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January 2006

Room to Move- Kheema Samosas


Kheema Samosas under the Veil

Traffic congestion remains a severe problem here. It is every residents bugbear. And it is increasing every day. I believe each new dawn brings 300 new vehicles onto the roads of Pune.Driving here is a form of madness. There are no rules.Vehicles overtake on the left, two wheelers slide by missing your bumpers by a hairsbreadth, cyclists dash across roads through the red light , rickshaw drivers without lights stick out a hand before cutting right across the road in the dark, directly in front of oncoming and passing traffic.
In the face of all this my language is becoming increasingly graphic . Sometimes I stop the car in the middle of the road and rest my head in my hands to recover from a near miss. Nobody notices.Everyone just goes right on.
Shocked laughter is the only response possible. To lose ones temper would be silly. As they say here " Kai ko tension leta hai".( why are you taking tension?)

There are several reasons for this state of affairs.One NGO says it is because parking spaces have not been constructed within the compounds of buildings and that cars which would normally be parked there find their way onto the road. Old buildings flout the parking rules and use built parking space for commercial purposes. Hotels basements, read parking lots , are turned into banquet halls as soon as OK certificates are released. Another is certain the roads are not wide enough. A third says we need more public transport and to reduce permits for private vehicles.

Whatever the cause is, the roads turn into pavements for pedestrians to walk or be knocked down. The pavements are used for parking or a space for living or making a livelihood by migrants.

My neighbour is convinced her rights as a tax paying citizen are compromised by migrant labour who settle illegally in the city and build illegal structures and are a burden on the system with their demands for electricity and water and space.Her answer is " Send them back to where they belong" i.e. back to villages, where they have no land, or have drought or unemployment...In any case to a place they would surely starve to death.

Migration to the cities carries on in India, putting a heavy burden on infrastructure. Yet government does not acknowledge,in their planning , that nobody would want to leave their homes or familiar lands and cast themselves into unknown territory unless it was utterly impossible to survive. Some NGO's working in cities have decided to work with reality, which is that migrants are here to stay and they have a role to play.
I think , like several others, that migrants add another dimension to a city. They bring their cultural ways with them, their songs, stories, clothes,and food.They often face inequity with courage and initiative. Pune would not have carpenters or masons if they had did not come from Rajasthan. They add their skills to the work force. Some people,with great good luck get to have their own pushcarts from where they start a small food business either a chai shop, or a vada pau stall. a bhel puri stand or better.

The roadside food stall /hawker has become an essential part of the landscape and of every resident's life. They provide cheap and often excellent snacks or fast food.

My own favourite is Mohammed Akhtar's stall for kheema samosas. When I first saw the crowd around his small cart I thought something had happened. Accident,fight, heated argument...or man with monkey / snakes, man selling Rolex watches for Rs 50, that sort of thing . So that's the way to find him.

Roadside Food stall with kheema samosas

You look out for a clamouring crowd at around 7 p.m. in the region of East Street. He sells close to a thousand samosas a day, and every batch comes steaming hot off the pan, cooked by his wife and sister down the lane in their home . The samosas disappear in seconds. In the time it took me to focus my camera the lot had vanished. Mohammed speaks excellent English and is very polite. "Hygiene and freshness are most important", he tells me in between serving hungry customers.
The samosas are like nothing I have ever eaten. Exquisitely crisp and light , with a filling to write home about. Any other kheema samosa I have ever eaten sinks in its own oiliness by comparison.
They cost an incredible Rs 4 each . He also makes vegetable samosas but I've never tasted them.
Here is a recipe for Kheema samosa from Ummal Bandookwalla which is pretty good, but I cannot guarantee they will turn out as good as Mohammed's.
But , if you can't eat 'em, cook 'em.

Kheema Samosas

Kheema Samosa



175 gms mutton, minced
2 small onions, chopped
2 green chillies, chop fine.
125 gms green peas, boiled
1/2 tsp haldi turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
Salt to taste
4 tbsps coriander leaves, chopped fine

Place mince, with onions, chillies, peas, ghee, haldi and chilli powder in a pan and cook on a slow fire till mince is tender and dry.Do not add water.Add the coriander leaves and salt and mix well.


250 gms wheat flour
1/2 tbsp oil
1 tsp Salt

Add water to the flour bit by bit t while mixing till it forms a ball of dough.Add oil and salt.Knead the flour for 5 minutes and divide into 16 equal portions.Roll 2 portions seperately into wafer thin strips 2" wide and 8" long. Sprinkle flour over one strip and rub it in with the palm of one hand.Place the second strip over it and roll out. Bake on a hot griddle till both sides are done. Take off the fire and separate the two strips. Prepare the other strips similiarly.

Fold the samosa covering strip into a cone and fill wilth a little mince mixture. Fold over the flap and close. Make a paste of flour and water and use to seal the ends.When all samosas are formed heat enough oil to 2 " depth in a kadhai. When the oil is hot deep fry the samosas in batches till the pastry is golden brown in colour.

Makes about 16 samosas.

Besan Laddoo- Maharashtrian sweet


Besan Laddoos

Since I am on the theme of sweets and desserts here is one of my favourite recipes for one of the most common Maharashtrian sweets, Besan (chickpea flour) Laddoo, of which we always have some in our home.

Chickpea, and other pulses  are important ingredients in the Indian diet. Approximately 25 percent of Indians are vegetarians, and lentils and grams are a great and healthy source of protein . India is the world's largest consumer and producer of chickpea.The major cultivation of Desi chickpea is in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Besan / Chickpea flour is mostly made from desi chickpeas as the imported variety from Mexico , Turkey and  Australia are perceived to be bitter in comparison. Chickpeas from Tanzania and Myanmar are closest to the desi chickpea in taste, so you could try getting flour made from those  types if you live elsewhere in the world.

Besan is used for several concoctions here and laddoos made from it are popular.

Laddoos are also the most common form of sweets offered during pujas and festivals. Lately they seem to be a way of raising funds for temples and community welfare. 21 kg ladoos!!

These are slightly less ambitious in size but the taste is stupendous.


3/4 cup pure ghee
4 cups besan- chickpea/garbanzo bean flour
A pinch of saffron dissolved in 1 tbsp of milk( optional)
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp powdered elaichi / green cardamom ( about 18 cardamoms)

  • Heat ghee in a kadhai and add the besan. Cook on a low fire stirring continuously.
  • The flour changes colour, becoming darker, and after some time the ghee separates from the flour ( do not become impatient and add extra ghee !) Don't let the mixture get too dark either.
  • Now add the saffron milk to the flour, the powdered sugar and cardamom powder. Mix well.
  • Remove the kadhai from the fire. Let it become cool enough to handle. Roll into balls about the size of a small walnut.
  • Makes about 2 dozen laddoos. Keeps well in an airtight box.