Vrat Ka Khana at Saroj Aunty’s house

Vrat ka Khana
Vrat ka Khana at Saroj Aunty’s home!

My tryst with Vrat Ka khana at Saroj Aunty’s house and my new found love for heeng.

We were already in the car and half way through the journey, when my Mom told me that Saroj aunty (my mother’s best friend) would be serving ‘vrat ka khana’ today. That meant a dinner meal without onion, garlic or ginger, ingredients that the Punjabi in me feels, can make anything in this world taste amazing. I have dreaded eating vrat dishes, as in the absence of these beloved ingredients, I felt, things would taste flavourless. However, I was in for a surprise.

I have always known Saroj aunty, to be a strong, independent lady with a great zest for life. I remember, when we were kids, she would often visit us and take us for walks. In her younger days, she was a trekking and biking enthusiast. Much recently she had also participated in Delhi Half Marathon. Even today, when she is more than 60 years old, she goes for painting classes and writes regularly for various publications, despite having a full time job. In fact, she even asked me to help her set up her blog.

As we were in the midst of recalling our childhood stories with her, the food was served. I’d be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

However, it turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The Aloo sabzi, Paneer, Khatta Meetha Kaddu, Sabudana Khichdi and Puri served to us, was nothing short of spectacular.

Although, the regular share of Onion-Garlic was missing, it had fittingly been replaced with heeng (Asafoetida), something that’s scarcely used in cooking at my place. Heeng is probably the reason why I love Aloo-Puri, served in various parts of Northern India. But I never knew a Paneer dish could be made with heeng. Also the lassi served, had a tadka of Heeng, Jeera and Mustard oil. She had also served Gheeya ki Kheer (Kheer made with bottle gourd), which I absolutely loved! She had grated and boiled the bottle gourd before mixing it in the milk, sugar and dry fruits. I couldn’t contain my excitement and within few bites of this delicious spread, I asked if I could do a story about this food for the blog.

So, I self invited myself at her place, for another round of Vrat Ka Khana. This time, there was Palak Paneer, Aloo Sabzi, Pakodi, Sabudana Kheer and Kuttu ke Atte ki Stuffed Puri. As I had reached her place a bit early, I managed to see her cooking the puris and pakodis.

For the Puri, she finely ground the Kuttu flour and then added finely grated radish, sendha namak and green chili.  For the Pakodi, she used boiled, mashed potato and samvat ke chawal seasoned with sendha namak and garam masala. With this batter, she made little tikki-like Pakodis and fried them until they were golden brown in colour and crispy in texture. This was served with Mint chutney, which had no onion.  Sabudana Kheer was cooked with milk, sugar, cardamom, pistachios, raisins and almonds. This was also served hot, just like Gheeya ki Kheer, which I had the last time around.

The Palak Paneer was delicious and so was Aloo – Sabzi. With puri, they tasted so good that I almost decided to keep fasts during navratras, just so that I get to eat this delicious food more often.

Earlier, I used to feel bad about people fasting and not having their share of onion-garlic. However, now I feel, it’s like a feast for everyone who keeps fasts. Everyday they make these delicious delicacies and enjoy such rich (read oily/heavy) food. If you get to feast on these finger-licking dishes, then why would you mind fasting for those long 9 days?

I also feel, that whenever Saroj Aunty takes up any work, she likes to achieve excellence. Just like all her other endeavours, she takes cooking very seriously, which certainly made the whole food experience so enriching. The credit must also go to her daughter-in-law, Varsha Bhabhi, who made these delicious sabzis. Varsha Bhabi loves to learn new recipes and together they form a great team!

Vrat ka Khana - Saroj aunty and Bhabhi
Saroj aunty and Varsha Bhabhi

I thoroughly enjoyed both my eating sessions at their place, as I never knew that Vrat Ka Khana could be such a delectable treat. Also, now heeng has been added to my list of all-time favourite condiments.

Happy Navratri People! Feast on!

Read: Suman Aunty’s Pav Bhaji

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