food is so much about memory, isn’t it?
i can’t even hear the words “motorer kochuri” without thinking of my mother. my mother was not a great cook, in fact she was never too keen to visit the kitchen. she had, however, the most discerning sense of taste and understanding of the various stages of cooking. she was particular about the spices and condiments she believed a dish called for. the balance of ingredients was important, getting the right inflection points as you cooked was sacrosanct.
my mother grew up mostly in the north, in lucknow, delhi, simla. she liked her food to have a touch of that part of the world i always felt, a little “nawabi”, not too sedate, a little playful. there was a difference between the way she judged the kinds and quantities of ingredients and the initial stage of frying or “kosha” that gets everything to a delightful state of heady aroma, and the way my aunts who had grown up in calcutta did. i am not fussy, i love their cooking just as much, as did my mother. but she had her own take on things.
that is, the things she decided she was going to have a take on.
she had no desire to be called a fine cook or anything, but i would notice a slight smile peep out if anyone admired an alu dum she may have made on a rare occasion, or a mutton curry, or a baked cauliflower cheese… she used to make the most wonderful chicken roast when we were kids, back in assam. she claimed she’d only put salt and pepper to season, nothing else. and since my mother was not the sort to keep mum about some “secret ingredient”, i’ll have to believe that and wonder why am i nowhere near as good a cook as my mother.
that alu dum i mentioned, i have attempted that so many times over the years and failed at every go. she’d casually rustled it up one evening when some people were coming over for dinner, sitting in the dinghy kitchen, stirring the potatoes and masalas till she was happy with the fragrance and texture, adding just the bit of water needed. there was a high note to the taste, a sparkle…
that sparkle was the thing. she’d chatted one day with me about motorer kochuri, which is a crisp deep fried flatbread made of flour with a stuffing of green peas. it’s also known as “kodaishutir kochuri”, a winter delicacy in calcutta and for most bengalis wherever they may be. before cold storage, supermarkets, globalisation, etc., peas were seasonal, they were available in winter only and they tasted so good that you had to incorporate them into everything. i remember my maternal grandmother used to make stew with vegetables and meat and she’d throw in whole pea pods, strings and ends included, such fun eating those.
my mother was telling the cook how to make the stuffing for the kochuri that day, and i listened not yet sure i was up to the challenge, since motorer kochuri is difficult to make. she reminded him not to forget to put a little cumin powder, or jeerey as we call it; in hindi: jeera/zeera. according to her, the taste would just not be right without a dash of the aromatic jeera, its slightly sharp note. without it – she made a face here – the mptorer kochuri would be… bland; a cardinal sin in her eyes.
a dear aunt of mine is known for her delicious fluffy motorer kochuris. she doesn’t use jeera. i have plagued her with many questions about the recipe and technique, and have learnt to make motorer kochuri. i am pretty pleased with my “expertise” at stuffing the dough and rolling out the kochuris without making a mess. okay, about ten percent kochuris sort of burst and green monster stuffing squishes out; no problem, fry them at the end; everything tastes good, trust me.
whenever motorer kochuri is made though, i go into a deep think about the cumin powder. i tell ibi our cook, maybe we should try it without the cumin this time. she gives her customary frown… this could mean anything. i look up recipes on the net, i read of hing (asafoetida) as a great ingredient, or even a tempering of jeera seeds, some claim onion seeds are a must, all sorts of spices and tips… then i give in. put the cumin powder, i mutter.
the sparkle, can’t miss out on that. my mother i’m sure is pleased.
must try the alu dum again some day soon.
motorer kochuri | recipe
the dough |
3 cups of plain flour, use indian maida if possible, the texture is better i find
3 tbsp of white vegetable oil,
half tsp salt, adjust it to taste
warm water to make the dough
mix the flour with salt and oil in a wide, not too deep bowl. rub the flour and oil gently between your finger tips. my grandmother would take a fistful of flour and press a little then see how quickly it fell apart when she opened her fist. if it holds for a couple of seconds, it’s ready. slowly start adding the warm water. you’ve got to be careful, because the dough shouldn’t get too sticky. the moment the dough starts leaving your fingers as you mix, stop adding water. in case you’ve added more (i had), throw in dry flour a little at a time as you knead; stop once you feel the dough is no longer clingy and soggy.
now comes the fun part.
you’ve got to knead the dough till it gets a smooth marble like surface. push, pummel, and roll the dough merrily; press down on it with the heel of your palm, squeeze, and shove again. in bengali this is called “moida thasha”, kneading the flour. my cousin is very good at this, everyone mentions it when the topic of kochuri or paratha or luchi comes up. my cousin lives in calcutta, so i gave her a whatsapp call for her expert opinion. i sent a shot of the dough, it’s the one on the left. she replied promptly “hoy ni, aro thasho”.
not done yet, knead more.
so i did. till my arm ached (i took panadols later, maybe my technique is all wrong).
but it was worth it. the dough became soft and springy, a joy to work with. just look at it on the right, all smooth and gorgeous. i have made luchi kochuri before, but this time that pliant and poised dough added a certain elegance to the whole affair.
