I often describe pitla as “besan ki sabzi” or gram flour curry. In tradtional pitla recipe, gram flour is cooked like a vegetable in a spicy onion-ginger-garlic-chilli curry base. It is the perfect recipe to make when you don’t have any vegetable at home! In preparation it is slightly similar to that of besan kadhi except that in pitla recipe there is no yogurt and the gram flour is first dry roasted with the onions and then cooked with water.
Spicy pithla with bhakri is the comfort food for most Maharashtrian families and a popular dish in most roadside eateries in Mumbai called the “Zunka Bhakar centres”. When I was studying at IIT Bombay, I remember eating at the Zunka Bhakar centres on many nights when we went to the town side. The complete meal would be spicy pithla with jowar bhakri (which is a lot like jowar roti) and chilli garlic chutney.
Maharashtra is also home to the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community and it is not surprising that the regional cuisine would influence the community cuisine and vice versa. Pithla is a popular dish in Bohra cuisine too. We call it kanda besan which literally translates to onions and gram flour. I remember the first time I made pithla at home, Sikander was in deep thought for long as he was trying to remember why the taste seems so familiar yet distant because he hadn’t had it in a very long time.
While many may think that Bohra cuisine is largely meat based, since marrying into the community, I have discovered so many delicious traditional Bohra vegetarian recipes like dal kanda, patli dal, palita, and now kanda besan.
How to make Maharashtrian besan Pitla?
Ingredients for Pitla recipe
Apart from oil and water you need 3 key ingredients:
- Besan or Gram flour: Use the fine variety. You can also use chickpea flour instead of besan.
- Ginger, garlic, green chillies, and onions: These form the flavour base for tempering the oil.
- Spices: Cumin seeds, salt, turmeric, coriander powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder, and fresh coriander leaves.
Instructions for Pitla Recipe
- Temper the oil with cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, and chillies. Add onions, fresh coriander, and all spices.
- Sauté till they soften before adding gram flour. Mix well and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add water and mix continuously till there are no lumps and then cook covered for 10 mins until the curry is thick enough.
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- Grind ginger, garlic, and green chilli together to a paste.
Heat oil in a deep kadhai/ wok on medium heat.
- Add cumin seeds and the ginger-garlic-chilli paste. Sauté for a minute.
- Add onions, half of coriander leaves and all the ground spices. Mix well and cook for about 2 minutes till the onions start to soften.
- Add gram flour (or chickpeas flour) and mix well. Cook with continuous stirring for about 2-3 minutes till the gram flour and the onion and spice base is mixed properly.
- Add 2 cups water and continuously mix till there are no lumps. Cook for 5 minutes till the gram flour curry thickens.
- Add the remains 2 cups water, mix well until smooth and cook covered for another 10 minutes on low heat or until the desired consistency is reached.*
- The consistency of pitla is usually very thick when it is served with any flat bread like roti or paratha but when serving with rice, you might want to add more water to the pitla.
- Pitla will stay good in the refrigerator for upto 2 days. Leftover pithla will become thicker. To reheat, heat some water in a pan and add pitla to it. Stir until well combined and cook till heated through.
For more gram flour recipes from different parts of India, check out:
- Bohri Palita or Palidu is a soupy form of pithla with the addition of tomatoes and hokum for extra sourness. It is served with a mixed rice and lentil casserole.
- Rajasthani Gatte ki sabzi where we add steamed gram flour dumplings in a curry base served best with jowar roti or bajra roti.
- Punjabi Kadhi Pakoda where a mix of gram flour and yogurt in cooked in a spicy onion base. It is almost soup like and served best with rice or khichdi.
- Gujarati Methi Thepla is a traditional flat Indian bread made with gram flour kneaded with a lot of spices and yogurt. It makes a great travel snack.
A few of us Indian food Bloggers run a recipe challenge called “Shhh… Cooking Secretly” The members are paired together and each gives the other two “secret” ingredients (that’s why the name Cooking Secretly!) to cook a regional dish. This month’s chosen cuisine was Maharashtrian cuisine and my partner Aruna (who blogs at Ãhãram) gave me onions and salt. She was generous to give me very open ingredients and I chose to make the traditional Pitla recipe. I gave her coconut and garlic and I can’t wait for what she has created with me.
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