It is mid-January, and for the first time in years, I have not had undhiyu yet. Every year, my grandmother cooks it in December, giving me enough time to devour it by January.
For the uninitiated, undhiyu is a traditional Gujarati dish—a winter special, if you may. A Surat-native, mixed vegetable sabji; undhiyu is a quintessential delicacy made in most Gujarati and Kutchi households and even served at weddings during winter.
For as long as I can remember, this green-coloured, semi-dry sabji is cooked in my home; and I admit, I wasn’t quite fond of it initially. But over the years, my mum kept feeding me undhiyu in smaller quantities, and I never realised when my dislike turned into love.
Every year, my grandmother gives a list of seasonal winter veggies to buy, and mum is in charge of grocery shopping. The two busy themselves in the kitchen for hours on a weekday afternoon. After the bags of vegetables make their way into our kitchen, the house smells of lillo lassan (green garlic), as we say in Kutchi. The list of vegetables includes val (green beans typically with their pods), fresh green peas, raw banana, small eggplants, potatoes, kand (purple yam), lillo lassan, freshly grated coconut, ginger, sugar, coriander, and a litre of cooking oil. The prep for making undiyu starts at least a day in advance when mum and grandmother start peeling and chopping the veggies. Whenever time permits, my duty involves peeling the peas. It is fun because I get to eat the sweeter, tiny ones and put the rest in a bowl.
A huge aluminium kadhai is brought down from the storage loft, washed thoroughly, and set on the stove. I am still shocked to see the amount of oil that goes into cooking this dish. “A good undhiyu requires a lot of oil,” my grandmother says. “It’s because you add very little water and essentially cook all your vegetables in the oil,” was her explanation. Besides these seasonal vegetables, undhiyu also has muthiya—something similar to fritters made with methi (fenugreek) leaves and spiced besan (chickpea flour)—that taste a little sweet and have a slight hint of bitterness because of the fenugreek leaves.
Making undhiyu is a show of a cumbersome ordeal. It is supposed to be slow-cooked for a long time and has to be stirred continuously. Even after buying all the veggies and doing basic prep a day prior, the undhiyu took almost two hours to make! Perhaps this is why most of my relatives and family friends opt to buy from stores. We also tried the store-bought one many years ago. “What is this?” I remember asking with a disgusted face as I poked the slightly undercooked purple yam with my spoon. “I like the one you make at home,” I said looking at my mum and grandmother. When an only child and the favourite grandchild tells her mom and grandmother that she likes the home-made undhiyu more; there is no going back. Since then, it is always made at home.
The main reason why I love the one made at home is that it is customisable. My family and I don’t like purple yam and raw banana, so naturally, we don’t add that to our version. I remember tasting a piece of fried muthiya, and thinking that it was the best thing I’ve had! Thus, another customisation in our undhiyu was adding lots of muthiya. I think over the years, my journey with food and being ready to eat all vegetables started young with undhiyu, when I took a bite without knowing what it was.
It is not just me who is eagerly waiting every year for undhiyu. Mum and grandmother make it in huge quantities—enough to send it to four relatives’ houses. Even after this, we still have enough for five meals at home and store two dabbas in our freezer. On a lazy summer afternoon, we will take the dabba out, defrost it, and enjoy our favourite winter veggie dish.
This is one of those dishes devoured by almost everyone. Last December, we had an undhiyu day at work where I got a big dabba and it was a hit! Last month, when a colleague got her version of undhiyu from home, everyone devoured it as if it was their last meal! It was during this meal and a conversation around this dish, that I learnt undhiyu has two variants—surthi, the one I have written about, a semi-dry green vegetable, and the other is a spicy red colour version called Kathiyawadi undhiyu.
It was when I saw my colleagues enjoying this dish last month that I realised that my annual dose of undhiyu is pending. “When are you making it?” I whined each day for a week until my mum finally got the veggies and she made it with my grandmother. “The traditional way to eat undhiyu is with jalebi,” my grandmother tells me as she eats a spoonful of the dish followed by a bite of a crispy, sweet jalebi. Finally this Sunday, I devoured my favourite meal—undhiyu and hot puris—followed by a long nap and the undhiyu made up for the fact that I had it in January this time instead of December.