Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chai party with upma and poha

I had not cooked anything Indian in a while, so I thought I'd do an Indian chai party with some friends and some of my favorite Indian snacks. These snacks also double as great breakfast foods, while being all vegetarian (vegan, even).

Growing up, the semolina-based savory porridge/pudding upma was a treat for Friday tea at home. We called it sooji, though, and normally ate it warm or hot with sugar. It was after I started living in Mumbai that I found out you could also enjoy it with coconut chutney. Living in India also introduced me to poha, a dish of seasoned beaten rice. My relatives in Navi Mumbai were especially skilled at making the thick version of poha with vegetables. I made all three of these for myself and five guests, complemented with hot, kettle-brewed masala chai.

For the upma, I roasted 3 cups of semolina (rava) in a shallow pot until it began to brown.

In a larger pot, I added 3 teaspoons of cumin, 1.5 teaspoons of ginger, 6 small chopped green chillies and about 3 medium chopped onions to 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds sputtering in hot oil, frying on medium until the onions began to caramelize. I added some broken cashews as well, as I like my upma nutty. Optionally, curry leaves can be added at this stage.

After adding 6 cups of boiling water and a little salt, I added the roasted semolina, and mixed all the ingredients together. This was kept on low burner and mixed about from time to time until all the water was absorbed. It can be served at room temperature, or slightly warm, if served with a chutney. If served with sugar (a great and definitely easier-to-provide, if calorie-laden, alternative), it's best served hot.

I went the chutney way, so I let the upma cool down while I prepared a coconut chutney. To make the body of the chutney, I used a mini-blender on a cup of coconut flakes mixed with a chopped green chili, a tablespoon each of garlic and ginger, 12 curry leaves and a dash of salt. While blending, I added enough water so it is just mushy enough to hold together (some prefer it more watery).

In a small frying pan, I made a tempering (tadka) by lightly frying a half teaspoon each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds with 8 curry leaves and a pinc of asafoetida. Sometimes, I also add a few red chilies. Coconut oil is good for making the tadka.

I threw the still-sizzling tadka into the chutney and mixed. This is a common condiment at "Udupi" restaurants, usually served along with upma, vada, idly, dosa, and such.

For the poha, I added a cup of whole peanuts to 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds frying in oil, frying them until they started to brown. I also boiled some a cup of cubed potatoes and soaked a cup of frozen peas in warm water.

I then added 2 medium minced onions, 20 curry leaves, and 3 minced green chillies. As I fried these, waiting until the onions got translucent, I started washing and soaking 6 cups of the thick beaten rice.

After adding the potato and peas, I sprinkled the mixture with 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder and a dash of salt, and tossed the mixture. Finally, I added the soaked beaten rice and 3 teaspoons of lime juice, stirring and breaking the mass of beaten rice into a consistent, loose texture. Before serving warm, I garnished the poha with a couple of tablespoons of chopped cilantro, and cut up some lemon wedges for my guests to add lemon juice as per their tastes.

Of course, I would only serve all this with my famous five-spice masala chai, brewed in the aluminium chai wala kettle I bought specially for this purpose.

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