The ancient Indian wisdom of Ayurveda and Yoga has always been a great proponent of balanced diet which restores balance at all levels. It says, “You are what you eat and a large part of your temperament and nature depends on the food you consume”. Based on this concept, Ayurveda divides food into Sattvik, Tamasik and Rajasik – basically the good, the bad and the ugly in the Ayurvedic food world.
Rajasik food type is classified as food of a king or of a restless and energetic disposition. A large variety of foods having different methods of preparation such as fried, highly seasoned, or baked, form this category. Alcoholic and processed beverages as well as sweets come in here. Tamasik food cause a lethargic disposition. Foods, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, that are prepared with excess spices, salts and hot seasonings are Tamasik foods. Sattvik food items, food of a Yogi, are the ones cooked with minimum amount of spices or seasonings and are fresh. These foods retain their nutritive value as they are cooked in a very simple fashion. Yoga recommends such foods. Traditionally, Sattvik food class is vegetarian and doesn’t even use onion or garlic.
Varanasi (Banaras) is one of the world’s oldest living cities. The winding lanes lined with quaint shops and little eateries, lazing cows and milling crowds, lives up to that reputation. Food here blends with religion and culture. The culinary culture in Varanasi is so strong that you find an eatery almost every 100 meters in its web of narrow lanes and bylanes. The residents here are so used to eating out that many of them boast of eating all meals out and of a non-functioning kitchen.
Varanasi, being the epicentre of Hindu religion, has a strong affiliation to Sattvik food, though with migration and influx of pilgrims over long it has become a melting pot of cuisines from across India. Here, one can find variety of cuisines including Gujrati, Marwari, Bengali etc. With proximity to Awadh (Lucknow) and many Muslims who once adorned high positions in the court of Maharaja of Banaras, one also finds an elaborate array of Awadhi dishes, both meat based and vegetarian.
Following the Sattvik tradition Varanasi has many seasonal dishes which are made with the fresh vegetables. The usage of spices is minimal and instead of onion and garlic many of the dishes have a dominant flavour of Hing (Asafoetida). The city has a great tradition of breakfast, cooked and served in the quaint little eateries as the sun rises. Its mostly consists of simple potato based curries served with Poori (Indian deep fried puffed bread) or Kachori (best described as Poori with stuffed spicy lentils). The breakfast is never complete without Jalebis (Indian sweet dish) and almond or saffron flavoured milk served in a Kullahd (disposable small earthenware shaped like a glass)
Nimona is one of the seasonal breakfast dishes which is prepared only during the winter. Though you will find this dish across north India, this Sattvik way of preparation, for me, is the essence of Varanasi culinary tradition.
Nimona, as a dish, is close to your quintessential Aloo Matar with a complete departure in texture and flavour. This dish is prepared using fresh green peas of the season and potatoes. One can use frozen peas, but the typical smell that emanates from them overpowers the subtle balance of flavours. In this dish garden fresh green peas are pounded to a rough paste to create the gravy base. One can use mixer-grinder to pulverise the peas, but I strongly recommend usage of the pounding method. Food processors and mixer-grinders use cutting action to shred ingredients to tiny particles. Hence, the the oil and juices which come out during the traditional pounding or stone grinding does not happen, resulting in loss of flavour.
This recipe is for 500 grams green pea pods (with shell).
Shell the peas and keep a handful aside. Pound the rest to a consistency of a rough paste using mortar and pestle or grind using a grinding stone (Silbatta).
Make puree of two medium sized ripe red tomatoes. Other ingredients you need are: turmeric powder, methi (fenugreek) seeds, red chilli powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, hing (asafoetida), green cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, green chillies, fresh coriander leaves, ginger paste (not in picture) and ghee (clarified butter). You can use oil instead of ghee. But ghee gives you the authentic taste.
Cut two medium sized potatoes to cubes and fry in few spoons of oil until the potato cubes turn golden on all sides. Keep aside.
Heat about two tablespoon ghee (clarified butter) in a pan. Add a teaspoon of methi (fenugreek) seeds and half a teaspoon hing (asafoetida). Fry on low flame for about two minutes, until it emanates aroma.
Add the whole spices (two pods of green cardamoms, an inch of cinnamon and three to four cloves), bay leaves and green chillies, fry for another couple of minutes until you get the aroma of spices.
Add ginger paste and fry until the raw smell goes. Mix two teaspoon each of red chilli powder and coriander powder to a teaspoon each of cumin and turmeric powder. Add a bit of water and mix well to create a paste. Add the paste to the pan and fry for further couple of minutes.
Tip : Making a paste of powdered spices by mixing with few spoonful water prevents the spices from burning and helps amalgamating with other ingredients in the pan.
Once the spices and ginger paste become one homogenised mix, add the tomato puree and fry well until oil floats on top.
Add the peas paste and whole peas to the pan, mix well and fry for few minutes on a medium flame until most of the liquid evaporates. Remember to stir the mixture in the pan intermittently as with liquid drying up there is risk of burning.
Once the liquid in the pan almost dries up add the potatoes. Mix well. Add salt as per taste.
Add about two and half cups of water, mix well again, bring to a boil, cover and simmer in low heat
Cook until the whole peas get cooked fully and the potatoes become tender too. Sprinkle a pinch of garam masala powder (Indian all spice powder) and finely diced coriander leaves.
Your Nimona is ready….
Nimona served with Ajwain Palak Poori (Poori infused with spinach paste and caraway seeds), Bharwan Mirchi Achar (Stuffed red chilli pickle), green chilli and slice of lime.
Served on disposable bio-degradable plates and spoon made with layers extracted from the trunk of banana plant.