If ever there was a dish that defined the palate of a community, it would be undhiyo. The number of vegetables and the variety of flavours and textures in it mirror the great Gujarati fondness for a kaleidoscopic thali full of food. The original recipe comprises tender Surti beans, unripe banana (except in Surat where they use ripe banana, peels-on), small eggplants, starchy potatoes, purple yam and dense, almost-bitter muthias (methi nuggets bound together with chickpea flour). All of these vegetables are generously coated with a dry masala of fresh, grated coconut, lots of coriander and fresh green garlic. The flavour of the green garlic is what lends the undhiyo its distinct aroma.
This one-pot winter warmer is said to have originated in Surat and its versions have travelled far and well. Traditionally, the undhiyo is nothing without a thick, visible layer of oil; anything less elicits derisive comments. Perhaps, that is why not many households attempt healthy undhiyos but those that do seem to never go back.
South Mumbai-based Meghana Patel started making healthy undhiyo along with her mother to meet her family’s health needs. One undhiyo lunch at her place and you realise it’s not such a bad thing to come away without a layer of grease at the back of your throat. The vegetables retain their individual identities and a wonderful green masala mitigates the lack of oil. What about the muthia, you may ask. Well, its healthier avatar usually gets steamed and becomes a little more like a pakodi in texture but is still rich with flavour.
Patel has been catering to those who wish to have their undhiyo and eat it well. We hear of her because the actor Nandita Das once brought her undhiyo to an Alibaug getaway. We hear that undhiyo haters could not stop eating the stuff and next thing you know, Meghana’s in the business and it’s all via word of mouth. She’s pretty private, so you won’t find her business details online. She says, “It was Nandita who initiated me into this. She had it once when I’d made it and the next thing you know, I had an order from her. I use just a spoonful of oil in the undhiyo and it’s either rice bran or olive oil. I also always use rock salt. Earlier, the older generation would ask, ‘Where’s the oil?’, but it’s psychological because the taste is pretty similar to the original version.”
Sugam sangeet teacher Shobha Sanghvi is Surti at heart and by origin. She cites at least three ways to make a healthy undhiyo: in a non-stick, with a baked earthen matka (pot) in an oven and in a regular handi. Her special tip: The base of the utensil must always be broad so that all the vegetables can be arranged to cook evenly. She remembers, when she was young, the day before the undhiyo was made would be just as special as the haloed Sunday itself. That was the day everyone sat down together to clean heaps of Surti papdi beans. “It was never given to the househelps in case they were careless and fibres remained. It’s not palatable. Plus, we had to split open each and every bean to ensure there were no bugs inside.” There would be types of papdi: lilva or the one with three beans within, and the papdi from Katar village in Gujarat. “Surti papdi is called popcha — you split it open and there is no bean inside,” says Sanghvi.
Papdi is a big deal in authentic undhiyo. It’s almost a base gravy, says Sanghvi. The other thing master undhiyo makers do is to cook all the vegetables in such a way that they are not rendered into a mash of vegetables; each vegetable should retain its shape and identity. And, do cut all vegetables down to a similar size, say, that of small brinjals.
Nutritionist and fitness expert Samreedhi Goel, who helms Sizewise, a fitness studio in Mumbai, feels a good reason to have undhiyo is simply that seasonal vegetables should be part of everyone’s diet. “I am a non-Gujarati so my regular diet rarely includes yam. It’s a good opportunity to include it once in a while. Nutritionally, there are various ways to cook the undhiyo and that decides whether it’s healthy or unhealthy. I’ve tried both ways and can’t make out the difference.”
Goel’s undhiyo does not include coconut and she steams the muthiya. “There are so many things to give a variety of texture and tastes, so I see no reason to spoil this dish by adding oil. Traditionally, it’s made in a matki and called undhiya because it is made upside down and cooked that way and I guess that requires more oil because that is cooked for a long time. At our homes, we partially cook some veggies in advance so that’s one more reason not to put so much oil.”
But just because it’s a healthy undhiyo, it does not mean you can sit down with a big handi of the stuff. Goel recommends eating it like you’d eat any other vegetable – 2 medium katoris served per meal, once in a while.
The decision to be made is this: Do you want oil or do you want food? Not exactly a Sophie’s choice, is it?
Recipe for a healhty Undhiyo
100g Surti papdi, string removed
100g fresh tur dana
100g small brinjal
100g sweet potato
1 cup coriander
3/4 cup fresh, green garlic or as per taste
2 green chilli
2 tbsp ginger
1/2 tsp lime salt
A pinch of little sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp dhania-jeera powder
Salt, as per taste
For the muthia:
3/4 cup besan
3 cups of fresh methi leaves
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of turmeric powder
Salt to taste
* Make a paste with the ingredients of the green masala. Add half the dry spices to this. Keep aside.
* For the muthias, mix besan and methi with water. Make cylindrical balls and steam.
* Next, heat oil in pressure cooker. Add dry spices to the papdi proportionately with a little water, close and give one whistle.
* Stuff brinjal with green paste and spices and layer on top of papdi.
* Make layers of each vegetable after mixing with green paste and dry spices.
* Add half a glass of water and cook, giving one or two whistles. In the end, add steamed muthias before serving.
Recipe by Samreedhi Goel
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