Zunka is a popular tea-time snack in Maharashtra, as well as in the bordering region of North Karnataka. It refers to savoury squares made using gram flour (besan), which are lightly sweet and sour and absolutely flavourful! Today, let me take you through the recipe for Methi Zunka, where fenugreek greens are added to these squares, making them all the more delicious.
What constitutes Zunka?
Zunka, also often referred to as Jhunka, is a rather simple thing to make. Gram flour is mixed up into a sort of slurry, with water and a few other ingredients, which is then cooked till thick. This mixture is then poured into a greased plate and cut into squares. It is typically served garnished with fresh grated coconut and finely chopped coriander leaves, sometimes sesame seeds too.
Sugar is used to add a hint of sweetness to Zunka, while tamarind is used for sourness. A freshly made paste of ginger and green chillies adds the spice punch.
It is believed that Zunka originated from the need to create a snack out of a very lean pantry that had limited or no vegetables in stock. That is why the typical Zunka is made plain, with no vegetables. However, sometimes, as a variation, vegetables or greens like onions, coriander, spinach, fenugreek leaves and cabbage are added to it. Like I was saying earlier, I have made mine with fenugreek greens aka methi. I have also added in some garlic here, as it goes really well in Zunka.
A closer look at Zunka
Tamilian households prepare an accompaniment for idlis and dosas using gram flour, called Bombay Chutney. This chutney is believed to have its roots in Pitla, a runny dip from Maharashtra which is made using gram flour too, but with slightly different ingredients. When Pitla is cooked further, giving it a consistency similar to Rava Upma, it becomes Zunka.
Some people steam the Zunka, similar to the Khaman from the state of Gujarat. Some deep-fry the pieces after it cools down and hardens. We prefer Zunka cooked to ‘cake’ consistency, as in this recipe, neither steamed nor deep-fried.
This version of Zunka can be eaten as a snack, on its own, or with a cup of tea on the side. It is also part of full-fledged thali meals in Maharashtra and North Karnataka, where it is paired with rotis made from jowar or other millets. I still remember the distinctly beautiful taste of the Zunka that was part of the North Karnataka-style Jolada Rotti Oota we ordered in from Kamat Yatri Nivas, during the lockdown last year.
The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge
This recipe for Methi Zunka is brought to you in association with the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a group that I am part of.
The Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge is run by a bunch of passionate food bloggers, who share recipes based on a pre-determined theme every month. The group members are divided into pairs, with each pair exchanging two ingredients secretly, unknown to the rest. Each pair then uses these two ingredients to prepare a dish that fits into the theme of the month. The other group members then try to guess the two secret ingredients that have been used in each dish – it’s a very challenging and fun exercise!
The theme for the month of July 2022 was ‘Maharashtrian recipes’, as suggested by Poonam of Annapurna. Maharashtra is Poonam’s home state, and she has several traditional recipes from the cuisine on her blog. I have been drooling over her gorgeous Misal Pav for long – I should try it out soon. 🙂
I was paired with Preethi, the versatile blogger behind Preethi’s Cuisine, for the challenge. Preethi suggested I make a dish using ‘tamarind’ and ‘methi greens’ as my ingredients, and I decided to use them to make this Methi Zunka. I suggested ‘green chillies’ and ‘peanuts’ as her secret ingredients, and she used them in this delectable Hirvi Mirchi Cha Thecha.
How to make Methi Zunka
Most of the Maharashtrian recipes on this blog are inspired by my Paati, my paternal grandmother. She spent a large part of her life in a Maharashtrian colony, and it was here that she learnt how to prepare several dishes from the cuisine.
My Paati’s Tendli Masale Bhat, Aambe Dal, and Shevgyachi Shengachi Amti are huge favourites in our family. For this Methi Zunka recipe too, I turned to my memories of Paati dishing up some wonderful Maharashtrian treats for us, things that she had learnt from her friends and neighbours, me sitting beside her and watching her cook. Paati would usually prepare the Zunka without any vegetables, while I commonly add in some or the other greens to fortify it.
Here is how to go about making Methi Zunka.
