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How a regional recipe from Mumbai embraces winter produce

The Pathare Prabhu community of the city uses the season's freshest ingredients to prepare an elaborate mixed-vegetable dish ‘ghada’

Ingredients for Ghada. (Photos: Kunal Vijayakar)

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Speaking of her community's food, Rujuta Vijayakar often likes to say, “Our recipes are super easy and super quick.” She belongs to the Pathare Prabhu community, believed to be one of the oldest residents of Mumbai. Their cuisine is known for rich and exquisite dishes generously peppered with non-vegetarian ingredients.

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Their daily diet consists of various fish curries such as bhujne prepared with garlic, fresh coriander, onion and red chilli powder; aatle made with ginger, tamarind, garam masala in addition to bhujne ingredients; and purnache spiced with onions, garam masala, red chilli powder and cumin seeds. These flavourful curries take no more than 10 minutes to cook as there is no elaborate grinding or tempering involved.

There is, however, an exception to this rule. The winter-special ghada is a mixed vegetable curry, that requires several ingredients, love and hours of labour. The season’s first ghada is prepared on Champashashthi, that falls on the sixth day of the Margasheersha month which is November 29 this year.

It marks the end of Chaturmas—a four-month period of abstinence from certain foods such as eggplant, onion, garlic, eggs, fish and meat.

“We are supposed to give up all these, but eggplant is the only thing we stop eating completely during these 4 months,” says Vijayakar and adds, “So we celebrate this day with lot of dishes which has eggplants as the main ingredient.” These include Vangyachya Kaptya (pan-fried eggplant slices), Vangayche Bharit (curry of roasted and mashed eggplant with coconut milk), Vangi-bhat (masala rice with eggplants) and the beloved ghada. Apart from eggplants, several seasonal vegetables, like tubers and beans find their way into ghada. It is prepared a few times till mid-February, or as long as the seasonal vegetables are available.

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Ghada-making can turn into a family activity. In Vijayakar’s home, her son and nephew take care of cleaning and cutting vegetables, while she and her husband look after the actual preparation. They make non-vegetarian versions too. “We just can’t live without our daily dose of fish,” she says with a smile.

“Adding fish or meat to vegetarian dishes is a Pathare Prabhu specialty,” shares Kalpana Talpade, author of Kalpana’s Kitchen, a Pathare Prabhu recipe book. She also runs a YouTube channel with the same title. Kheemyachya shingdya (baked karanjee stuffed with minced mutton), kolambichi or bomblachi patvad (colocasia leaf rolls with prawns / Bombay duck), bhanole (cabbage, chana dal cake with prawns), pangoji (wheat fritters with small prawns) are some of their most treasured snacks. Adding dried or fresh prawns of all sizes to vegetable curries is a common practice. Talpade explains, “Ghada has three versions—mutton, gholichyacha (black-spotted croaker) and kolambicha (prawns). It is truly a seasonal delicacy, because apart from the winter vegetables, even the black spotted croaker tastes the best during winters.”

Ghada (Vegetarian)

Ingredients
1.5 kg big eggplants
125 gm carrots
125 gm yam
125 gm purple yam
125 gm alkol (turnip cabbage)
125 gm beetroots
125 gm shingada (water chestnuts)
125 gm green peas
125 gm surti papdi (broad beans)
125 gm val papdi (flat beans)
125 gm ghevda (french beans)
125 gm pavte (field beans)
125 gm double beans (kidney beans)
125 gm fresh green chana (green chick peas)
125 gm groundnuts (soaked overnight)
4 large rajeli bananas*, chopped into one inch pieces with peel
1 stick of sugarcane, chopped into one-inch pieces
3 large onions, finely sliced
1.5 tsp asafoetida
1.5 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp ginger garlic paste
3-4 tbsp red chilli powder
4-5 tbsp parbhi sambar powder
350 ml cooking oil
Salt and jaggery to taste
Coriander leaves, green chillies and spring onions (optional)

Method

Cut all vegetables into medium-sized cubes. Heat oil in a pan. Add asafoetida. Lower the flame and add sliced onions. Once the onions turn translucent, add ginger-garlic paste. Add all the beans and vegetables. Saute for 5 minutes. Keep the flame to a minimum. Add all dry masala powders. Let it cook for half an hour with a water lid*. Now add sugarcane and banana pieces and jaggery. Again, let it cook with the water lid. Keep stirring once in every 10-15 minutes. All the vegetables cook well in the oil and their own juices and start releasing a mixed aroma. Water is not added as it may overcook the vegetables. It will be ready after 75-85 minutes. Each piece should be well cooked but should retain its shape and identity. Don’t worry if some vegetables disintegrate, it will only add to the texture.

Gholichyacha or Kolambicha Ghada

Ingredients
4 cups of ghol fish pieces or prawns
2-3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
Salt and chilli powder to taste

Method
Coat the fish or prawns with the spices and salt. Then add to the vegetarian ghada, mix well and let it cook for 8-10 minutes on a slow flame.

Mutton Ghada

Ingredients
1 kg mutton on the bone (1-1.5 inch pieces each)
3-4 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1.5 tsp turmeric powder
Salt, chilli powder and parbhi sambar* to taste

Method
Marinate the pieces with the spices and salt. Let it rest for at least half an hour. Pressure cook for 4-5 whistles. Add this to the vegetarian ghada, mix well and let it cook on a slow flame for 10-15 minutes.

*Notes
1. Water lid: It is a plate containing water that is kept on a pan while cooking. This enables cooking of the vegetables without being burnt. This technique is used when cooking something in a pan without adding water.

2. Parbhi Sambhar Powder is a Pathare Prabhu Garam Masala which has more than 30 ingredients blended in specific proportions. You can procure it by calling Rujuta Vijayakar 9892075622 or Ronica Vijayakar 9769661824.

3. You can replace parbhi sambar with your regular garam masala (3 tbsp), coriander powder (1 tbsp) and cumin powder (1 tsp)

4. Rajeli Keli or Rajeli Bananas are thicker, longer and have a sweet and sour taste. They are available in Mumbai where vegetable vendors from Vasai sell their home produce. You can replace these with other similar variety from Mangalore, Kerala and Tamilnadu.

5. Marinated fish or cooked meat should be added to the vegetarian ghada when it is 95% ready. Mixing and cooking everything together gives the desired taste.

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The final dish. (Photo: Kunal Vijayakar)
The final dish. (Photo: Kunal Vijayakar)

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