The heralding of winter starts my hankering for Banarasi chooda matar, but one has to wait till the prices of peas are in the comfortable zone. While many who are not familiar with this delicacy confuse it with normal poha with peas which is cooked in many households, but many states in India have one version or other – the Bihari version is as different from Banaras version as is the Mumbai version from the Indore one.
Even Banarasi chooda-matar has a different taste in each house. The primary ingredients are chooda – flattened rice – it is recommended to use the fresh from the harvest version, and fresh peas – the dish doesn’t taste as good with the frozen peas. What sets this dish apart is chooda being pre-soaked in milk, and garam masala – both khada (whole) and powder used while cooking; at some places it is made in ghee (clarified butter), some people fry the chooda, and at many places you will find dry fruits like raisins and cashews added to the recipe. In some shops in Banaras, special chooda-matar masala is also available which makes it easier for non-Banarasis to enjoy this delicious dish, though many in this temple town also prefer the shortcut version by using these masalas. This is best enjoyed with freshly ground coriander chutney and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
The many chaat shops across the city also sell this dish, and not just in winters. The spicier and more chatpata (tangy) version has become a staple part of their menu throughout the year now.
In winters, one can find people selling this and gajar-halwa on the hand-pushed carts (thelas) at the roadsides across the city. As you walk past them in the foggy wintery evenings, wafting smells lure you to having a taste – I could never resist having a small portion, even with having to drink a gallon of water post the gluttony; may be that is the reason for sweet and tangy selling combo by the sellers.
And every winter, each spoonful brings memories of my Masi’s friend who introduced me to this special savoury dish – I remember going to her house, sitting on the green lawns amidst blooming roses under the winter sunny afternoon sky, accompanied with my Grandmother, my mother, my aunt and my younger sis – and enjoying the piping hot chooda matar; those were the young carefree days of University life. Later my Mother added this to her cooking repertoire, and few years back I learnt from her – though my version lacks the tang particular to this dish. But it still continues to be a winter tradition in this punjabi household which has its roots in the oldest living city of Benaras.