Rajasthani Thali signifies the wide array of dishes from the North-western part of India, Rajasthan. The ‘Thali‘ essentially means a ‘feast’. Your taste buds will be offered a diverse combination of different flavors, course-wise, filling your stomach by the end of the sixth or seventh dish. In this detailed article, we’ll be exploring what goes into a Rajasthani Thali.
The arid regions and the Hindu temple traditions have influenced the cuisine and the preparation of all Rajasthani dishes. The idea was to make food last longer and preserve it so that there would be no requirement for heating. Rajasthan has been infamous for its delicious Dal-Baati-Churma combo. The reason behind it is also that the foremost priority was given to the farmer’s food.
Nearly 75% of all inhabitants in Rajasthan are vegetarians. The Brahmins and Jains encourage the consumption of all parts of vegetables, while the Royal courts of the Rajputs and subsequent dynasties have given birth to the Rajwaadi cuisine. However, being the largest state in India, Rajasthan offers varying delicacies from multiple areas under its jurisdiction. Do not miss out on evening snacks like Mirchi Vada, Bikaneri Bhujia and Kanda Kachauri. You will also find Mawa Lassi (a refreshing yogurt drink with malai) from Jodhpur, paniya from Mewar and Malpuas from Pushkar. We will be looking at the major dishes of what goes into a Rajasthani Thali.
Table of Contents
What Makes up a Rajasthani Thali?
1. Dal Baati Churma
Visit any Vaishnav Dhaba (eatery) or Marwari Bhojnalaya in Rajasthan and the first dish you try is the Dal-Baati-Churma. ‘Dal’ is simply lentils cooked to perfection (with turmeric powder) and ‘baati’ refers to hardened wheat rolls. The various kinds of lentils used include Toor Dal (Split pigeon peas), chana dal (split chickpeas), moth dal (dew bean), mung dal (green gram) and urad dal (black gram). Usually, mustard and cumin seeds are added in a hot pan of vegetable oil. That is followed by asafetida, red chilly powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder and ginger powder.
Depending on the local preferences, the Dal can be either on the sweeter or sour side. To make the Baati, you need to make a hard bread (round in shape) with wheat flour. The wheat is kneaded with a side of water, curd and salt (according to taste). The dish resembles the Bihari dish ‘Baati-Chokha’. The process remains the same. The wheat dough balls are directly cooked on charcoal or wood fire. The outer layer is extremely crispy, almost like a crackling while the inner portion is soft and spongy. The baati is softened with clarified butter after it’s roasted golden brown. It is often served with a condiment of garlic chutney, kairi or raw mango chutney and fresh buttermilk. In Madhya Pradesh and other central regions of India, one finds an alternative called ‘Bafla’, a softer version of the Baati.
‘Churma’ is a sweet dish made with semolina. It literally means ‘that which crumbles’. The inclusion of the dish in the Thali had been an innovation credited to the House of Mewar. The story goes that a cook in the Royal kitchen accidentally poured sugarcane juice into a Baati. The syrup caramelized and sweetened the Baati during the wartimes. Oftentimes, it is said that jaggery was used to preserve the Choorma for long voyages. The ingredients used to make the sweet laddoo include ghee, grated coconut, poppy seeds or sesame seeds (for garnishing). It is best enjoyed during winter as it provides an incredible amount of energy to any traveler during the season. Oil is avoided as it may crumble in the pot.
2. Rotla, Missi, Khoba Breads
Rajasthan has a variety of breads to offer in its Thali. You will find the usual variants like Tawa Roti or Angarki (Tandoori) Roti made with wheat flour. Try Kinwati Roti which is made by naturally fermenting flour dough. Khaba Roti is a type of flatbread that has a beautiful pattern drawn on the dough by pinching it at various places. The indentations work like magic if you are adding sesame seeds or caraway seeds on top.
You will also be spoilt for choice once you come across the Rotlas or Bhakris. These are large-sized rotis that are made with millets like Bajra (Pearl), Jowar (Sorghum) or Maize (cornbread). Bejar Roti is made by mixing Besan flour, wheat flour and all-purpose flour while Missi Roti is a yellowish bread that is prepared using a proportion of gram flour with oil. Tikkad is a bread that is a specialty in Rajasthan, made using a mixture of flours and seasonal vegetables. The commonly found ones include Bajra Mooli Tikkad (Bajra and radish) and Kanda Tamatar Tikkad (Onion and tomatoes). Deep-fried flour doughs like Mawa Kachori and Jhakolma Puri are also must-haves when in Rajasthan.