the pea stuffing |
2 500g packs of frozen peas or same amount fresh peas, shelled
2 tbsp ginger paste
a handful of fresh green chillies, about 7/8 i’d say, but adjust to taste
1 and a half tsp jeera/cumin powder
2 to 3 tsp sugar, you can add more if you like it sweeter
oil to fry, say 3 to 4 tbsp
naturally, the best motorer kochuris are made with fresh garden peas, we don’t get much of those in singapore usually, so i use frozen peas. if you use fresh peas, you may need to add a little more sugar to get the right balance of tastes. adjust the spices to your liking. if you wish to add some other spices, go ahead, make the kochuri your own. there really are no strict rules about what you can or can’t add. though, i’d stay away from onion and garlic.
we call the stuffing “pur” (sounds somewhat like “hour” in houri). as with the dough, much love and time must be given to the pur too. this will take almost an hour to get ready.
blend the peas and green chillies in a food processor or mixer and make a smooth paste. don’t add too much water. now heat oil in a wok or kadai. add the ginger paste. it’ll start to sputter, stir it for a couple of minutes, and add the blended peas. lower the heat to medium or less and stir the paste every now and then. keep stirring as it dries up. add salt, sugar, and the cumin powder along the way. you’ll know the pur is almost done when it starts coming off the side of the wok. be patient. be vigilant. the paste tends to stick to the bottom of the pan and might start to burn.
as it cooks, the pur will get darker, when you get a particularly nice aroma, you’ll know it’s almost there. keep stirring and cooking till the oil separates and shines on the surface. then turn off the fire and let it cool. the pur should not get too dry and hard, it’ll be tough to roll the kochuris then.
making the kochuris |
take the dough, which should have been allowed to rest covered in damp cloth for a while, and knead it lightly for a few minutes. take a chunk and roll between your palms, then divide into equal sized portions. three cups of flour will give you about twenty eight to thirty kochuris.
you’ll most likely have more pur than you need. you can always make some dough the next day and get a few more kochuris. both the pur and the dough stay well in the fridge, just remember to keep the dough in a closed container.
take a portion of the dough, roll it into a ball, stick your thumbs into the centre and stretch it lightly to make a “bowl”. take some pur and roll into a ball, then stuff it into the bowl, push in a little, tip: the dough can take more pur than you think it can, so don’t be afraid, add a bit more pur if needed. the proportion of dough to pur is important, you don’t want a very faint taste of peas in a whole lot of dough.
now bring in the two sides of the dough, pinch the edges together, take it to the centre and twist the joined edge so it is secure and press it gently in. this is a ready “lechi”. make all the lechis. time to roll the kochuris.
place the lechi, “joined” face down on a flat surface. press it with three fingers to flatten a little, dab a bit of oil on it, and start rolling. don’t put too much pressure on the centre, roll with a slightly heavier touch along the sides, turn the kochuri from time to time, but don’t flip it over. the kochuri shouldn’t be too thin, but not thick either. too thin and it won’t fluff up; too thick, it won’t cook well. i’d say, it should be about a quarter of a centimetre thick.
while you roll, heat oil in a wok to deep fry. you need a lot of oil, the kochuri must have room to plunge in, sizzle, soak in the oil, gradually get fried, and rise to the top, its surface fluffing up.
make sure the oil is hot enough. throw in a tiny bit of dough, if it starts gathering bubbles around the edge almost immediately, the oil is ready.
slide in the kochuri carefully. as it begins to rise to the top, hold it down with the spatula or slotted spoon that you’re using. you’ll feel it resist and begin to puff up. or you could pour hot oil on the kochuri as it rises, it will have the same effect.
it’s always satisfying to watch the kochuri or luchi’s surface begin to come up, elevate.
turn the kochuri over and cook the other side for a few seconds. then take it out of the oil. you can place the kochuris on tissue paper to take away some of the excess oil.
motorer kochuris are best served hot, straight after frying. but they’re not too bad at room temperature either, or even the next day, cool and “bashi” or stale. the taste seems to get more settled and rounded.
usually, a potato dish accompanies the motorer kochuri. you can make it any way you like. i followed my aunt’s recipe for a simple alur dom or alu dum (slow cooked potatoes).
alur dom | recipe
a couple of bay leaves
half tsp cumin seeds
2/3 green chillies, break a little or make a tiny slit in each
half tsp turmeric powder, adjust to your liking
half tsp chilli powder, adjust to your liking
a pinch of hing (asafoetida)
a few tbsp oil
salt to taste
a dash of sugar
cut the boiled potatoes into small pieces. heat oil in a wok. throw in the bay leaves and as they sizzle, add the green chillies. the chillies will begin to brown, time for the cumin seeds… let the aroma release. add the potatoes, turn them and roast slowly. after a while, add the hing, the turmeric and chilli powders, the salt and sugar. keep turning and cooking, sprinkle water now and then to meld it all together and prevent over browning. when you start getting a cooked, mellow fragrance, all the “rawness” of the spices gone, it’s done.
if you want, right at the end, you can add quarter to half a cup of water, let it come to a boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes, then add three or four green chillies, cover and simmer a few more minutes. i love the heady scent of fresh green chillies mingling with the cumin and hing.
you can serve motorer kochuri and alur dom for high tea or brunch, or as the first course of an extended dinner or lunch menu. we have it for dinner, leftovers get consumed rapidly the next day. one good thing about frozen peas, we don’t have to wait for winter.