Kulith Pithla is Konkan’s answer to Indian superfood. A bean which despite being so rich in essential nutrients has hardly made any mark on India’s culinary landscape.
Kulith, also known as Kulthi in Hindi and Horse gram in English derives its English name from the fact that it is one of the staples for horses and cattle. It is a high protein lentil that is typically grown in dry agricultural conditions and drought prone areas. I have grown up eating this lentil as part of our weekly menu in form of Kulith Pithla or as a Usal (Curry preparation).
I jolted awake this morning from a nightmare; a bad dream, that brought back memories of ill-fated Friday morning, a quarter century back, when series of bomb blast rocked the city.
I was 9 years old. It was a sunny afternoon on Friday, March 12th 1993. If my memory isn’t flailing, then I was in attendance of an extra class which were organized for preparing us for 4th Standard State Board Scholarship Exam. We were mid-way through the class and excited. An hour later, we would be allowed to go back home and next day the Saturday, was a half day for our school.
It was then, we saw Sachin Mama, our School Peon, a 20 something young guy walk into the class and head straight to our class teacher. They spoke in hushed tone and we could see Sachin Mama doing most of the talking while our class teacher’s (Tamhankar Bai’s) face portrayed a whole range of emotions.
Her ever so smiling countenance directed at us suddenly turned sorrowful and in her quivering voice she asked us to pack our bags and wait for further instructions. We were disallowed to leave the school premises until one of our guardian came to pick us up and a holiday was announced for the next day. The school campus filled with commotion until few mins ago had gone silent. An uneasy calm had pervaded the atmosphere that afternoon. We were happy and anxious. School would remain close the next day but we didn’t know why. What we knew was that something terrible, really terrible had happened. This belief was reaffirmed when we heard a loud thud noise. It sounded like a fire-cracker explosion that we would often witness after an India-Pakistan match but this wasn’t a match day. A class of terrified kids were staring with anxiety and fear at their teacher’s face and with every passing minute she grew flustered.
15 minutes later we saw the familiar faces of Sachin mama and Vishnu Ajoba, a 58 years old school peon who would retire in couple of years. They started escorting kids whose parents had shown up at the school gate. I thought of my Aaji (Granny) who would come daily to pick me from school. It was 3 PM and my Aaji would have started walking from home to school. Her frail but agile legs would take almost an hour to cover that distance of 7 kms. She never took a bus or rickshaw but relied on her legs to reach her destination. She would tell us that it was her only way to stay fit but I knew it also served her purpose of saving money.
We grew restless as number of kids in class started dwindling. A huge commotion of the excited and nervous crowd could be heard outside. “Plaza cinema”, “Century Bazar”, “Passport Office”. Deriving meaning from the senseless commotion, we finally figured out about the fateful event that shook the city. We failed to realize the gravity of the situation, of the series of Bomb Blasts that took place in planned and sequential manner.
I grew agitated on friend Ganesh, who shared the bench with me, and was sobbing inconsolably. However, more than his tears and wailing sound what bothered me more was his runny nose that he wiped off against my shirt. I would have had pushed him but then I heard Vishnu Ajoba calling out my name- Chinti aajjii aali tujhi , chal ye lavkar!” (Come fast, you short one, your granny is here!), a reference to my shorter stature. The bag seemed unusually heavy for Ganesh had entangled his arms in my bag as his last ditch effort to resist my leaving from there. He wanted me to stay until his Mom comes looking for him but Ajoba had picked me up in his arms by then and I was out of the classroom in no time. I waved back at Ganesh with teary eyes. I was happy to see my Aaji waiting for me downstairs. Vishnu Ajoba transferred me in my granny’s arm and went off from there. Aaji started explaining me in simplest of ways possible what had transpired in Mumbai that afternoon. As we were about to step out from the school compound, she asked me about my two friends-Reshma and Sonal, who stayed in same locality as mine. Aaji then approached our teacher and sought her permission to escort my two friends to their homes, a request to which my teacher complied without any hesitation.
