Plush, soft purple carpet under your feet, and a pop-in sevaiyan ni laddu fresh from Eid festivities melting in your mouth, are enough to make you want to go traditional and do away with the furniture at home.
Lamiya Amiruddin, 45, a catering graduate who now runs her own chocolate cookie home business, has taken to keeping Bohri cooking traditions alive for her family in a changing world.
Amiruddin and the family continue the grand ol’ and quickly fading Bohri tradition of eating in a thaal (a large common platter) the traditional way—sitting on the floor. A thaal can seat up to eight people, and must always be treated with respect. Which means you never put it down till at least one person is seated, and it is never left unattended.
“The ‘new Bohris’, as we like to call them,” says Amiruddin, “now serve lasagna and garlic bread on the thaal.” Of Surti origins, she explains there are differences in food styles even among Bohris, who hail from Ahmedabad, Kutch and Surat. For instance, the sevaiyan ni laddus are Surti Bohri.
Parveen Railwayvalla, who is known in the Bohri community for making safras—the decorative cloths thaals are laid on—explains that most Bohris typically eat kharak, which is soaked dates stuffed with the khoya mixture used in sevaiyan ni laddus of ground sugar and badam-pista (almond-pistachio) powder.
One for the family: Lamiya Amiruddin with the thaal. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The thaal Amiruddin uses to demonstrate the menu is a gift that went out earlier this year from Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the spiritual leader of the Bohris, to every Bohri family in Mumbai on his 100th birthday.
Every meal begins and ends with an offering of salt to stimulate the taste buds, and to symbolize the coming together of the family at the start of the meal; you don’t begin until everyone is seated. On happy occasions, this is followed by an amuse bouche of sodanna, a mixture of white rice, sugar and ghee (clarified butter)—it is a symbol of auspiciousness. “The courses follow a mithaas and a kharaas, a mithaas and a kharaas,” she explains. One sweet dish followed by a savoury, by a sweet and a savoury, and so on; the dessert always being served first. A typical meal would be a thal halwa followed by rotis, a mutton gravy and a vegetable, like a cold baingan bharta and spring onion salad in curd, laddus, lacchka (a cracked wheat halwa) or a yogurt pudding, concluding with a rice dish like a dal-chawal palida or a khichdi and khurdi (an Indian version of a Scotch broth—a thick soup made of mutton and Bengal gram dal).
On new year or a wedding, the thaal holds up to 22-52 dishes. In a Bohri home, when you ask “What’s for dinner?”, the answer is never a vegetable, which is never the main course.
SERVES 8 (AS PART OF A ‘THAAL’)
250g basmati rice
150g boiled tuvar dal (yellow lentil)
1 large tomato and onion
250g mutton (optional)
1/2 tsp ginger-garlic paste and whole jeera (cumin)
5-6 curry leaves
2 green chillies, slit
2 tsp kothmir (fresh coriander)
Ghee as required
Salt to taste
Boil the rice with a 1-inch cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 2 cardamons and garam masala. In a pressure cooker, boil mutton with ginger-garlic paste (if not using mutton, leave out the ginger-garlic paste) and salt. In a pan, heat some ghee and add sliced onion. Sauté till pink. Add green chillies, curry leaves and cumin. Chop the tomato and add to the pan. When soft, add boiled dal, mutton and sauté. Add kothmir.
In a degchi (large pot), spread some ghee and half the boiled rice. Cover the rice with a layer of the dal and mutton mixture; cover that with the remaining rice. Keep on low flame for 10 minutes and serve with palida (recipe below).
Optional: Smoke the rice with red-hot coal and pour ghee on the coal. Seal the degchi for 5 minutes.
150g tuvar dal
3-4 tsp ghee
1 onion and tomato each, chopped
2 tbsp besan (gram flour)
1 tsp each of whole jeera (cumin), methi (fenugreek) seeds and red chilli powder
dhania (coriander) and jeera (cumin) powder mix
6-7 cloves of garlic, ground to a paste
Salt to taste
2 drumsticks (cut in 11/2-inch pieces) or chopped bottle gourd (doodhi)
Boil the dal with a pinch of turmeric and the drumstick pieces. When the dal is soft, drain the water and keep both aside. Use the dal for the rice preparation. Heat ghee and sauté the onion with fenugreek seeds, whole cumin, coriander and cumin powder, garlic paste and red chilli powder. Add besan and roast for a few minutes. Add the hot dal water and mix till there are no lumps.
Add the chopped tomato and allow to simmer for at least half an hour till the consistency thickens. Add the drumsticks, which were boiled with the dal, and kokum and continue boiling for 15 minutes. Serve with rice.
Recipe courtesy Lamiya Amiruddin.