Chaklis by Keerti Ramachandran

When I suggested that we order some dhoklas for evening snack my Gujju friend looked startled. “Dhoklas from a shop. I eat only the ones my mom makes,” he exclaimed. I would have probably reacted in the same manner if I was asked to buy Patishapta or Malpua from a shop. They are readily available in sweet shops across CR Park but can’t match the taste of Ma’s home-made Patishapta or Malpua. Though I yearn for these traditional Bengali sweets and request Ma to make them whenever she comes down, I never bothered with the recipes. Along with the time, are we going to lose these traditional recipes?

Enjoy reading how Keerti Ramachandran revives the Chakli recipe of her mother-in-law and try making some traditional food this festive season.

It was at dinner a few days ago that my daughter-in-law said, “Mummy, you must start a Keerti’s kitchen” now otherwise all these traditionally home-made dishes will be lost to the next generation. See how popular ….. has become!”

Taking a cue from that I decided I would revive some of my mother-in-law’s recipes for the benefit of my grandchildren at first then if viable, for other people’s too.

The festive season is round the corner so a good starting point would be to make chaklis at home. Of course chaklis are available everywhere, but we always felt they lacked something – they had no particular character, whereas Amma’s were still alive on our tongues.

So, one day when the sun came out after a particularly long and unseasonal cloudy wet spell, I hunted out my old recipe book, checked the recipe and did as instructed. Wash and put out to dry in the shade, 4 measures (any measure will do) of raw rice, gently roast 1 measure of urad dal (without the skins) till golden brown and fragrant, and keep aside till the rice is completely dry. Get the rice and dal ground into a fine flour, without any contamination of jowar, ragi, besan or wheat flour.

My local chakkiwala was obliging. He agreed to grind plain rice  and then my chakli flour, for a small fee of course! Mmmm…. Smelt good!

When no one was at home, I quickly measured out 1 cup of the flour, added salt to taste, 1 teaspoon of red chilli powder, ½ tsp hing, and 3heaped tablespoons of white til. One tight fistful of white unsalted butter (mine was homemade, yes!) was gently mixed into the flour and all of it then brought together with a little after at a time, soft enough to be easily pressed through the chakli press with the star shaped disc.  (Of course the chakli maker had not been used for years and had to be thoroughly scrubbed with tamarind and pitambari powder since it was made of brass). Ultimately it was the wooden one that worked!

 Oil in kadai, gas on medium high and the dough was ready to press out. Needless to say the hands were out of touch, they were too high above the foil sheet, so the chaklis came out in bits and pieces. Okay, the dough was too stiff. A dash of water to soften it and it pressed out easily, with the right amount of prickles. But oval chaklis? Try lowering the press I said to myself, took a deep breath, slowly moved hands clockwise and there it was! A perfect circle, with a slight gap between the rows. (Amma used to say don’t make the circles too tight!)  After pressing out about 10, the oil had become nice and hot, I remembered to put in only 6 chaklis at a time and then lower the flame. The one thing cooking teaches, or ought to teach you is patience… don’t keep disturbing the frying chaklis, wait until they are nicely golden, and start giving out the butter… you can tell when the oil stops bubbling.  Then take the chaklis out gently – use a piece of wire cut from an old aluminium hanger and pass it through the centre of the chaklis so you get them all in a row. Drain and set aside till cold.

Wah! An hour later they were all done and ready to serve.

“Hmm, too buttery” “no crunch”  “not enough salt,” “good, but …” “ummm something’s missing…”  “arrey just go and buy them when you feel like eating na! not worth the effort!”

“Go, get your chaklis from Malleswaram or wherever!” I snorted and put the dabba away, muttering under my breath, “Gadhe ko kya zafran ka maza” (where will a donkey appreciate the flavour of saffron!)

 A couple of days later I felt nibbly at tea time so I reached for the chakli dabba … and  felt like Mother Hubbard! Mother who?

Now that’s something else that will get lost too!

Keerti Ramachandra is by aptitude, inclination and training, a teacher. She has been a freelance editor of fiction and non-fiction for major publishing houses and a translator of fiction and nonfiction from Marathi, Kannada and Hindi into English.  Among her translated works are: From Marathi: Mahanayak, a fictionalised biography of Netaji Bose and A Dirge for the Dammed, both by Vishwas Patil, A Faceless Evening and Other Stories by Gangadhar Gadgil  Of Closures and New Beginnings short stories and a noella, by  Saniya.

The Dying Sun and other stories by Joginder Paul with Usha Nagpal, and HIndutva or Hind Swaraj  by U R Ananthamurty with Vivek Shanbhag.

Several of her translations have appeared in anthologies, magazines and journals in India and abroad. 

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