Each year when the air begins to get a little nippy every Gujrati household begins preparations for the mega event for winters – the Undhiyu. We won’t be off the mark to say that winter in almost every Gujarati household is synonymous with Undhiyu. This seasonal feast is highly influenced by the availability of vegetables exclusive to winter and is perfect for the winter diet since most of the vegetables in this dish are considered heat –producing. Making this dish is anything but easy and most purists consider only that Undhiyu authentic which is made using vegetables grown in Surat in Gujarat!
So what really is Undhiyu? For the uninitiated, Undhiyu, quite simply, is a mixed vegetable casserole made using very specific vegetables. In fact some of the vegetables used to make this dish are actually exclusive to the South Gujrat coastline. The word ‘Undhiyu’ originates from the Gujrati word ‘matlu’ which translates to earthen pot and ‘undhu’ meaning upside down. Traditionally, Undhiyu is cooked upside down underground in earthen clay pots that are fired from above. This delicacy comprises of purple yam called kand, Sweet potatoes called sakariya, seedless zucchini-like cucumber grown in Surat called arya kakdi, Surti Papad which is an Indian bean that is quite exclusive to Surat, steamed and fried wheat balls called muthias, brinjals and rajgiri kela a specific type of banana used for this dish. Preparing this dish can be quite time consuming and the experts take almost a day only to prep and a good four hours to make this dish.
In the past, when families were not nuclear, Undhiyu making was almost like a community activity. All the members of the household were given a specific task and would execute it to perfection. In most families the ladies would gather together and sit in a circle cleaning, cutting, slicing the vegetables, grating the coconut and grinding the masalas by hand.
While cooking Undhiyu the way it was intended might not be feasible, it can be made at home if you are willing to give it the long hours it demands. Authentic Undhiyu is made using groundnut oil and no water is used in cooking it. All the vegetables are first layered in order of which takes the longest to cook in a large vessel. Since the papdi takes longest to cook it is layered first. The come the purple yam, brinjals, sweet potato and rajgiri kela. The arya kakdi and muthias are placed last right at the top so that they don’t fall apart during the cooking process. The vegetables are then covered with grated coconut masala and coriander. This coconut masala is also stuffed into each of the vegetables used by making a cross incision.
The final product is an explosion of flavours in the mouth. This dish is delicately balanced with the right amount of sweet, salty and spicy with each of the vegetables coated with a layer of the spices and oil. While most prefer to eat Undhiyu with pooris, the unwritten and unsaid law of Undhiyu eating demands that each morsel has to have one piece of each vegetable because each mouthful has to taste different from the previous…and that you are compelled to skip your next meal.