My greatgrandmother's recipe for Puli Aval - Tamarind Poha

"Kayamma" I used to call her as a child. She always used to wear a necklace with large corals and I would be forever fascinated by the big orange stones. Whenever I used to ask her what those stones were, she would tell me that they were 'kaai" and that's how I started calling her Kayamma. As a more grown up child, when I lived with my grandparents, my great-grandparents lived next door. When my grandparents were traveling out of town, my great-grandparents and me would kind of take care of each other. 

She had some fantastic dishes in her repertoire. I remember watching her cook. She was extremely particular about a couple of things in cooking. One, the thalippu (tempering) had to be generous - be it the mustard seeds or the udad dal or the quantity of oil used, she hated when people skimped on these things in the tempering of a dish. Two, she loved asafoetida (heeng) and her cooking was always redolent of this spice. So much so, that I would tease her as 'perungaayam paati' (asafoetida granny, in Tamil), especially when she used chunks of asafoetida and a tiny intact piece, which wasn't dissolved properly would find its way into my mouth while eating sambar-rice. Her other love was gingelly oil (nallennai) which she used liberally in her dishes and even tiffin items like upma.

I used to hate asafoetida, mustard seeds and gingelly oil as a kid, and true to my genes, I have duly fallen in love with all three of them today. I use the strongest possible asafoetida to spike my tambrahm dishes and its effect can only be experienced, not explained.

She spent nearly 50 years of her life in Matunga (a locality in heart of Mumbai that came up in 1930s-40s with a large number of Tamil brahmin families) from 1940-1989 before they moved to Mulund to be closer to my grandparents. My uncle had a joke about her that instead of learning Hindi, she ended up teaching Tamil names of all the vegetables to the bhaaji wala bhaiyyaas (vegetable vendors) from UP in the Matunga veggie market. 

Kayamma is thrilled to see her great-great-grand child

She passed away at the ripe old age of 92 in the year 2009. She had the good fortune to see two great-great grandchildren in her lifetime. This is one of my most favourite dishes she used to make and each time I make this in my kitchen, it is with many fond remembrances of her.

Recipe for Tamarind poha / beaten rice / Puli Aval
Serves 2-3

Thick poha 1.5 cups
2 tbsp gingelly oil (or regular cooking oil)
fat pinch of hing
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp chana dal
2 tbsp peanuts
1 tbsp udad dal
2-3 sprigs curry leaves
3-4 broken red chillies (dried)
1/4 cup tamarind extract* or 1 heaped tsp tamarind puree (storebought) dissolved in 3 tbsp water
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 -2 tsp sambar powder
2-3 tbsp fresh grated coconut

Wash poha/aval/beaten rice well in running water, drain all the water and cover and keep aside.
Heat oil and add ingredients -mustard seeds through red chillies and saute till peanuts and dal turn golden brown.
Add tamarind extract and bring to a boil.
Add salt and turmeric powder to this.
Once this dissolves, add the rehydrated poha, sambar powder, coconut and stir gently to bring all the ingredients together.
Check for salt and spice. Adjust with some extra salt and sambar powder if required.

Garnish with some fresh coconut before serving and eat hot.

*to make tamarind extract, wash a small fistful of tamarind (or a compact lemon size) and soak it in a cup of hot water for 15 minutes. After it has softened, rub it well between thumb and fingers to extract all the essence. Remove the leftover rind etc and squeeze it dry and discard. If required filter the extract to remove any fibers.

You can even prepare this with red rice poha if you wish. The soaking time will be considerably increased and instead of draining all the water after washing, soak it in some water instead, so that it softens well.


Anjali said...

Wow! Blessed are you and your son to be blessed by Kayamma. I simply want to make this puli aval just to experience how grand old dishes taste!

Aparna said...

Loved reading this Nandita, especially the bhaji wala experience brought a smile to my eye remembering my own grandmom :). I had the fortune of knowing my great-great-grandmother for a few years, but such things are not appreciated enough at that age.

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fancy Simple said...

Oh' That was unique and very traditional food. Mind if I try this one. Im a private chef in austin by the way. Thanks!

shiva kapoor said...

will definitely try this..I am myself big fan of heeng

Shyam said...

Man, HOW I hated biting into perungayam pieces in my grandmother's sambar (and other items)! However, dissolved, perungayam is one of my cant-do-without spices! :)

Monica Gupta said...

This is so nice. Lovely and yummy

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