- 1 tsp. jaggery
- 1 tbsp. minced cilantro for garnish
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saucepan.
- Temper it with mustard seeds, jeera seeds and asafoetida.
- Add curry leaves, onion and fry till onion is transluscent.
- Add amti masala, turmeric, salt, chilli powder and fry for a few seconds.
- Now add the cooked dal and enough water to make it the desired consistency.
- Finally stir in tamarind, jaggery and bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes and your amti is ready.
- Taste it and adjust the salt, tamarind and jaggery till you are happy with the balance of flavors.
- Garnish with cilantro if desired.
Watch out for the letter "B" in a few days. Any guesses what "B" will be?