Comfort foods … (2)

This is the second post of the series. You can read the first one here.

I have made some for dinner tonight. And that’s how bhakris make their way to today’s post. Hot, puffed, straight from the flames, and onto your plate. Eaten with pithla (a besan curry) or varan or usal (lentils) or paale bhaji (green leafy vegetables). Served with some home-made butter or dollop of ghee. It is a most comforting and nourishing evening meal, as it comes.

So what are bhakris? Bhakris are flat breads, typically made out millet flour. In our household, they are generally made from jwari (sorghum) or bajri (pearl millet). Or sometimes nachni (finger millet). In some parts of Maharashtra, they are also made from rice flour. This is a popular flat bread, not only in Maharashtra, but adjoining states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. To say it is nutritious is an understatement. Full of complex carbohydrates, and fibre, it also boasts of better iron content than rice and wheat. And if it’s nachani bhakri, then it’s the best source of plant-based calcium.

This is also a very hassle free Indian bread. The dough doesn’t require any soaking. You can make it as you go. Just add water (tip: hot water) and some salt to taste, make a smooth dough. Flatten it using your hands (you don’t need to use the laatna or rolling pin). Transfer to a hot tawa, and brush it with some water on one side. Once the water has dried up, flip and roast the other side. And finally roast it on an open flame. It puffs up beautifully. The only condition is that the flour needs to be freshly grinded. Else they won’t puff up. That I can say from experience. This, of course, takes practice. And I took a while to get there.

The best bhakris, of course, are made on coal flames, which lend a slightly charred flavour to the bhakri. Climb up to Sinhagad Fort and eat these humble bhakris, sitting under a tree, to know what I am talking about. Or made by a farmer’s wife on open fires, in any of our villages.

As a kid, we grew up eating bhakri everyday. Especially in winters. It would be definitely be a part of our evening meals, atleast four times a week. I remember my great grandmother (we called her Nena), making a pile of bhakris for dinner. There was no question of not liking it. We didn’t have any options. You either had it, or could skip dinner. So it would always be the former. And that was not the end of it. If there were left overs, they made great breakfast too. The next day, the bhakri would be slightly dry. And easily crumble in your hands. Add taak (buttermilk), and some pickle and it would be a great breakfast – complex carbs, protein, probiotics – you had it all. Or you could add some milk and jaggery, and eat it like cold porridge, or Indian version of cornflakes. No fuss, easy to eat.

I remember how I came to eat taak-bhaakri very clearly. We had an elderly visitor once, who had just had his teeth removed. And all he could eat was some mashed, soupy stuff. So my mom made fine bhakri crumbs in a mixer, and added buttermilk and salt to taste. Now what ajoba had (I called all white-haired men ajoba (grandfather) at that time), I too wanted. The mixer grinded bhakri was more exotic than hand-crumbled one. For three days till ajoba left, I would happily sit with a bowl of taak-bhakri, just like him. And that has stayed with me till date. And it finds its way to my breakfast bowl almost every week. Whenever we have had bhakris for dinner the night before (I always make a couple extra).

A close cousin of the bhakri is thalepeeth. In today’s more exotic and healthy terms it’s multi-grain, gluten-free flat bread. This is another staple in my household. To make it, mix whatever flours you have on hand, and in any proportion. In go jwari, bajri, nachni, besan, wheat (skip if you want a gluten free version) and even rice flours. I add some coriander powder, turmeric, red chilly powder for taste. And then I make it a bit more healthy by adding finely chopped vegetables – onion and coriander are a favourite as is methi (fenugreek) or grated cabbage, carrots, radishes, pumpkin to name a few. Using as little water to bind into a firm dough, flattened out with hand, thalepeeth has holes poked into it. You roast it on iron tawa (flat griddle) with some oil for crispyness. Makes for a filling breakfast, or one of those breakfast-for-dinner options. And yes, don’t forget the home-made butter. That is non-negotiable.

Bhakri is such a staple that it has found its way into everyday parlance as – bhakar todli ka?* (did you have your meal?). And how can we forget Bahinabai’s

Arre sansar sansar, jasa tawa choolhyavar

Adhi hatala chatake, tevha milate bhaakar

(Oh! this life is just like the flat griddle on a flame. You first need to burn your fingers, to get the bread – meaning you need to undergo suffering to get the sweet rewards/fruits of your labour)

* Interestingly, in Chinese, “have you eaten?” is “shi fen ma?“, literally meaning ‘did  you eat rice?’, as fen (rice) is a staple here.

The hand-flattened dough (thapleli bhakri)


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