Secrets of the Bhujna
Tadka is synonymous with Indian cooking. This tempering technique involves adding whole spices to hot oil. The popping sound of the mustard seeds followed by the sizzle of the cumin brings memories of my home kitchen. It is used to make sabjis of all sorts – cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, okra, eggplant…the list is endless. It is also used to convert that boring left-over dal into a ghee and kadipatta-laden goodness as well as to spice up a salad, or koshimbir. Tempering is mainly done to extract flavours from whole spices in the oil.
Tadka, tarka or tempering, call it what you may, it remains a delicate technique. Keep the oil lukewarm and the spices won’t sizzle. Un-popped mustard seeds don’t taste that great. Heat the oil too much and the spices will burn. Charred cumin seeds can spoil the entire dish. A delicate technique it may be, but it certainly is not limited to the ambit of world class chefs. For it has been perfected in many an Indian kitchen. Cooking belongs to everybody. So when the concept of a bhujna is discussed, I find it rather interesting. An anomaly in the Indian curry space, bhujnas require no tadkas. And if tadkas are so essential to get flavours going, how is it that the bhujna tastes so great without them? For those who may not know what I am talking about, a bhujna is an Indian dish (for simplicity’s sake, it is called a curry, but I personally don’t like using this blanket-term for all Indian food with gravy) that hails from the ancient kitchens of the little-known but rather proud Pathare Prabhu community of Mumbai. It is essentially made with seafood. Prawn bhujna tastes divine. But vegetarian varieties also exist. For example, potato bhujna is made on auspicious veg-only days. Bhujna, whether it is a vegetarian or non-veg, both make use of the process of “kuskar” wherein one mashes chopped onions with fresh coriander. The aroma of the coriander mixing with the onion fills up the kitchen as you do this and I suppose, this process helps to release the flavours from the green herb. So even if the tadka is missing in the curry, the flavours are infused in it through the mashing process. It also uses a bit more cooking oil than other similar curries, which may aid in the flavour-imparting process. Who may have thought that the simply process of kuskar can impart such rich burst of flavours to a dish? I personally enjoy making bhujna. It’s a no-dramas recipe that’s a delight for the tastebuds. Check out my recipe for potato bhujna here and prawns bhujna here