Ingredients (serves 4):
1. 1 cup gram flour (besan)
2. Salt to taste
3. 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
4. A small piece of tamarind
5. 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons of sugar
6. 1 loosely packed cup fenugreek (methi) greens
7. 4-5 cloves of garlic
8. A 1-inch piece of ginger
9. 2 green chillies or as per taste
10. 3/4 tablespoon oil + some more for greasing plate
11. 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
12. 2 pinches of asafoetida
13. 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
14. 1 tablespoon grated fresh coconut
1. Soak the tamarind in a little boiling water for at least 15 minutes. Let it get cool enough to handle.
2. In the meantime, wash the methi leaves thoroughly under running water, to remove all traces of dirt from them. Place in a colander and let all the water drain out.
3. Peel the ginger and chop roughly. Remove the tops from the green chillies and chop roughly. Grind the chopped ginger and green chillies together to a paste, using a little water, in a small mixer jar.
4. When the tamarind has cooled down enough, extract all the juice from it. Keep aside.
5. Peel the garlic cloves. Chop them finely. Keep aside.
6. After all the water has drained out of the methi greens, chop them up finely. Keep ready.
7. Take the gram flour in a large mixing bowl. Add salt, sugar and turmeric powder. Add in the tamarind extract and 1 cup of water. Mix well to form a runny lump-free batter. Keep this ready.
8. Grease a medium-sized plate with a little oil and keep it ready.
9. Now, we will begin preparing the Methi Zunka. Heat 3/4 tablespoon oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add in the mustard seeds and allow them to sputter. Next add in the asafoetida and the finely chopped garlic. Saute for about a minute for the garlic to cook.
10. Now, add the green chilli-ginger paste to the pan. Reduce flame to medium. Saute for a minute.
11. Add the chopped methi leaves to the pan. Add a little salt and water. Saute for about 2 minutes or till the greens are cooked.
12. At this stage, add the gram flour mixture to the pan, stirring with one hand. Continue to keep the flame at medium.
13. Stir constantly for 4-5 minutes or till the mixture thickens up. It should not be overly thick, but not very runny either. Turn the gas down to low.
14. Close the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Let the mixture cook on low heat for 2-3 minutes or till it no longer tastes raw. Switch off gas at this stage.
15. Immediately transfer the cooked batter to the greased plate. Smooth out the top using the back of a small bowl (katori).
16. Sprinkle grated fresh coconut and finely chopped coriander evenly over it. Let it sit undisturbed till it cools down fully.
17. Once it has completely cooled down, cut into square pieces using a knife. Your Methi Zunka is ready to serve. Serve it as a snack on its own or as part of a full-fledged Maharashtrian meal.
Is this a vegan and gluten-free recipe?
This recipe is completely vegetarian and vegan, suited to those following a plant-based diet.
However, it is not gluten-free due to the use of asafoetida. Most Indian brands of asafoetida do contain wheat flour and are, hence, best avoided when one is following a gluten-free diet. If you want to make this Methi Zunka gluten-free, simply skip the asafoetida used in the above recipe.
Tips & Tricks
1. For best results, use fresh gram flour that is free of any odour.
2. Use methi greens that are very fresh, for best results.
3. Adjust the quantity of green chillies, tamarind, salt and sugar as per personal taste preferences.
4. Jaggery powder can be used in place of the sugar.
5. Make sure all impurities and seeds are removed from the tamarind extract, before it is used in the dish.
6. You can dry roast the gram flour for 2-3 minutes, before using it in this recipe. This helps it cook faster, but it is not really required to do so.
7. Do not overcook the gram flour mixture. When it has thickened up and is past the ‘runny’ stage, switch off gas and pour into the greased plate.
8. You may skip the garlic if you do not prefer using it.
9. Allow the Zunka to cool down completely before cutting it into pieces. It will harden up somewhat on cooling, making the process of cutting easier.
10. Spinach (palak) or fresh coriander can be used in place of the methi greens used here. You can even make Zunka Vadi without the addition of any greens.
11. Do not use more than the specified amount of methi greens, as that might make the Methi Zunka bitter.
12. Use a greased plate of the right size for the perfect Methi Zunka. If you use a very small plate, the vadi will be too thick. If you use a very large plate, the vadi will turn out too thin.
13. A non-stick pan works best for making this Methi Zunka. If you don’t have a non-stick pan, a regular pan will work, but some of the batter will stick to the bottom – you need to be prepared for that.
14. The batter will get thick really fast, once it is poured into the hot pan. So you will need to work quickly with it.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!