T he concept of introducing Indian crunchy snacks into vegetables and curries has been one that dates back centuries. Various regions in the country have incorporated fried snacks into mainstream meals, with amazing results. Papad or poppadom (as it’s termed in the occident) had ancient links that go back to 500 BC and even find mention in KT Achaya’s A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, a well-documented culinary history of Buddhist and Jain traditions.
A Rajasthani dish by origin, Papad Gathiya Sabzi essentially mixes the two items — Papad and Gathiya (thick, cylindrical strips made of all-purpose gram flour) into a thick, spicy curried form. The gravy mainly consists of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, dried red chilli powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder, coriander powder and wheat flour (to thicken the consistency).
The idea of shuffling these Indian food genres may seem odd in the beginning, but the combination of crunchy and broth-like is perfect for an afternoon lunch. Owing to the arid topography of Rajasthan, vegetables are rarely a part of daily meals. The people have thus adapted their food habits and palettes to work within their limitations. This is one of the main reasons why popular snack items find their way into proper spreads.
Both papad and gathiya, snack items made from besan, have the ability to absorb the liquid curry they are made in. As a result, they become moist flavour bombs that keep surprising hungry customers. This dish is mostly served with a steaming bowl of rice or chapatis, with a generous dollop of ghee over it.
Foods like papad, pickles and mangodi (small round vadis made with moong dal) occupy an important space in Rajasthani cuisine as befits a region where a little needed to go a long way. Foods that could be stored over months, and consumed when the weather was harsh and fresh produce was not easily available, came to be prioritised. Additionally, these items are not easily perishable, which makes them a viable source of nutrition even ages after they have been prepared and preserved.
While papads make use of a variety of doughs and ingredients, including rice and sago (sabudana), the most common type, like the one used in the Rajasthani sabzi, incorporates lentils, rice flour, chickpeas, urad dal, cumin, black pepper, salt, oil and red chillies. To make a simple Rajasthani Papad ki Sabzi (sans gathiya), the base recipes use curd, mustard and cumin seeds, asafoetida, red chilli and coriander powders, powdered peanuts, garam masala and haldi, in a lip-smacking combination. Raw papad cut into bite-sized squares is added to this gravy at the very end and simmered until cooked.
An article on the history of papad consumption in the Indian subcontinent notes that "Papad ki Bhurji, i.e. crushed, roasted papad tossed with ghee and red chilli powder, and Papad Mangodi ki Subzi are preparations that are unique to the state of Rajasthan".