Masala bhaat

Masala bhaat

Spiced vegetable rice

Mr Todiwala's Bombay
Helen Cathcart

I simply couldn't write this chapter without including this great Maharashtrian speciality. I grew up eating several versions in several different homes: each friend’s mother claimed to have the best recipe handed down from her grandmother. How could I not say to them all that each one’s was the best when I was getting a feast and all of them were truly spectacular? I am hoping to come a close second with my recipe as I am using all the hints I picked up from some great masters. Naturally, no matter how hard chefs like me try, we can never match a mother’s touch.

Masala bhaat is a type of vegetable pulao with a combination of spices and nuts to make it an interesting and flavoursome dish. It is best eaten with a thin daal and, of course, a good pickle or chutney. The preparation may look extensive and the list of ingredients certainly does, but, believe me, it is worth a try.


Quantity Ingredient
2-3 tablespoons raw peanuts
5-6 black peppercorns
1-2.5 cm piece cinnamon stick
3-4 cloves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
2-3 tablespoons desiccated coconut
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
8-10 tendlis
or 1 large courgette
60-75ml sunflower oil or ghee
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
good pinch ground asafoetida
10-12 curry leaves
2 waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 aubergine, cubed
4-5 tablespoons shelled fresh or frozen peas
3-4 green chillies, chopped
250-300g basmati rice, rinsed and soaked
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
120 tablespoon raw cashew nuts, roughly chopped
salt, to taste
handful coriander leaves, chopped
1-2 tablespoons butter or ghee

To garnish

Quantity Ingredient
freshly grated coconut, (optional)


  1. If the peanuts are not skinned soak them in water for 15–20 minutes, drain and rub off the skins in a clean cloth.
  2. In a wok or frying pan, dry roast the peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, sesame seeds, coconut and half the cumin seeds over a low heat until fragrant and the coconut is pale golden. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 160°C and roast them spread out on a baking tray for 4–5 minutes, switch off the oven and leave them in there for 30 minutes. Grind to a powder in a clean coffee grinder or small food processor, in a mortar with a pestle or in a small bowl with the end of a rolling pin. Set aside.
  3. If you can get the tendlis (or tindoras as they are also known) wash them, snip off the two tips and then cut lengthways into four. If using a courgette cut in quarters widthways, then cut in batons.
  4. In a flameproof casserole add the oil or ghee and heat to a slight haze.
  5. Add the mustard seeds and, as soon as they crackle, add the remaining cumin seeds and asafoetida.
  6. As soon as the crackling stops, add the curry leaves and all the vegetables, including the green chillies.
  7. Sauté for 5–6 minutes and then add the rice and the turmeric. Mix well.
  8. Sauté for another 3–5 minutes and add the ground spices, the cashew nuts and the peanuts.
  9. Spread everything out evenly in the pot and add enough water to cover the rice by 2.5 cm. Add salt now and taste the liquid.
  10. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to low, cover the pot tightly and cook until the rice is fully cooked and dry, about 20 minutes.
  11. Remove the lid and let it stand for a minute or two to dry. Add the butter or ghee on top, and the chopped coriander and mix gently but well. If you have any fresh coconut, grate it and sprinkle it on the top before serving.
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