3. Gatte Ki Subzi
An exclusive dish from Rajasthan, Gatte Ki Subzi is a curry that uses gram flour as its main ingredient. The regular Indian spices are mixed together with oil and salt to make small dumplings that are dipped later in the gravy. The texture of the dough is like Parathas. Clarified butter is used to dip the cylindrical rolls into the non-stick pan. After shallow-frying for a few minutes, you need to add beaten yogurt, Garam Masala Powder (a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, green cardamom, bay leaves, ginger, whole green chilies, cumin seeds, and asafetida. Water is added and boiled on medium flame. The gattas are added at the last stage when the gravy is thickened and served with Chapatis (Indian flatbread).
Masala Gatte or Shahi Gatte is a spicy variant and serves the same in a dry version. It is made for a large party during Diwali or Dussehra. The Gatte Pulao is one such festive preparation that uses many vegetables to go along with the rice. It is often served with Kadhi (a dish with buttermilk) or Mangodi ki Dal.
4. Mangodi Aloo Ki Subzi
Mangodi Aloo Ki Subzi is a dry dish of Rajasthan that uses potatoes and Mangodi in a tangy spice-mix. It is important to know that potatoes form a valuable part of all cuisines in India as it is harvested in bulk and has a long shelf life. Mangodi is a dried snack made with ground yellow or green moong dal. The dish is first soaked and sold in the markets as a superfood, easily available in supermarkets. Serving as a winter snack, Mangodi can be stocked up for a whole year. The dish is devoid of onions or garlic as both ingredients are considered non-vegetarian. They are supposed to have ‘Tamasik’ or ‘excitable’ components that may heat up the body and lessen metabolism. Hence, only a simple tomato-based gravy is used to make the dish. The roasted Mangodi with grated ginger and a bunch of spices is mixed with yogurt and stirred continuously on low flame to avoid curdling. The Mangodi is cooked in the pressure cooker until it softens. The chopped potatoes are added at the end so that none remains undercooked. The best part is the addition of lemon juice before serving, making it a dish that you will crave even after the meal is over!
5. Panchkuta ki Subzi
‘Panch’ means five in Rajasthani and Panchkuta refers to the five primary ingredients that make this dish incomparable. It is an item that is used to break the religious fasts by Jain community members. The dish is extremely quick and easy to make, taking a maximum time of only 20 minutes for the total process. It is made with Ker (capparis decidua), a green berry that grows in thorny bushes all around Rajasthan. It also uses Sangri (Desert Bean) that grows in the Khejri tree. The dish has a nutty note with flavors of mocha and cinnamon. The duo is very common in a number of pickles and curries in the dry part of India. Amchur or dried mango is often turned into a powder, giving the dishes a fruity seasoning or citrusy aftertaste to the dish. Gunda fruit is called ‘Gumberry’ in English. Also known as fragrant manjack, the cordia shrub has around 300 species spread around the world. Lastly, Kumatiya or Acacia Senegal reveal pods with three shiny seeds. It is famous in Rajasthani villages like Godaro ki Dhani where it is harvested during October.
Panchkuta ki Subzi is mostly made as an offering during the festival of Shitala Ashtami, worshipped to ward off diseases like smallpox. The weddings of Rajasthan are expendable in displaying dried food items that are not only palatable but taste fresh and served with pride. It tastes best with a side of Bajre Ki Roti (pearl millet flatbreads) to be consumed all around the year.
6. Jal Jeera
After such a heavy meal, you should take a pause to refresh your tongue and rejuvenate the system. Jal jeera comes to the rescue when you are tired of the oil and grease dominating your palette. Served as an incredibly popular North Indian summer drink, this water-based Sherbet uses mint, pudina, cilantro, and other spices to amp up the appetizing mood for your upcoming dishes. It has a cooling effect on your whole body and aids digestion, especially if you have a weak metabolism. Along with ginger and lime juice, this drink uses mango powder, asafetida, pepper, cumin powder and the star ingredient, Tamarind paste. The black salt added to the pulpy texture is blended until it’s a smooth mix. The olive green paste is served with ice cubes to chill your tongue as soon as you touch the glass. The garnishing elements add to the fresh herby blend. Boondi (tiny chickpea flour balls) or pomegranate seeds float on top to finish the party.
7. Laal Maas
Even though the Thali is mostly vegetarian, it is the signature Laal Maas of the region that distinguishes the meal from any other. The fiery mutton curry native to Rajasthan was first cooked by the Khansamas (cooks) of the kitchens of Mewar. The royal kings were involved with heavy and wild hunting. This enabled their cooks to experiment and stylize a variety of different dishes when diverse orders came by. The unpleasant smell from the game and the offal was completely eradicated due to their cooking method.
