Pitla is the quintessential Maharashtrian dish. It is simple, comforting and absolutely delicious. Best of all, pitla is very easy to prepare. It is a bit difficult to describe pitla and “gram flour porridge” simply does not do this tasty dish any justice. So the closest I can think of is “besan polenta”. Pitla has the smooth and creamy consistency reminiscent of Italian polenta (made using cornmeal) but is made using besan flour which is simply dried chickpea flour or gram flour.
Pitla is usually eaten in combination with a type of Maharashtrian flatbread known as “bhakri”. Bhakri can be made using rice flour, sorghum flour, pearl millet or a combination of various flours. This type of flatbread is thicker and has a more coarse texture than chapati or roti.
1 cup besan (dried chickpea flour)
2 cups water and 1 cup buttermilk, combined
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 small green Thai chilies, slit in half lengthwise (to taste)
1 spring/green onion, finely chopped (optional) or a few tbsp of finely chopped chives
½ tsp black mustard seeds
pinch of asafetida
¼ tsp turmeric
salt to taste
2-3 tbsp of oil (vegetable or canola)
freshly chopped chives for garnish
In a sauce pan or small soup pot on medium high heat, add the oil. When hot, carefully add the mustard seeds. When the splattering subsides, add the green chilies, turmeric and asafetida. Stir for a few seconds before adding the onion. Fry the onion until it just starts to brown and then add the combined water and buttermilk. Let the mixture come to a gentle simmer and then reduce the heat to medium.
Now slowly start adding the besan, a tbsp at a time stirring continuously. I like to use a whisk for this task because I prefer a smooth consistency in my final product. But if you don’t mind a few lumps here and there, by all means, feel free to use a wooden spoon. You can also control the consistency of your pitla by the amount of water, for a thicker pitla add a little less water. Conversely, for a thinner pitla, add a little more water. Regardless, this dish does require a bit of continuous stirring to ensure proper distribution and absorption of the besan.
At this point, you can add the salt, spring/green onion or the chives. I personally prefer using the chives since they lend a more delicate and subtle flavor to the dish. Reduce the heat to low and sprinkle a little water over the top. Cover and let cook for 10-12 minutes while stirring periodically. The final dish should not have any taste of raw uncooked besan taste. Garnish with freshly chopped chives and serve with freshly made bhakri or Basmati rice with a few drops of ghee. Feel free to add some papad and Indian pickles for a complete Indian meal.
Substitute either baby spinach leaves or fresh fenugreek leaves in place of the spring or green onion.
To make Tomato Pitla, simply add ½ cup or so of tomato puree after all of the besan has been completely absorbed.