As charcoal crackles, ash blows and splinters fly, red gleaming fire burns underneath. Dexterous hands turn the cob with the stalk to rest and roast. The sight of bhutta or corn on cob roasted on charcoal invokes nostalgia.
In the hot and sultry July and August, threatening clouds gather, a storm brews on the horizon, wind lashes as the dust dances. Somewhere, some impatient raindrops land on the dust and petrichor (the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil) pervades the atmosphere.
A deep inhale tells me the season of bhutta has arrived.
Growing up in central India, bhutta was our flavour for the monsoons. Mountains of green corn with gold tassel would flood the market, late June.
As kids we bought hot, charcoal-roasted corn on cobs from an old lady who sold bhuttas near our house. Burnt black on gold, the cob was smeared with lemon juice, red chilli powder and salt. This juicy and salty tang became the taste of our rains.
Even today, in many Indian cities, bhutta vendors spring up along roadsides, selling charcoal-roasted bhuttas laced with tangy spices, to make it an ultimate street delicacy that is both fast and healthy.
Now, a little bit of history, if you may.
Corn is actually a summer crop but is usually enjoyed in the rains. It is one of the oldest cereals with almost 200 known varieties, with an extraordinary shelf-life. Corn is believed to have evolved from a wild grass that grew about 60,000 years ago and was domesticated by natives of Mexico about 10,000 years ago. Christopher Columbus is believed to have introduced it to Europe – from where it reached Asia.
However, some carvings in the Hoysala Dynasty temples built between 10th and 13th in Karnataka suggest the presence of maize in India for a much longer period.
We get the Flint Corn in India – cobs with fresh, green and tight husks that usually have plump and luscious kernels, tightly arranged. Foods get assimilated in the local culture and evolve uniquely. Compared to its European cousin, bhutta is drastically raw and natural.
This coal-roasted corn on cob – a cousin of the cornflakes – is completely different. It resembles the village cousin of the polished city guy who lacks freshness. Eating a charcoal roasted bhutta gives your teeth a good work out that most of our cuisine does not.
Fresh corn can be boiled, roasted and cooked in various ways. In many parts of India, corn is grated and blended to make a variety of dishes:
1. Bhutta Chilla:
Grate fresh corn, blend it, add some besan, spices, green chilli pieces and chopped coriander. Add water to make a batter. Place a ladleful on a hot griddle, drizzle with little oil and cook on both sides to make it crisp. Your bhutta chilla is ready.
2. Bhutta Halwa:
Take the grated and blended mixture and put it in hot ghee and roast it till ghee separates, add lukewarm water and sugar, saffron and raisins, and cook covered. Rich bhutta halwa is ready in a few minutes.
Here are two easy recipes:
Masala Grated Bhutta
1.5 kg of fresh corn cobs
1 tsp mustard seeds
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
3 green chillies chopped fine
½ tsp red chilli powder
A pinch of turmeric and asafoetida
Salt to taste
1.5 tbsp of oil
Grate the corn and blend with green chillies and half of the cumin seeds for two minutes in a blender.
Add mustard seeds, asafoetida, cumin seeds.
Add the corn mixture and salt.
Mix well and switch off the gas.
Let it rest for five minutes.
Switch on the gas and add red chilli powder and turmeric powder.
Mix, cover and cook for a few minutes.
Check on it at regular intervals.
Remove from heat when done.
Garnish with chopped coriander.
1 kg fresh corn kernels
3 green chillies
½ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp chilli powder
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
Grate corn kernels.
Add all the ingredients and mix well.
Add 1 tsp of hot oil to the batter and mix.
Deep fry till golden.
Serve hot with green chutney.
(Nupur Roopa is a freelance writer, and a life coach for mothers. She writes articles on environment, food, history, parenting and travel.)