Punjabi Buttermilk Stew with Dumplings (Karhi)

Crisper weather is here and the season of comfort food is upon us.  Growing up in an Indian vegetarian house has left its mark on me and my idea of comfort food is not the norm.  For me this vividly yellow buttermilk curry is what I craved whenever I missed home.  It is the dish I always asked for when I would come back for visits and also the one I would request to take back with me – thankfully it freezes quite well!  This dish is actually a lunch staple found in North Indian homes.   We typically always had it for dinner – and that is also how I prefer it now.  It has a rich, tangy taste thanks to the buttermilk that is punctuated with the sharpness from the garlic and ginger.  The mustard seeds add a distinctive flavor.  The dumplings, which are essentially just little fritters or pakoras, become super soft and since they’ve got spinach in them this is basically a one pot meal.  Blending gram flour into the buttermilk gives the gravy a nice thick consistency.  In fact karhi will continue to thicken as it sits so if you have leftovers I suggest adding a little water to it and bringing it to a boil before you eat.  The perfect accompaniment is simple steamed rice.

Question for those of you that grew up with cuisine that was atypical – what is your favorite comfort food?



  • 2 qt buttermilk
  • 1/3 c. gram flour
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 garlic cloves – crushed in mortar and pestle to a paste
  • 1/1/2 inch ginger – crushed in mortar and pestle to paste
  • 3 tbl vegetable oil
  • 2 yellow onions sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
  • 1-2 jalapeno or serrano chiles finely chopped (serranos are typically hotter)
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds **
  • 1 tbl black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes

1. Blend first four ingredients above in blender until combined.  Not all the buttermilk will fit – you will likely only be able to just under 1 qt which is fine.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a dutch oven.  Add the fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds.  Cook until the mustard seeds pop – about 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the green chili and saute for one minute.
4. Add the crushed garlic and ginger and saute for 2-3 minutes until it is golden.
5.  Add the sliced onion and saute for 3-4 minutes so that it has softened but has not browned.

6.  Add the chili flakes plus the blended buttermilk and remaining plain buttermilk.  At this point the mixture is a pale yellow color.  The color will intensify and become bright as the gravy cooks.

7. Turn the heat up to medium high and stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. 
8. Reduce heat to low and cook karhi for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.  Typically while the karhi cooks I make the dumplings – recipe below.
9.  Add dumplings and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Serve over plain steamed basmati rice.



  • 2 yellow onions finely chopped
  • 2 green chilies, finely chopped
  • 2 boxes of 10oz frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out so it is as dry as possible
  • 2/3 c. gram flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 heaping tsp aamchoor
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 1/2 tsp chaat masala
  • vegetable oil for frying

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all the ingredient listed above except for the oil.
2. Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a dutch oven until it is shimmering over medium/high heat.
3. Drop heaping tablespoons of dumpling batter into the hot oil and fry 2-3 minutes until golden.
4. Flip the dumplings over and fry second side until golden – about 2 minutes.
5. Remove dumplings from oil and drain on paper towel lined plate.

These dumplings are fabulous just straight from the pan too and there are always a few that never make it into the karhi in my kitchen – they end up in my tummy first!

** Fenugreek seeds are small box-shaped brown seeds.  In the picture above of the spices on the brown plate, fenugreek is in the upper left corner.   Available at your local Indian store. 

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