Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine has come up with a new event that is close to my heart: Regional Cuisines of India or RCI. Each month, we will be making the food of one region/ state of India. This month, the RCI event is being hosted by Latha of Masala Magic. The theme is Andhra Cuisine, i.e., the cuisine of the Southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
I am a relative newcomer to the world of Andhra food. A few years ago, I was living in Bangalore for the summer, and ended up with some friends at a Andhra restaurant called Bheema's. That evening was my memorable introduction to Andhra cuisine. We ate off verdant banana leaves; the courses kept coming, progressively ever tastier and ever more fiery, until I had tears of pain running down my cheeks. But I kept gulping down cool water and eating some more. I don't know what they put in that food, but that stuff was downright addictive.
Now, the world of food blogs has provided me with several wonderful "teachers" who are providing a glimpse into their Andhra kitchens. Two of the earliest Andhra food blogs that I came across- Mahanandi and Sailu's Food are both excellent resources for traditional Andhra recipes, written neatly and precisely, accompanied by gorgeous pictures.
From the vast domain of Andhra cuisine, I am choosing one category that I find fascinating: the various ready-to-eat spice powders or podis. From a bunch of dry items that are commonly found in the Indian pantry- dried red chillies, desiccated coconut, different dals (split lentils), a few spices- it is possible to mix together, roast and grind ingredients in special proportions to make all types of spice powders. Once you have a bottle of the dry powder sitting in your kitchen cupboard, it can add a touch of magic to so many meals. It gives the term "instant meal" a whole new meaning...mixed in with steamed rice, you get a tasty dish in seconds. It can be sprinkled on idlis and dosas for a dash of spice when one is too busy to make a fresh chutney. I have been known to sprinkle podis on buttered toast too!
The one essential kitchen equipment for making podis is a good grinder. If you own an Indian "mixer", boy, those are some powerful machines and will have a small dry grinder attachment that will reduce grains, dals and spices to dust, in mere seconds. For those of us who don't own the Indian-style mixies, the usual blenders and food processors are unable to grind hard grains and dals (and it is unwise to try, they can be damaged by doing so). What does work well is a spice grinder, often sold as a coffee bean grinder. Be sure to keep separate machines for grinding coffee beans and spices, unless you happen to like coriander-flavored coffee and coffee-flavored idli podi.
The one I have is a compact little thing from Krups and was a gift from my aunt Jayashree in Toronto. When she gave it to me 3-4 years ago, I had never made my own spice mixes before and expected that this contraption would lie in some forgotten corner of my kitchen. As it turns out, having the means to grind nuts, spices and grains has improved my cooking tremendously, and I use the spice grinder several times each week! Just goes to show you that aunts know a thing or two :) My one grouse with this machines is: the bowl does not detach, and that makes it a little difficult to clean. It is not a huge issue, since I never grind wet stuff in it. I clean it using two ways: (a) Wipe it down with a damp kitchen towel or paper towel, being careful to avoid the sharp blades, (b) Run a dry old piece of bread through the grinder. It picks up bits and pieces from all corners of the grinder. The resulting bread crumbs can be discarded and you end up with a clean grinder. The cover of the grinder does detach; it can be washed with some soap and water.
Today, I am making three podis or spice powders, all from Sailu's recipes. Each uses some basic ingredients- chana dal and urad dal provide the body and texture for the podi (not to mention a nutty base and a boost of nutrition), dried red chilies provide the kick and the heat, a touch of oil is needed to roast the ingredients and enhance their flavor and aroma, and the final essential ingredient is a bit of salt. Apart from these ingredients, different podis are enhanced with other main ingredients (nuts, sesame seeds, coconut), flavorings (garlic, tamarind) and spices (coriander seeds, cumin seeds) in different permutations and combinations. One can adjust the level of heat by adding more or less chilies. For the exact recipes and method, I am providing links to Sailu's recipes so she can teach you herself.
The first podi is dry coconut powder or Endu Kobbari Podi, made with...
Desiccated coconut, Garlic, Chana dal, Urad dal, Dried red chilies, Oil, Salt
I served this podi with plain steamed idlis. Soft idlis, topped with generous sprinkles of coconut podi, and a few drops of sesame oil made for an authentic and tasty brunch.
The second podi is sesame seed powder or Nuvullu Podi, made with...
Sesame seeds, Coriander seeds, Cumin seeds, Chana dal, Urad dal, Dried red chilies, Oil, Salt
I served this podi with some freshly steamed rice and ghee. The nutty and mild flavor of the podi with rice, it was delicious and comforting.
The third podi is curry leaf powder or Karivepaaku Podi, made with...
Curry leaves, Coriander seeds, Cumin seeds, Tamarind, Chana dal, Urad dal, Dried red chilies, Oil, Salt
I served this podi sprinkled on to my favorite instant rava dosa which is inspired by our host Latha's recipe. The difference is, this time I added brown rice flour to the dosa instead of the regular white rice flour that I normally use. I made the brown rice powder myself, by simply grinding brown rice in the spice grinder. I also omitted curry leaves from the dosa batter since I was going to serve the dosa with this powder. This podi was a taste and flavor explosion! As I made it, the aroma of curry leaves simply filled the kitchen. The combination of dosa and spicy curry leaf powder was incredible.
Thank you, Sailu, and all the other Andhra food bloggers out there for helping me learn more about your cuisine! And thanks, Latha, for hosting this event! I am eagerly waiting for the round-up!