Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nimona - a fresh twist on Alu matar

Independence Day is here and there is a lot of green and orange around with people portraying their patriotic spirit. I decided to do my bit and try something green. I love the colour green, especially in food - yes I really like all kinds of greens like palak, methi, sarson, etc. and the other quintessential green ingrdient - Peas.

In days bygone, peas usually came out of a pod, mostly in the winter, and I had a swell time shelling the peas and eating half of them raw. There are a lot of childhood pea recipes that I will reserve for another time, but I came across this one only after transponding to the 'green peas come from a bag in the freezer' days.

Although I am calling it Alu Matar with a twist, this dish is way more exotic. You have to taste it to believe it. It is very simple in execution, and has very few ingredients. Its also great on a budget and for stretching a dime, as you can extend this dish even using very little raw material. I was first treated to this by a dear friend during the good old school days, when the purse was tight and there were always countless mouths to feed - anyone who has ever lived on or near a college campus can attest to the unpredictable number of people who always turned up for the pleasure of your company ;).

This dish is called Nimona, and is from North India - mostly Uttar Pradesh. The only time I have heard the word Nimona is when I heard my friend mention this, and make this. For us lesser mortals, it was always A's special matar dish!!
The star ingredient here is green peas and a lot of dhania or cilantro. Since Cilantro is another green I cannot have enough of, I use it abundantly. You can use as little or as much according to your taste, but I personally think that it is the combination of green peas, cilantro and Saunf ( yup, one more green) that gives this its unique flavour. Potato is added to the gravy and you can add as much as you want. This is where the crowd friendly aspect comes in. You can thin out the gravy as much as you want, and increase the bulk by adding more potatoes to feed more hungry mouths.

Note: One thing you have to be careful of is to curb all instincts to add turmeric or haldi, and also red chilli powder. This will spoil its colour.
So without further ado, and any more use of the 'g' word, here is the recipe -

3 cups frozen peas (1 small frozen bag)
1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro
1 inch piece of ginger
3-4 garlic cloves
1/2 jalapeno or any green pepper
1 small onion
1-2 tspsns black pepper
1 tspn dhania jeera powder
2 tspns saunf( fennel seeds)
2 medium potatoes
oil, salt and sugar to taste
1 tbsp ghee optional

Grind together peas, cilantro, ginger garlic, onion, chilli and 1 tsp saunf or fennel seeds to get a thick paste. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a wok or non stick pan and add the fennel seeds till they pop/splutter. Add the green puree to the oil and begin stirring immediately to avoid sticking. Keep stirring till the paste appears to be well cooked. Keep adding a little water to avoid sticking/burning. The water will be easily absorbed. Meanwhile peel and dice potatoes in medium pieces. Add water to the paste, enough to get the desired sauce thickness. Add more water than desired since the gravy will thicken and also the potatoes will add some thickness when cooked. Add diced potatoes. Add pepper, cumin and coriander powder ( or any masala of your choice - just a dash - not to overwhelm the natural taste of the pea/cilantro
combination), salt and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and let this simmer till the potatoes are cooked. The gravy will thicken a bit by the time the potatoes cook.

You can add more or less potatoes according the number of people - or as people show up :) Add a little ghee at the end. This is totally optional, and will just give a richness to the dish.
Serve hot with rotis or steamed rice. The gravy can be thinner if serving with rice.
Leftovers are great as a sandwich spread, for wraps, or even as a pesto tossed with pasta.
And as I am sure some enterprising minds out there must be thinking, you could add Paneer or Tofu instead of the potato for a new kind of twist !

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