I was witness to a different Mumbai that day-a one without life. The usual noise and commotion which is a hallmark of Mumbai had vanished and an uneasy calm had spread. The busiest street of Dadar was desolate. We were walking at a brisk pace in the safe custody of my granny who was taking turns in lifting us in her arms. I could sense fear and urgency in her eyes to reach home as quickly as possible. Finally, after a long walk of an hour, we reached close to our homes but not before we passed through KEM hospital, which was too near to my home. As we were passing through the hospital gate, my granny covered all our faces with the Pallu of her Saree making an unsuccessful attempt of saving our young minds from the tragic scene. Quite a many ambulances rushed in an out from the hospital compound with the screaming siren. There were few bodies, dead or alive, I was not sure, lying on footpath which my granny tried to save us from seeing. The line between life and death had vanished that day. No Mumbaikar must have felt safe while commuting to reach home. It was a black Friday, that had taught few young minds about the uncertainty of life! I remember when my Aai baba came home how loud I cried hugging them.
That same night someone knocked at our door. It was well past midnight, but we were all awake. In fact, nobody slept that fateful night. Baba opened the door and we had an unexpected guest standing in front of us. An 18-year-old young boy, in a plain white crumpled shirt, disheveled hairs and weariness largely written on his face stood at the door. Deceived by his disheveled looks my mother took few seconds to identify him as her cousin, Arun. After his father’s death few days ago, he migrated to Mumbai from Anjarla, a small village in Konkan. He started working as a driver and transported trucks carrying Mangoes, Coconuts or timber. That day was his second trip to Mumbai when he found himself caught in series of bomb blasts. He left his truck at Shivaji Park, Dadar and scampered in pursuit of a safe destination to survive. For his torn diary which he found in his pocket, which had our address written inside, he was able to locate our place that night. He waded through all the chaos and reached our home totally exhausted and hungry.
My mother served him ginger tea to calm his nerves which was followed by a hearty dinner. We had finished our dinner by then and had no left overs. So She cooked a Konkani meal of Kulith Pithla and steamed rice and served him hot. He looked famished and exhausted. He felt relieved and ate to his heart’s content.
After the meal he slept beside my baba cuddling him as he was his survivor. In our small 225 sq. ft. home. I have had witnessed love and affection in my small home and many known and unknown recipients of that love. Each time, when love was expressed, food was an integral part of it.
With that thought, I will share the recipe of Kulith Pithla. It’s a monsoon delight in Konkani households and is often served with steamed rice. Make this delicious recipe to include this superfood in your diet and share your feedback with us in comment section below.
- ½ Cup=60gms Kulith (Horse gram) Flour- easily available in market or in online stores
- 2 Large=180gms Onions-sliced into lengths
- ½ Cup fresh grated Coconut
- Cooking Oil
- 2 Green Chilies
- 5-6 Cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp Cumin Seeds
- 2 tbsp Fresh Coriander Leaves
- 1 tsp Mustard Seeds
- ¼th tsp Asafoetida Powder
- ¼th tsp Turmeric Powder
- 1 tbsp Malvani Masala (can be replaced with 2 tsp Red Chili Powder + 1 tsp Garam Masala)
- 2-3 Kokum rinds (optional)
- We will now make a coarse masala paste. In a mortar and pestle, put Cumin Seeds, Cloves and Green Chilies. Make a coarse paste of these ingredients. You can even use an electric grinder for making this paste. Remove and keep it aside
- Now, we will make a thin batter from Kulith flour. Add water to make a thin batter. We have used almost ¾th Cup water for making this batter. We have put a pan on heat.
- Heat 3 tbsp Cooking Oil in a Pan. Add Mustard Seeds. Add Asafoetida Powder and freshly grounded masala. Let Garlic become slightly brown in color
- Add sliced Onions and let is become brown in color. Onions have become brown in 6-7 mins on medium heat.
- Now add Turmeric Powder and Malvani Masala. 1 tbsp Malvani Masala can be replaced with 2 tsp Red Chili Powder + 1 tsp Garam Masala
- Mix the masala with Onions for couple of mins. Add Kulith flour batter. Stir well with the Masala. Now, add water and adjust the consistency of Pithla. The consistency must not be too thick. Traditionally, it is eaten with rice in Konkani households.
- We will add about 4 Cups of water. Add Salt to taste. Let the Pithla boil on high heat. When Pithla begins to boil, reduce heat and cook covered
- Uncover after 5 mins of cooking. Pithla starts to slightly thicken. Now add Kokum (optional-can be skipped). Now, we will cook Pithla uncovered for 2 mins
- After 2 mins, add grated Coconut and chopped Coriander leaves. Pithla starts to thicken after adding Coconut. Now cook for another 1 min.
- Kulith Pithla is ready now. Serve it hot
- You can relish this Kulith Pithla with Roti or Bhakri. Kulith Pithla served with hot steamed rice and roasted Papad is my favorite comfort meal.
Click to watch recipe video