I was the poster child for introverted, preferring always the company of the imaginary characters in my books and looking for a quiet room to read in for them to come to life. Celebrations like festivals, weddings, pujas generally placed me squarely out of my element. I would have liked nothing better than to have been left out of all of them entirely. Inventions of fictitious homework and illnesses only went so far before my mother made it her life’s mission to make me a bit more sociable. I grabbed a couple of books and resignedly went along, consoling myself with the thought that at least there would be fancy ‘celebration’ food.
All Indian events have two things in common. The first is people. Hordes of people. Uncles and aunties coming out of the woodwork. Extended family, family friends from distant places, people you only see at these functions, who come up to you and pinch your cheeks and ask you if you remembered them. There were women dressed to the nines in Kanjeevarams and Paithanis and Benarasis, the glorious sheen of the heavy silks competing only with the sparkle of the gold & diamond jewellery. They would bustle about, sharing the gossip of absent friends and neighbours as one does in rare meetings. Laughter and lilting voices rose from tightly scattered groups. The scent of the rajnigandha would fill the air vying for attention with jasmine perfume and the redolent waves of spice. My nose followed that spice to where the warming bowls stood lined up on the buffet.
Indian celebration food is, in a word, magnificent. The rich variety and quantity of food is a sight to behold. Spicy appetizers, sumptuous, nut-flecked curries and fragrant pulaos and biryanis, teasing your palate with cardamom and cinnamon. There was liberal lavishing of ghee and aromatics everywhere, The grand spread made me feel like one of the characters in my favourite Enid Blyton books beholding a table laden with ample fixings for a luxurious high tea. The only thing that would have made it perfect was if I had a quiet corner to sit in with my plate and a book, away from the cheek-pinching adults.
One option that wedding receptions buffets would reliably present was methi malai matar. This is an incredibly rich dish which my mother actively chose not to make at home because of its richness. My uncle’s catering kitchen made it to perfection. I didn’t need much convincing to go to functions where the food was coming from his kitchens. This isn’t his recipe, but the memory of it inspired this, since his recipe was perfect.
With a dish with such a flagrantly self-evident name, you’d think that this would be a WYSIWYG recipe to beat all others. The players involved would be methi (fenugreek), malai (cream) and matar (green peas).
Do what I did. Google the dish and find out just how wrong you can be.
Everyone agrees on the three components above. Beyond that it seems to be open season. To tomato puree or not. How to spice. Masala paste. Grinding dried toasted spices. Divided opinions abound for something that is simple at its essence. Tomato has no place in it. Cream is the perfect vehicle for kasoori methi. This herb with an intoxicating aroma assimilates completely in the cream, the spices that surround it providing the perfect enhancements for its flavour. This is the version of creamed peas you want to put on your Thanksgiving table. It will put all other sides to shame. Its delicious warmth provides richness of tone to any celebration.
Methi Malai Matar (Indian creamed peas with fenugreek).
Makes about 10-12 servings.
Frozen or fresh green peas – 2 cups
Kasoori Methi (dried fenugreek leaves) – 1/2 cup, crushed
Onion – 1 large, diced
Cream – 1/2 cup
Milk – 1/2 cup
Yoghurt – 2 tbsp
Green chillies – 2
Ginger – 1/2″ piece, minced or chopped fine
Garlic – 4 cloves, minced or chopped fine
Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp, unsalted & ground
Sugar – 1 tsp
Amchur – a pinch
Ghee – 4 tbsp
Salt as needed
Green cardamom – 2 pods, seeds only
Cloves – 2
Whole black pepper – 4 seeds
Cumin – 1 tsp
Poppy seeds – 2 tsp
Cinnamon – 2 sticks
– In a pot or large pan, dry roast the spices on medium flame until they become fragrant.
– Add the ghee to the pan, then add the ginger and garlic. Fry lightly for a couple of minutes.
– Add the diced onion and green chillies and fry until the onion is lightly browned. Move off the flame.
– When the mixture is no longer hot, pour all of it including the whole spices into a blender or food processor. Add the yogurt and puree into a thick paste.
– Pour the puree back into the pan and add the peas. Add the cream, milk and ground cashews. Stir to mix.
– Crush the kasoori methi in your hands and sprinkle it over the pot. Add salt. Mix everything together and let it come to a boil.
– Turn down the heat, add the amchur and sugar and let the dish simmer covered for the short time it takes the peas to cook.
Serve with naan or parathas.
Most recipes online ask for fresh fenugreek leaves. I don’t have easy access to them and I adore kasoori methi and am always looking for reasons to use it. If you have them, by all means use them, You will probably need about one and half times as much as the dried leaves. The dish comes together very quickly and the recipe can easily be halved. I made a large batch, taking half of it as a side to a friend’s potluck and squirreling the other half in the fridge. It lasted us a week. I also make it for those that believe Indian food is very hot. With its lovely mild flavour, it is a welcome surprise for them.
If you’re making an Indian dinner, this dish can provide the decadent portion of it. The rest of your meal can then be simple sides, but no one will remember the meal as simple. That’s the beauty of this one dish. Something about it makes you feel like royalty. It makes you sure this is how they must have eaten. And with a recipe so quick and simple, it is royally easy to create that feeling.