Never underestimate the versatility of peanuts. Use it to recreate a famous Bengaluru snack, make lip smacking 'chaats' or put together an ingenious sandwich filling
In 2012, I was picked to be a local guide for the Bengaluru special episode of the series Twist Of Taste, a food show hosted by chef Vineet Bhatia. Our agenda was a food trail covering some of the iconic eateries in the city. Being rather new to Bengaluru myself, I asked my friend Bharath to point me to some of the places that must not be missed.
The list included VB Bakery in Basavanagudi, one of the famous Iyengar bakeries in the city. It was here that I first heard of Congress kadlekai (peanuts in Kannada) and KBC (khara bun Congress). For someone new to the Iyengar bakery culture, these names sounded rather amusing. I understand that politics is deeply entrenched in our culture but what could possibly be the connection between Congress and peanuts and buns, I wondered.
Congress kadlekai is a spicy peanut snack made from roasted, skinned and split peanuts. There are a few interesting theories explaining how the term Congress came to be associated with these peanuts. One of them being that the split peanuts used to make this snack were like the split in the Congress party in 1969. Another theory claims that this was the preferred snack in the long-drawn political meetings of the Congress party and that is how the name came to be. The origin of this snack is said to lie in the Srinivasa Brahmin Bakery in Gandhi Bazaar, started in 1956. When faced with a rationed supply of maida (the flour used in all baked goods), the bakery, which was mainly into bread, buns and rusks, decided to add on this peanut snack to its menu to boost sales. Given how popular this snack still is, I am sure it turned out to be a great business decision.
KBC is a freshly baked soft masala bun, sliced in half, smeared with butter and stuffed with Congress kadlekai. You might think it is a bit odd to stuff peanuts into a sandwich, but think of it as a savoury spicy crunchy peanut butter sandwich and it sounds like a perfectly good idea. This is also served as a chaat (Congress masala) in which the peanuts are mixed with onion, chillies, tomato, grated carrots, grated coconut, lime juice and coriander.
Just about 2km from VB Bakery is the Bull Temple (Dodda Basavana Gudi). This is the location for the annual kadlekai parishe (groundnut fair), a two-day event held on the 1km stretch of road leading up to the Bull Temple in November-December, on the last Monday of the Karthik month in the Hindu calendar. The fair brings over hundreds of farmer-vendors selling peanuts in various forms—whole peanuts in shells, as well as roasted, boiled, salted, fried, candied peanuts and more. This is an opportunity to buy freshly harvested peanuts straight from the farmers who come to the city to offer their first crop to Lord Basava at the Bull Temple.
My favourite kind of peanuts for a peanut masala are the salted and roasted ones known as Bharuchi sing (khari sing), from Bharuch in Gujarat. These peanuts, sold with and without skins, are large in size, perfectly salted, and with great flavour. To make the perfect bar snack, toss Bharuchi peanuts along with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, red chilli powder, coriander leaves and lime juice. You can even add diced boiled potatoes to make it less peanut (and therefore calorie) heavy.
Roasted peanuts are a useful and tasty addition while grinding chutneys, to get a thick consistency. They also lend a satisfying crunch when added to a mix of ingredients used for stuffing vegetables such as large chillies, bell peppers and bitter gourd. Crisp roasted peanuts make a fun topping on almost any salad too.
To prepare the Congress kadlekai, remove the skins of roasted peanuts by rubbing between hands or in a cloth. Gather the skinned peanuts in a kitchen towel and gently pound using a rolling pin or a pestle, to crush into halves.
Heat oil in a pan. Add finely chopped curry leaves, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, black pepper and salt. Give it a quick stir, toss in the roasted peanut halves and stir on low flame for 5-6 minutes. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
To prepare Congress masala, take a handful of the Congress kadlekai in a bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve immediately.
SOUTHERN SPICE PEANUT BUTTER
Makes around 12 servings
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2-3 dried red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tbsp flaxseeds
1 cup peanuts, roasted
1-2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp peanut oil
In a pan, toast the coriander seeds, red chillies, cumin seeds, curry leaves and flaxseeds, until the chillies and curry leaves are crisp. This will take around 2-3 minutes on low-medium flame.
Place the toasted spice mix in the mixer jar and grind to get a fine powder.
To this, add the roasted peanuts with skins and salt. Blend until you get a fine paste and oil oozes out. Use the oil to aid the blending process if need be.
Save in an airtight jar in the fridge. Use on toast, or along with dosa or idli.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.
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