Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, Punjab
Despite living in Punjab’s neighbourhood all my life it is only this year that I finally visited Amritsar for the first time. While I couldn’t find much time for a city tour, I did visit the Harmandir Sahib in the evening. Harmandir Sahib, also called the Golden Temple because of the gilding on its walls and domes, is the most sacred of Sikh shrines. Work on the temple started in the late 16th C and over the next couple of centuries it attained much of its present form. Maharaja Ranjit Singh is credited with the exquisite marble and gold work on the temple.
Outside the Temple are many shops and dhabas catering to pilgrims and the casual tourist. I was told the best place to buy the famed spicy Amritsari wadis and papads was right there. I picked on one that claimed to be dealing in these commodities for over a 100 years. Seemed like they would know what a good wadi should be.Wadis are available with varying degrees of spicy-ness. I naturally, asked for the spiciest ones. Then I had to pick between ‘with or without plums’. Hmm…with plums sounded nice, but plain ones are classic. So I got both. When I was paying for them there was some confusion regarding which were which – after discussing at length I managed to confuse the shopkeeper as well 🙂 . To tell you the truth, I couldn’t tell even after cooking, unless by some strange coincidence, I ended up keeping all of one kind for myself and distributing the other between family and friends. Family and friends, those of you with better sense of taste, please stand up and let us know if you detected any note of tart plums in yours.
When choosing papads I had a choice between mild, medium, and hot. No prizes for guessing which ones I bought. The traditional Punjabi papad is much thicker than the Punjabi masala sold by Lijjat. Thick papads are best served fried – the hot oil aids thorough cooking. The thinner one can be cooked on a open flame, over coals, in the toaster, or even the microwave oven.
Wadi-making is a household industry all over Punjab and every maker has her own take on the spices to use. The main ingredient of Punjabi wadis is some kind of lentil, soaked and ground, combined with spices. The Amritsari wadis are made with urad dal and spices such as whole peppercorns, and crushed red chillies. A handful of the spicy batter is impressed with the thumb to create a small hollow and put to dry in the sun. When dry they may be stored in airtight containers for months. Wadis made with moong dal are called mangodies and are less spicy.
I remember wadis at times such as now when the heat is trying to sap our energies and kill our appetites. A tiny bit of wadi, fried in a little oil before adding the aromatics, make the taste buds sit up and take notice, and gets the juices flowing. If you have never used these before, you’ll be amazed at how aromatic a tiny piece of wadi can be. The flavour is concentrated and intense and I find one piece quite sufficient to use in a dish for six people. Of course, the wadi may vary in size. Punjabis, like the Kashmiris, mostly tend to think bigger is better – so traditional wadis are large – half of a tennis ball in size.
The wadi finds its way into many vegetarian preparations in the traditional cuisine of Punjab. But wadi-aloo is a classic, and the only way I know 🙂 !
Here is my take on the Punjabi classic:
(Potatoes with spicy lentil-chunks)
4 medium floury potatoes (such as Agra potatoes), peeled and cubed (3/4″ cubes)
1 Amritsari wadi, crushed into uneven bits not larger than 1/2″
One bunch spring onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 t (heaped) coriander powder
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t red chilli powder (omit if you like it mild)
1 t cumin seeds
pinch of heeng
1 T oil
1/2 C chopped coriander leaves and stems
Prepare all the vegetables. Heat oil to nearly smoking in a pressure cooker. Add the cumin seeds followed by the heeng. Stir and add the wadi pieces. Fry till browned – maybe a minute or less. Add the onions (white parts first) and fry till they become translucent. Add the potatoes and stir around for a minute. Add the remaining spices and stir till fried; a couple of minutes. Add the onion (green parts), tomatoes, salt, and half of the coriander leaves. Stir again for another minute, add a cup and a half of water and cook under pressure for 7 minutes. Let the pressure subside. Add the remaining coriander leaves and serve with roti or rice. A bowl of yoghurt or raita is a good accompaniment.