Last week I watched FoodTV with a mix of revulsion and fascination as the horror show of Sandra Lee making “Indian” food unfolded. Two of the dishes she demonstrated were crunchy bread rectangles she called “naan” crafted from frozen pizza dough and “chicken masala” based on canned cream of chicken soup. I couldn’t help thinking that she embodied the Bizarro world polar opposite or maybe more like an arch enemy of the homestyle, ayurvedic cooking practiced at Deedee’s in Mountain View. Deedee’s is a small Indian grocer with a chaat corner and daily buffet lunch. The owners are Gujarati from Bombay.
After inquiring here about Maharashtrian-style cooking, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... , it took a couple false starts before the stars aligned at last to partake of this once-a-month opportunity. Calling ahead, I found out that the buffet is lunch hours only and not for dinner as stated on the website, and I’d missed it. Then I checked another time before driving down there to learn that the cook who makes Marathi food had the day off.
Finally, in December on the appointed second Sunday of the month, my brother and I managed to haul ourselves over to Deedee's for the Maharashtrian buffet. The lunch buffet included a couple chaat items too. We paid $7.99 each at the register and ordered khus lassi, $2.99, too. The cashier waved us over to the buffet line and said our fresh roti would come out momentarily.
Image (full-size) of tray filled in first pass at the buffet table -
My first taste of Maharashtrian cooking was the sambhar-like soupy fraction of aamti (in the cup), a type of dal made with yellow lentils. The lilting tart-sweet-salty balance and brightness of flavor with moderate heat gave me a very favorable initial impression of what this Marathi thing might be about. This was so different from too often muddy tasting dals on anonymous steam tables. Fresh curry leaves, bits of browned onion, tamarind tartness, and bright green chopped cilantro made the lightly spiced broth quite a refreshing start to the meal. I enjoyed drinking it alone as well as pouring the liquid over the plain white basmati rice.
I loved the tomato saar (in the bowl) even more. While never a Campbell’s fan, I found this cream of tomato soup on steroids offered all those creamy and soothing qualities and intensely tomato-y goodness revved up with curry leaves, roasted masala spicing, buttery richness, and black peppery heat. Deliciously rounded flavors and textures that were such a pleasure to roll around the tongue, the tomato saar served up plenty of adult panache as well as the comfort of childhood.
A fresh-tasting green bean and muli (black radish) dry curry or bhaji (upper center section of the tray) gave me an even better sense of the delicate use of seasoning that “howler” has described. More so than in Punjabi dishes, the inherent taste and texture of the two vegetables was front and center, supported and highlighted but never obscured by the spice blend. With a bit of grated coconut like a Tamil poriyal but not as chili hot, the bhaji seemed sweeter still, popping out the juicy radish’s natural sweetness and peppery notes. Fully cooked until softened, the vegetables developed full flavor without crossing over the line to mushy.
Continuing clockwise, to the right was the chole samosa, meaty-textured chickpeas in a tamarind-spiked gravy combined with hunks of cut-up samosas. Just below, some dahi vada or fried gram flour orbs bathed in seasoned yogurt. This was accompanied by dabs of lime pickle and mango pickle, cucumber/red onion/tomato salad, and plain basmati rice.
To the left of that, a self-assembled pani puri with some tamarind chatni and mint chatni. It’s perched on a salad of sprouted mung (moong or green lentils) and kala chana. Kala chana are smaller-sized, black-skinned chickpeas that are not seen often in local restaurants. This was my first taste of them and they were firmer with an earthier, almost smoky taste compared to kabuli chana (garbanzos).
Masala bhaat (lower left section) or Marathi spiced rice wafted up a heady fragrance of ginger, mustard seeds, cinnamon, and cumin. Flecked with soft bits of fresh veggies, the rice grains were softer and plumper than pulao with an attractive bitter note from the turmeric. I really enjoyed the robust and warm spicing in this dish.
The grayish mass (upper left section) was undhiyu, a Gujarati specialty, blending a variety of wintry vegetables with plantains and methi moothia (spiced gram flour fried dumplings). Apparently one of Deedee’s signature dishes, this first sample didn’t do much for me. A fresher batch appeared in the next pass at the buffet with cubes of orange yams, soft purple eggplant, turmeric-stained potato, various legumes, and fruity bits of plaintain or banana. This time, the moothia had just been incorporated and still had their integrity. The textures and flavors were more distinct in the fresh batch and so
much more appealing. The combination of fruity sweetness from the banana and coconut with the savory elements was quite delicious.
The buffet table had a small sign for puran poli but none displayed, and I was worried that we might have come too late and missed these sweet flatbreads. The smiling lady who had made our roti said she would prepare it for us when we were ready.
Image of puran poli -
The Maharashtrian sweet, puran poli, fresh off the griddle and shiny with a brush of melted ghee, was hot and griddled to order as promised. Chewy, pan-fried whole wheat dough with a nutty taste, these had a crumbly, sugary filling (jaggery?). They were interesting to try but too heavy for me. The powdery filling was dry and parched even when still hot. Remembering later that “howler” recommended eating them with warm milk, maybe that would have made a difference in my impression. William and I thought these might fall into the category of comfort foods that are craveable because they’re part of your memories of home and growing up. Looking at that photo now, I see that my second tray of food with the puran poli had seconds of the masala bhaat and the bhaji from the buffet line.
Image of shrikhand -
However, from a purely hedonistic standpoint, the luscious shrikhand was my favorite item of this buffet topping the several other tasty dishes that I liked very much. So thick and rich, more like butter than curds, the dense whipped texture almost reminded me of buttercream frosting. Lovely tart-sweet balance and flavored with saffron, rosewater, mango, and some pistachios, I wished that I were less full to enjoy the tangy shrikhand more. Luckily, I mentioned this to the owner on my way out and he suggested that I help myself to a cupful to take home. Deedee’s is often said to have the best version around here, and I can’t imagine what could be better.
All in all, another successful trip to the buffet at Deedee’s. The Maharashtrian selection offered up a range of flavors that were new to me and not common in this area. While the execution may be colored by the guju background of the cooks, I hope that our resident Marathis can comment based on my descriptions and photos if these were true to their origin.
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2551 W. Middlefield Road
Mountain View, CA 94043