Of livers and languages and innocent nation building!

One of the very first dishes that my mother learnt to cook after moving to Hyderabad in the 50s was “chole”. Till then, the quintessentially Telugu growing up in Madras and Madanapalle and Guntur diet was a daily sambar and whatever ‘koora’ (dry vegetable / poriyal) happened to be made along with it. Boring – we thought! 

Hyderabad brought many new experiences to my parents. My dad had grown up in Bangalore, but being a “boy” (hmmm…of his generation!!!) had managed to eat his share of “exotic” foods outside the home. Mom, joining the medical services in Hyderabad and my dad being in the electricity board, suddenly found themselves at sea in a world which spoke shuddh “Dakhni” (the Hyderabadi patois which is a mixture largely of Urdu and Hindi with a smattering of Persian thrown in to leaven the dough!). My parents having neither Hindi nor Urdu and most definitely not Persian, though they were linguists otherwise, thought they had suddenly landed in a foreign country. My mom, being a doctor who could fluently converse in Telugu, Tamil, a reasonable amount of Kannada and Malayalam, found she had to converse with her patients in sign language, pointing to various organs for problems! 

Two days of this was enough. Before they had even found any domestic help, off they went, fired by the nation-building fervour of the post-Independence decade – to sign up for an Urdu teacher – a venerable maulvi with a long beard whose family became dear friends and whose daughter successfully fought her extended family to resist an early marriage and went on to become a doctor – inspired by mom! As though that was not enough, they also signed up for lessons from the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha (the DBHPS).

Life was very full – with doctoring and housekeeping and learning TWO languages simultaneously. Every evening when the maulvi was due at home, my mother would have a long list of words for him to translate – her lessons were never of the “Pat sat on the mat” (Radiant Reader class one!) or ” The pen of my aunt is on the table” (high school French text which almost inevitably was translated by generations of French hopefuls to be “The table is on – or maybe inside – my aunt with the pen above her (floating??)”!! Rather her sentences were all about “Do you have a pain?”, “Do you have a pain in your stomach/liver/chest?”, “Are you vomiting?” or whatever! Even today my mother’s Hindi/Urdu – which she rattles off fluently, if not quite correctly – to the shopkeeper giving him a list of provisions to deliver – sounds like  a medical examination! 

The Hindi scene was also rather funny. Those days, the DBHPS, in an attempt to encourage the learning of the language, allowed adult students to “pass” the basic exam if they could copy out the question paper – since that meant they’d learnt the akshar (script)! 

In between all of those, she also managed to pick up stuff like baghara baingan, chole and pulao and many other things which were considered “exotic”! 

We all of us loved her chole but I, of course, had to experiment and try different types of it till I found the ONE way of making this which I thought was the best! So here goes my own family’s favourite:


  • 250 grams white chickpeas (channa) 
  • 2 Tea Bags 
  • ½ “ ginger – crushed 
  • 2-3 cardamoms – big ones 
  • Salt to taste 
  • Raisins – 1 tsp 
  • To dry roast and powder: 
  • ( 1 bayleaf 
  • 4 cloves 
  • 1.5 “ cinnammon 
  • ½ tsp black pepper 
  • 1 tsp. cumin 
  • 1 tsp whole dry coriander seeds 
  • ½ star anise 
  • 3 red chillies ) 
  • ½ tsp dry ginger powder 
  • 2 tsp amchur (dry mango powder) or 2 tsp tamarind paste 
  • 1 tsp jaggery or sugar 
  • Grated nutmeg – 1 pinch 
  • Asafoetida – just a sprinkle 
  • ½ tsp turmeric 

To garnish: 

  • 2 Green Chillies – sliced 
  • 2-3 Tomatoes – cut into 8 long pieces each 
  • 1” ginger – julienned 
  • 2-3 tsp fresh coriander – finely chopped 
  • 2 Table spoon Ghee 

Dry roast all the ingredients in brackets – from the bay leaf to red chilies. This must be done on low heat and for about 2-3 mins till you get their aroma. Take off the heat and transfer to a grinder. Let it cool and then powder – not too smooth. Set aside. 

Soak channa in cold water overnight. Rinse and add fresh water – abt 2 cups. Slow cook or pressure cook with the tea bags, cardamom and crushed ginger. Channa should be soft but still separate. 

Discard the teabags. 

In a large saucepan, heat the ghee. Add raisins. When they swell and shrink again, add bayleaf and one sliced onion (optional). Add channa and our fresh masala powder, salt to taste, amchur or tamarind paste, ginger powder, nutmeg ,turmeric, asafoetida and jaggery. 

Simmer this for about 20 mins on a very low flame. 

To serve: Plate this and sprinkle with the ginger – fried till crisp and pieces of tomato on top. Sprinkle with fresh coriander. 

Serve with roti or bread or puris. By itself as a snack too. The slow-cooked way is overnight in a crockpot. 

And, oh, aapka kaleja theek tho hai na? (hope your liver is doing okay?) 😉

(pic courtesy internet as I forgot to shoot mine!!)