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020 Chaat Night and Cilantro Leaves (Herbs & Spices #5)

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Chaat nights at my parent’s home were those rare occasions when the coriander leaf became the lead actress. She took center stage in my mother’s incomparable hari chutney. Spicy, tangy, salty, delicious.

Along with her co-star, the maroonish sweet and sour tamarind chutney, this duet of hari and lal chutneys would float happily on top of kachoris, pani puris, dahi batata puris, and of course the mouth watering ragda patties.

Recently I tried to replicate my mother’s ragda patties and got exhausted by the time I had made the ragda itself. Forget about chutneys, I could not even garner the strength to make the simple aalo tikkis to accompany the spicy ragda.

Deflated, I served the ragda with bread (oh the shame!) to my family and fondly remembered my mother’s chutney. I have no idea how she would whip up enough chaat to feed a herd of hungry teenagers, when we were in school. We took her skill, patience and tireless effort for granted.

I will never again take a bowl of hari dhaniya chutney for granted again.

Kothmiri/ Hara Dhaniya/ Coriander Leaves/ Cilantro/Coriandrum sativum

Isn’t it strange how a particular kitchen changes the way you name a leaf? Fresh coriander leaves become ‘kothmiri’ at home, ‘hara-dhaniya’ in my mother’s home and ‘cilantro’ with my American friends.

In my mother’s kitchen, hara dhaniya was predominantly used as a garnish. After she would finish cooking, there would be a little white plate on the counter with finely chopped coriander leaves. Just before laying the dal and sabzi on the dining table, my mother would generously sprinkle these bright green leaves on top of the food. Not only did they add a dash of colour and enhanced the presentation, but they also provided an additional texture while eating. I inherited this habit of hers and took it for granted. That is until I got married and realised that it was a very “north Indian” way of food presentation.

After getting married into a Telugu family, now ‘kothmiri’ is an indispensable part of our kitchen. I didn't even know the word ‘katta’ (bunch of fresh herbs) before entering marital bliss. Now every time I visit Alim’s cart to buy ‘soppu’ at the corner of Sahakarnagar, I invariably add a ‘katta of kothmiri’ to my request. There is something intoxicating and heady about the smell of fresh kothmiri. When I see those bright, tender, green leaves of the ‘natti’ variety I instinctively reach out for a large bunch of kothmiri.

Apart from teaching me her delicious kothmiri and coconut chutney which accompanies our daily dosa breakfast, my mother-in-law has taught me how to use these lovely leaves as an aromatic. Now without fail I add a few sprigs of kothmiri leaves to my mustard seeds and curry pata vaghrane, watch them magically wilt and release their aroma, and then combine this heavenly goodness to my cucumber and peanut salad.

Mixies and Stone Grinders

I have a vague memory of there being a large flat stone to grind chutneys in my childhood kitchen in Bombay. I remember watching fascinated as the cook crushed green chillies and coriander leaves by rolling the granite stone pin back and forth.

That visceral experience made such an impression on my young mind, that the very next evening, my friends and I tried to crush gul mohar leaves with stones, while playing outside.

Watching the leaves being ground to a pulp, and smelling the aromatic juices ooze out of the leaves was strangely satisfying. Perhaps making chutney the old fashioned way on a grinding stone is a kind of ‘Fight Club’ fascination with creative mutilation.

Many flat stone and pestle grinders have been replaced by the ubiquitous electric mixer-grinder. Most urban home-cooks in India have their own personal brand preference, which they defend passionately.

In family gatherings, I have heard detailed arguments from the various teams vying for the top position including the heavy weights Team Sumeet and Team Preethi, outlining the pros, cons and longevity of their most favourite models.

In my mother’s generation an electric mixer-grinder held a place of pride in the wedding trousseau. My nani (maternal grandmother) had purchased a ‘Gopi’ mixie and kept it securely packed in the box for her future daughter-in-law, a year before my uncle’s engagement was even finalised! She did not allow my mother to even touch the cardboard packaging of that prized kitchen appliance.

I am glad that traditional cookware, grinding stones, and mortar-pestles are making a comeback in urban homes! The texture and aroma of stone ground chutneys has no comparison!

What is your preferred method to make chutneys? Did you have a silbatta or ammikallu growing up?

Image Credits:

Bunch of Coriander Leaves (katta):Tomasz Olszewski (Unsplash)

Kachori: Prachi Palwe

Rest: Courtesy Pankhuri Agrawal

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