Last night, I dined at Sarava Bhavan, one of my favorite restaurants in New York City. Located on the northeast corner of 26th Street and Lexington, Saravana Bhavan is actually part of a global franchise. I’m cheesily proud to have dined at the original one in Chennai, Tamil Nadu back in 2007. My first introduction to Saravana Bhavan and South Indian cuisine all together was in 2005, when I ate at the New Delhi location on the outer ring of Connaught Circle. It was love at first bite. Since NYC’s “Curry Hill” restaurant opened in 2006, I’ve introduced many friends to dosa, idly, and parotta. This includes my dear friend Geoff Rosen-now-dosa-enthusiast, who my husband and I supped with last night.
My feelings for Saravana Bhavan stem from a complete love of South India. To be honest though what I eat at the restaurant in New York is scrumptious, it actually pales in comparison to the home cooked meals served up by my dear friends in Mysore, Bangalore, and at the Deenabandhu Trust Children’s Home in Chamarajanagar. These New York dosas fills me up with joy, however, as they remind me of a place that’s influenced me immensely. I’m so excited that we’re headed to South India in April for the first leg of our honeymoon.
In the meantime, I wanted to share a recipe for one of my favorite South Indian dishes, ragi roti, and a bit about the wonderful woman who taught me how to make them. Please read on:
There’s only one other person in the world whose cooking I miss almost as much as my mother’s. This is Gayathri Marulidhar, a beautiful, kind-hearted woman from Mysore, Karnataka, South India, who has become like an aunt to me. It has been a blessing to eat her delicious cuisine since we first met in 2006.
One of Gayathri’s dishes that I’m pining for is ragi roti served with coconut chutney. Traditionally served for breakfast, it’s perfect anytime. Ragi, or finger millet, is a nutritious, earthy grain used frequently in South Indian cooking. Originally native to Ethiopian Highlands, it’s been harvested in India for about 4,000 years. In the United States, you can find it online or at specialty stores like Kalustyan’s on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan (order stuff online at http://www.kalustyans.com).
In India, traditional recipes are generally passed on through hands on experience in the kitchen. Ingredients are generally eyeballed versus meticulously measured. I’ve learned so much from Gayathri and will do my best to share this recipe in writing with you! Remember: Practice makes perfect! My first few rotis definitely didn’t look like this.
Coconut Chutney (feeds 6-8)
This is a standard accompaniment to many South Indian dishes.
- About 1 ¼ – 1-½ cups of freshly grated coconut
- 8-10 Green Chilies (This is for pretty spicy chutney. Adjust according to taste and depending on variety of chili)
- About 10 fresh curry leaves
- 2 tablespoons of sunflower seed oil (or substitute with other vegetable oil)
- 2 teaspoons of mustard seed
- 1 pinch of hing (Asafoetida) (this adds flavor and aids digestion. If you don’t have hing, just omit)
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander
- About 1 tablespoon of dry roasted half chickpeas (chana dal)
- 1-½ teaspoons of salt (more or less to taste)
1. Dry fry the chilies and curry leaves for about 1 minute
2. Add oil, after about 30 seconds, add mustard seeds.
3. Sauté until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add hing. Turn off heat.
4. Add chilies, curry leaves, and chickpeas to a blender. Add coconut and salt.
5. Next, add a small amount of water and blend all ingredients together. Maintain a slightly course texture.
6. Add the coriander. Blend again until slightly smooth.
7. Stir in remaining mustard seeds and oil. Put aside until ready to serve.
Ragi Roti (feeds 6-8)
- About 2 ½ cups ragi flour
- About 2 cups finely chopped onion (the Indian onions are red, but they are less pungent then our red onions. I recommend using yellow onion)
- About ¾ cup freshly chopped coriander.
- ¼ cup finely sliced green chili. More or less to taste.
- 1 cup freshly grated coconut (if needed, you can buy pre-grated)
- 2 teaspoons salt, according to taste
- 1 pinch of hing (Asafoetida)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1. In a large bowl, put ragi flour, salt, cumin seeds, hing, and grated coconut.
2. Add wet ingredients (onion, coriander, chili)
3. Mix by hand (or spoon)
4. Add a small amount of water and continue mixing. Add water and mix until a soft, cookie-batter-consistency-like dough is made.
5. Heat a large oiled skillet (in India a tawa is used) on medium heat.
6. Take a medium sized handful of the dough and make a ball. Place this on the skillet and carefully use your hand to form a thin pancake-like shape.
7. Apply a small amount of oil on the roti and cook about 4-5 minutes.
8. Then, carefully flip using a spatula. Cook for another 4 minutes.
9. Transfer onto a plate, folded in half.
Serve with coconut chutney. Gayathri also prepared an eggplant and pepper palia, or sauté dish, and a dollop of ghee (clarified butter).
Feel free to comment about your favorite South Indian dishes and links to recipes. Or, ask questions!