Garlic, yogurt, and chilies were used in large quantities to balance the taste. It was also called ‘Jungle Meat’ as the succulent texture enhanced the celebrations once a big hunt was successful. The ‘Lal’ or red color of the dish was usually derived from the special Mathania Chillies grown in the Mathaniya Village of Jodhpur. It is so common in hotels that you find customers making special orders wherever they find it. The meat is usually lamb, but previously wild boars or barking deer were also consumed. It is a big dish that boasts of black peppercorns, kachri powder (dried cucumbers found in Rajasthan), cardamom, black pepper, mace, and cinnamon sticks. The roasted onions are stirred well with all the spices. A refined gravy is simmered and converts into a good consistency to be served with local rice.
8. Dahi Vada
Served as a starter, Dahi Vada are super soft lentil fritters that are served as Chaat in India. It has a sweet, sour, tangy, and zesty flavor. They are dipped in cold and creamy yogurt and finished with sweet tamarind chutneys. Dahi Vada is ranked topmost in the list of the most popular Indian street foods. The dish is vegan and gluten-free. The pillowy texture of the Vadas can be achieved by making the batter carefully. The lentils should be adequately proportioned and air should be whisked into the mixture in ample amounts. The key to making the Vada light and fluffy is to fry it in hot oil. Using cold oil is a big no-no as the fritters tend to fall flat. The Bhallas can be stored in air-tight containers for further use. Cool them down at room temperature before storage. The 12th-century Sanskrit encyclopedia, ‘Manasollasa’ was the first to mention the Dahi Vada. It was known as ‘Khsiravata’ at the time. Today, Holi celebrations in Maharashtra or Gujarat remain incomplete without the Dahi Vada.
9. Kadhi Pakoda
This dish is a must-have when you are in Punjab or Rajasthan. The North-Indian belt of India is obsessed with its ghee, milk, butter, and buttermilk. Kadhi is a curry made of ‘Chhachh’, a type of buttermilk churned out of the thick curd. It forms a batter with Besan or Bengal gram flour, mixed with anti-bacterial ingredients like turmeric, cloves, fennel seeds, coriander, cumin, and fenugreek seeds. The grated ginger and curry leaves add to the taste.
The Pakodas are gram flour fritters that give a crunchy end to the thick gravy. Baking soda is also included to refurbish the style in different areas. It is a staple dish in all households and hostels. Kadhi is very healthy for people with anemia and pregnant women. It takes care of your digestive and bone health, regulating diabetes and blood pressure. You will never gain weight again if you fall in love with the Besan or So(u)l Kadhi.
10. Moong Dal Halwa
This sweet dessert is decadent because of its generous servings. The Halwa is made of mung beans, clarified butter, milk, sugar, nuts, and other flavorings. It helps to keep the body warm during the winter and adds to your calories when you need it. The primary flavor that is extracted out of this sweetmeat is Ghee. A rich, gooey, granular texture will fill your mouth with awe and wonder. The Halwa needs to be stirred continuously on a low flame to give it that nice, smokey end. When it starts to form lumps, the mixture breaks down and the fat separates. The yellow mung lentils need to be soaked for at least 4-5 hours (best, overnight) and turned into a thick paste. The syrupy consistency that you wish never ended is the addictive quality of the Ghee.
Malpua is considered to be the oldest desert in the Indian subcontinent. It was simultaneously invented with rich ghee, dating back as early as 1500 BCE (era of Rigveda). The Vedic literature calls this dish ‘Apupa’. Malpua is a dessert made of deep-fried barley flour and topped with oozing sugar syrup or honey. The syrup is called ‘Chashni’ and designates only those sweets that are served alongside it, in a separate bowl. It looks like a pancake and speaks of pure indulgence. Aryans considered barley as one of the most sacred grains on the planet Earth. It was highly cultivated and consumed in ancient times. K T Achaya, the infamous food historian had written in ‘A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food’ that the Malpuas were sweetened with sugarcane juice in the 2nd Century. Today, we cannot imagine Malpua without a fair share of Rabri and dry fruits. Rabri is a cool dessert made with condensed milk. The hot and cold combo works best when served after a heavy meal.
Fun Fact : The Bohri community also makes egg malpuas in the month of Ramazan, whereas Odias make sweet potato malpuas.
Gujias are also known as Somas, Perakiya, Karanji and Gughara. They are sweet, deep-fried dumplings which are made with semolina or maida (all-purpose flour). The main part is the stuffing which can vary from Mawa or Khoya (milk solids) and dry fruits like cashews or almonds. The crispy texture is derived from the ghee. The earliest history of the sweet dates back to the 13th Century when the syrup was a combo of honey and jaggery and the wheat was sun-dried. Shaped in a half-moon, the Gujiyas are also filled with coconut in the South. It is the skill of a chef to make the thin crust that the Gujiya demands. It can be baked or fried according to your taste buds. The pastry base of the sweet must not be soggy and stuffings can be experimented with. For example, children prefer adding cocoa solids, Gulkand (rose preserve) or thandai powder to give it a unique zing.